Count off

On count day, a look at the ups and downs of Denver enrollment

PHOTO: Kate Schimel
Maxwell Elementary principal Nivan Khosravi greets students as they arrive. Several weeks into the semester, he still had new students arriving.

Schools around the state are keeping a close eye on attendance today as they prepare to submit the exact number of students they have to the state. For many Denver schools, that number is higher than it was a month ago, when school started.

Oct. 1 is count day, when the number of students in classroom seats on that day determines how much funding schools and districts will receive. In Denver, that count will likely show a continuation of an upward trend that started several years ago, with more and more students enrolled in Denver Public Schools. Last year, that trend resulted in Denver Public Schools beating out Jeffco Public Schools for the title of state’s largest school district.

But it’s already clear that the enrollment increase isn’t uniform across the city. Some schools have seen a steady stream of students arriving, even after school started. For others, the numbers of students district officials projected would enroll failed to materialize.

District estimates suggest that over 2,000 more students have enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in Denver than official state counts last year. Preschool enrollment, a focus for the district, is still too in flux to estimate but last year, it helped boost Denver’s numbers above Jeffco’s.

But one pattern that has also emerged — and promises to create challenges for schools — is a large number of students enrolling after the start of the year. The number of students who enrolled after the first day of school district-wide almost doubled this year, from 750 to 1406.

Large numbers of students arriving after the start of school creates a tangle for teachers and schools, as they try and retrieve records and place students where they’ll learn best. Districts like Denver have tried to streamline their systems to make new student arrivals a faster and less disruptive process, but experts say it’s still a challenge both for students and schools to manage. It can take weeks for a student’s records to arrive and teachers often have to figure out a student’s abilities or academic history with little prior knowledge.

And some Denver school have seen a veritable flood of students. At George Washington High School, 37 new students enrolled between the first day of school and Sept. 11. Also high on the list was Place Bridge Academy, with 32 new students, and Eagleton Elementary, with 28 new students.

Explore our database of how many new students arrived after the start of the year at Denver schools in the past two years.

But some schools are facing a different challenge entirely — not enough students. At Manual High School, where an impending but undefined overhaul has thrown the school’s future into question, enrollment fell substantially below the district’s projections.

Just 279 students have enrolled in the school this year. That’s down over thirty percent from last year and is over 140 students fewer that district officials predicted. That drop led to a loss of roughly $262,000 in funding for the school, even after the district provided additional support to the struggling school. That means school leaders have had to cut four teaching position and a staff position.

Across the district, 31 teachers will lose their positions due to reductions in staff, based on enrollment. The district did not provide additional details on where those cuts took place.

Teachers, have you noticed lots of new faces in your classroom? What are the challenges of getting them incorporated in the flow of the classroom? Any tips for other teachers? Tell us at co.tips@chalkbeat.org or on Twitter @ChalkbeatCO. We’ll follow up with teachers’ responses and more on the challenges of getting new students up to speed.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede