shakeup at the top

DPS plans for cuts, additions, and shifts in central office

Denver Public Schools is cutting approximately 110 positions and adding several dozen new roles to its central office as part of a restructuring officials say is aimed at shifting more resources and expertise to schools.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, said the changes are part of an effort to meet the goals of the Denver Plan 2020 and to educate teachers about how to teach using the Common Core State Standards. Most of the changes are in the departments Whitehead-Bust oversees.

The restructuring is coming in advance of the district’s new academic strategic plan, which will be released later this spring.

Some of the changes related to this restructuring, including an expansion of the district’s teacher-leadership program and cuts to its peer observer team, were announced earlier this year.

“As you push more expertise in the schools, it begs the question of what’s changing in the central team,” Whitehead-Bust said. “You now want to make sure your district roles are aligned to schools and leaders’ specific needs.”

Some of the changes:

  • The Office of School Reform and Innovation, known as OSRI, will be divided into two separate departments. An Innovation and Strategy department will develop and support new schools and programs like blended learning, and a Portfolio office will focus on managing charter schools.
  • The district is cutting its “curriculum coordinator role” and replacing it with two or three dozen “content specialists.” Content specialists will spend 80 percent of their time in schools, while curriculum coordinators were largely based in the central office.
  • The district is cutting its Collaborative Strategies for Reading team, a federally-funded group of 25 who led a reading program. The federal grant that supported the team is coming to an end, and Whitehead-Bust said the district had determined that it was not getting the results it had hoped for from the program. She said some components of the training will be continued.
  • The district is reducing the size of its teacher effectiveness coaching team from 72 to 54. Whitehead-Bust said some of the mentoring, coaching, and evaluating components of this job would be filled by teacher leaders. The district is also cutting a half dozen “executive director” positions in the academic office.

Whitehead-Bust said that she was unable to say exactly what the ultimate budget impact would be. She said the end of several grants means that the central office would be “leaner” next year. The district’s school board will vote on a budget later this spring.

Nine director-level positions on the new organization chart are listed as vacant, including the deputy chief of academics, who oversees curriculum and instruction and professional learning teams, and executive director of portfolio management, who oversees the new team focused on charter schools.

In an email to teachers and school leaders, Whitehead-Bust and Chief Schools Officer Susana Cordova said that the changes were partly prompted by feedback from teachers and a report from the Council of Great City Schools that said the district was not doing enough to prepare its teachers for new academic standards.

The email says the district is focusing on making sure teachers are more equipped with curricular resources that are aligned to the standards; on making sure support staff can help teachers with standards alignment; and making sure district professional development is aligned to standards.

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