Another overhaul ahead for John Marshall High School

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee isn’t getting what he wants for John Marshall High School next year.

The State Board of Education last month rejected his idea to have Indianapolis Public Schools lead the transformation there by acting as its own state-designated “lead partner” to improve test scores and student performance at the low-performing East side school, which nearly was taken over by the state into 2012 after earning six straight years of  F grades from the state because of low test scores.

The district, however, will get to work with an outside partners that helped make changes elsewhere in the district.

The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the controversial Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, has been credited with helping improve test scores at Broad Ripple High School. The Indiana State Board of Education approved a nearly $300,000 contract with the New York-based nonprofit Wednesday to serve as lead partner for both schools.

Ferebee has asked the state to drop its contracts with lead partners including Scholastic Achievement Partners, Voyager Learning and The New Teacher Project, saying that his plan for the schools is a better use of resources and will be just as effective at performing high-need schools. He partly succeeded in June, getting the state to approve his plan to lead the takeover effort for only George Washington High School.

State officials hesitated giving the district back total control over John Marshall.

“I’d like to see a full school year of demonstrated success by IPS,” state board member Tony Walker said in June. “Quite frankly, we’re in the position of having to intervene because of IPS’ past failures with these schools.”

Schools that receive D or F letter grades from the state for six consecutive years risk state takeover, but when Broad Ripple and George Washington reached that point in 2011, the state gave them a lower level of intervention than four other IPS schools that were severed from district control to be run independently.

When John Marshall High School earned its sixth straight F grade from the state in 2012, the state board took a different route by signing onto former IPS superintendent Eugene White’s plan for the school. White hired Texas-based Voyager Learning under a $4 million contract in 2012 to work with nine schools that feed into the district with the option of eventually expanding to more.

At White’s urging, a skeptical state board agreed to try his plan, and allowed Voyager to become Marshall’s lead partner, routing federal dollars to support the plan.

The investment hasn’t paid off as board members had hoped. Marshall was rated a D last year on its state report card. Its students saw a three-point decline in the percentage of students passing high school end-of-course tests. Just 25 percent passed the exams.

While disappointed the state didn’t endorse his own plan, Ferebee told the board he could work with The New Teacher Project.

“I would say that The New Teacher Project is probably one of our stronger partners compared to Scholastic and Voyager,” Ferebee said in June. “We have a  situation where we have a lead partner that has been (at Broad Ripple) for a longer period of time compared to the others. We believe that … it’s important for us to have a strong model for transformation.”

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

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