Transitions

University Prep on tap to run Pioneer charter in 2016-17

PHOTO: A. Gottlieb
Students at Pioneer Charter School.

The Denver school board will vote tonight on a resolution acknowledging the Pioneer Charter School’s decision not to renew its contract, which means the school would close in May of 2016.

But the resolution also fast-tracks a proposal for University Prep, a nearby charter elementary school, to operate at Pioneer. That resolution has drawn concerns from some people about the district’s process for placing new schools.

After Pioneer’s board voted to not seek a renewal of its contract in December, Denver Public Schools announced that it was looking for at least one school operator to replace Pioneer in its annual search for quality schools.

Tonight’s new resolution says that DPS will inform applicants that “the District has identified a potential replacement provider of high quality [sic] for Pioneer Charter School for the 2016-17 school year.” It says that DPS will approve University Prep’s application to operate Pioneer starting in 2016-17 as long as it has a quality plan and as long as its existing school continues to show strong academic results.

At a meeting of the DPS board earlier this week, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that “a voluntary transition where parties have ample time to plan, prepare, share expertise, and work together is a good thing.”

But this unusual arrangement has drawn concern from some in the school community.

Laurie Thompson, a business director at Pioneer, wrote in an email to the board, “Parents were informed after the decision was made and were told that there would be a role for parents and community members to have a voice during the Call for Quality Schools process.”

However, she added,  the new resolution “effectively [takes] Pioneer off the table for other…applicants and [negates] input from Pioneer parents and others in this community regarding this important transition.”

Other individuals and groups have considered applying to run schools in the Pioneer building. One is a dual language program that would be a district-run school.

But University Prep has already begun a consulting relationship with Pioneer intended to last through the next school year. The Pioneer board will vote on its contract with University Prep tonight, according to board member Anna Nicotera, but school staff from the two buildings have already started working together.

University Prep leaders plan to submit a letter of intent to apply and a proposal for their plan to run Pioneer starting in the 2016-17 school year. David Singer, the founder and head of school at University Prep, emphasized that University Prep’s proposal will go through DPS’s vetting process.

Running Pioneer would be a new task for University Prep staff. University Prep began as a new elementary school, gradually phasing in new grade levels K-5. If the school is awarded operation of Pioneer, it would be taking on a K-5 school all at once.

Pioneer also has a higher proportion of English language learners than University Prep. Singer said University Prep would include a plan for working with those students in its charter proposal.

Nicotera said the board knew that some parents felt they had been excluded from the board’s decision-making about surrendering the contract and bringing in University Prep.

“While we value community and family, when you have these tough decisions and things aren’t getting better, sometimes a board has to make that hard decision,” she said.

She said she was hopeful the partnership with University Prep would help the school’s students.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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.