At out-of-town training, IPS board also tries to resolve discord

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier, Chalkbeat TN
Memphis Teacher Residency Director Robin Henderson shares how they prepare teachers to work in urban schools.

Why did the Indianapolis Public School Board spend nearly two days together last weekend among the rolling hills of southern Indiana?

The stated reason was for training, and board members have been careful not to describe the get-together as a general meeting that would be required to be open to the public under Indiana’s Open Door Law.

But board members also acknowledged that getting away from Indianapolis also allowed them a chance to talk frankly behind closed doors to try to resolve some personal issues after a tense year that saw several close votes and three incumbent board members defeated in the November election.

Indiana’s Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, who provides advice, assistance and education on the state’s laws requiring open government, said the board was perhaps a bit “sloppy” by not more fully describing the session as an orientation, not just training. But as long as board members discuss no public business they are allowed to hold out-of-town retreats under state law.

“The whole team-building, kumbaya stuff, I don’t have a problem with,” Britt said. “It’s not really authorized under executive session. It’s more under the lines of an orientation, which aren’t considered meetings.”

The board spent an estimated $1,500 on lodging and travel to stay at Scenic View Lodge in Bloomington, and did, indeed, get training. Don McAdams of the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems coached the board members on their roles leading the district and how they differ from Lewis Ferebee’s job as superintendent, said board president Diane Arnold. McAdams’ bill for that message is expected to be about $4,000, board members said.

McAdams, the trainer, was an education adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Texas Gov. Rick Perry and is best known for leading the Houston school board through a massive reform while Paige was the district superintendent in the 1990s. The Houston reform helped lay the groundwork for wider testing and accountability-based reform in Texas. Then Gov. George W. Bush regularly used Houston as an example of reform done right while in Texas and later as president while shaping his signature education bill, No Child Left Behind.

Board members said no public business was discussed at the training. There will be no meeting minutes because IPS does not take minutes at executive sessions.

Why wasn’t the training held in Indianapolis? Arnold said holding it elsewhere in the state allowed board members to commit a full day to the training without distractions.

“I kept thinking, ‘Boy, I wish we would have done this last year,'” Arnold said. “Maybe we wouldn’t have had some of the personal problems we did.”

Board member Gayle Cosby, who at times last year sided with the three board members who were defeated in November, said she first resisted the training when others suggested it last year because she thought it was too expensive.

“I thought it was expensive as hell,” Cosby said. “Was the money well spent? Yeah. It was a good training. It really did define the work that needs to be done. It’s a big job.”

Board member Caitlin Hannon said she hopes the training eliminates a culture from last year’s board that she described as micromanaging.

“I’d talk about (what our role is) and you’d get seven different answers,” Hannon said of last year. “Spending time getting on the same page and talking about those things was the first step in getting away from micromanagement. We’re going to stay at the 30,000-foot level.”

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