Is two better than one?

DPS considers ending dual language programs at two southwest schools

Valdez Elementary School, Denver, home of one of the district's dual language programs

Denver Public Schools is considering ending dual language programs at Valverde Dual Language Academy and Charles M. Schenck Community School, two of the district’s six Spanish-English immerison programs.

District officials say the program changes are aimed at stemming declines in academic performance at both schools among native English- and Spanish-speakers alike.

Some parents say that the district didn’t give the programs enough time to thrive, and that the changes would leave southwest Denver without a dual language program.

Both schools would likely house instead new Transitional Native Language Instruction programs, which provide Spanish-speaking students with instruction in their native language, supports when they are taught in English, and specific courses in English language acquisition.

Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said DPS still supports its dual language programs, in which students receive instruction in both Spanish and English. But, she said, at Valverde and Schenck, “the implementation was not nearly as strong or robust as we’d like to see it. When we started looking at data, we had real concerns about viability of the programs.”

“We felt that the best decision was to make sure we had quality, strong first-language programming in Spanish as well as quality strong first-language programming in English for English speakers,” Cordova said.

In addition to Valverde and Schenck, the district currently has dual language programs at Academia Ana Maria Sandoval, Bryant Webster, the Denver Language School, and Valdez.

Frustrated parents

Replacing a dual language program with a native-language program would uphold the district’s legal requirement under a court-ordered agreement between it, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Congress of Hispanic Educators to provide native language instruction options for Spanish-speaking students, Cordova said.

She said that most teachers who were eligible to teach in the dual language program would still be able to teach at the schools, even if the model changes.

But at a public comment session at the DPS board meeting in January, Schenck parent Gregoria Salcedo told district officials that she was frustrated by what had seemed like half-hearted implementation of the dual language program.

“Why was this decision made? Why do they support schools like Valdez but not us? Why don’t you support dual language at [Schnck]?” Salceda said. “We feel the district disrespected us.”

Parent Martha Juarez said that while she knew the school had earned red, the lowest category on the district’s school performance framework, “the reason it’s in red is because of all the changes you have done. I feel there is a lot of causes, and it’s because you don’t let a specific program develop in a school.”

The district’s other dual language programs are all several miles away, in other quadrants of the city. Cordova said the district is not considering changing programs at those schools. “The dual-language programs we have in other parts of the city are showing far greater academic gains.”

DPS is under consistent pressure to meet the educational needs of its nearly-30,000 English language learners, especially in southwest Denver, where more than 80 percent of students are Latino and many are English language learners. Earlier this school year, plans to place two charter schools in nearby Kepner Middle School drew fire from advocates who were concerned the district would not offer appropriate native language instruction to Spanish-speaking middle schoolers in the Southwest.

Academic struggles

Students at both schools have not fared well on state standardized tests. Schenck, where 98 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch and 76.4 percent are English language learners, has alternated between red and yellow rankings—the two lowest possibile—in recent years, and last year was ranked red on the district’s performance scorecard.

Fewer than a quarter of its students scored proficient or advanced on last year’s state standardized tests in reading or math. The school’s native English-speakers scored ten or more percentage points worse than their native Spanish speaking peers—a reversal of trends in the district as a whole.

Declining enrollment is also an issue at Schenck: Enrollment has dropped from 670 in 2011 to 500 in the current school year.

Valverde, where nearly 60 percent of the school’s 400 students are English language learners and 98.5 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, was also given the lowest ranking on the district’s performance framework. Its rating has been steadily declining over the past five years, and its English-speaking students also scored lower than English language learners on reading and writing tests.

Valverde’s former principal announced in September that she would leave due to the school’s stagnant test scores. The school has an interim principal and will have a new permanent leader next year.

“We want to be responsive to all of our parents, but as we look at performance level in both schools–frankly we’re not doing well enough by any students in these schools,” Cordova said.

DPS officials say the decision to change the programs at Valverde and Schenck is not yet final.

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