New York

CEC 3 to DOE: On rezoning, try, try again

Two weeks after the DOE first presented the Community Education Council for District 3 with two proposals for rezoning the Upper West Side, CEC 3 has concluded that both are too flawed to vote on.

Maps of the DOE's two rezoning proposals

In its official response, which CEC 3 released Friday along with responses from individual schools, CEC 3 asks for a new plan based on official school capacity data, a revised conception of school zones, and an expectation of class size reduction. The densely packed response also asks the DOE to consider leasing as a short-term solution to the district’s space needs and emphasizes the unique identities of the district’s special programs, the advantages of grandfathering in any new zones so that siblings are kept together, and the need for a new school building.

An important question, the CEC argues, is whether the time is even right for rezoning, given the DOE’s own self-proclaimed constraints in planning for future space needs. From the response:

You have said that DOE does not plan for children until they register for seats. If the DOE is unable to anticipate how many children will be yielded by new construction, then perhaps this period of massive new construction in our district is NOT the best time to be redrawing zone lines.

The council will address the issue further at its public meeting Wednesday. CEC 3’s entire response is worth a read — it’s a useful summary of many of the issues districts and neighborhoods face when trying to negotiate an overcrowding plan with the DOE. The response is posted in full after the jump.

To: Roser Salavert, Marty Barr, and John White
From: Community Education Council of District 3
Re: CEC response to DOE preliminary proposal for addressing overcrowding on the Upper West Side
Date: October 10, 2008

Dear Roser, Marty and John:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the preliminary proposals presented to the District 3 community on September 17, 2008. CEC3 has considered the two proposals and facilitated discussion among schools and community leaders. For a number of reasons, we are not able to vote yes or no on these preliminary proposals in their current form. For example, we have concerns with the numbers used by the DOE to claim that 1,500 seats could be realistically freed up in the district without changing sibling, special education, and continuity policies that allow families who move out of a catchment zone to continue attending school in that zone.

In the spirit of a back-and-forth discussion, we invite the DOE to prepare a second generation proposal that
• Is based on target building utilization goals set forth in the Blue Book
• Uses kindergarten (or K-1) data rather than k-5 data to capture trends (as at PS 87) and more precisely determine how many out of catchment non-sibling seats are expected to be available in coming years at each school.
• Keeps schools at the center of their zones where possible, and tries to zone apartments directly facing a school (as at PS163) to that school.
• Recognizes that PS199 in particular requires an immediate solution for the fall of 2009.
• Considers leasing space as a way of gaining seats in the short term that can be accomplished more quickly than building new schools and with less conflict than moving schools.
• Acknowledges the likely need for new school capacity to be built or leased, and answers specifically why in light of this likely need, no action is being taken on the rare opportunity presented by the Riverside South location currently being offered by the developer Extell (in parcels L, M & N), which will not magically reappear in four or five years if the DOE changes its mind when the new high rises in District 3 are occupied. CEC members would like to be present at discussions between DOE and developers.
• Shows what it would take for the Department of Education to achieve target class size goals of 20 in kindergarten through third grade and 23 in upper elementary grades in District 3.

As part of an effective plan to alleviate district overcrowding, the rezoning tool should be used sparingly, fairly and with precision.
• New zone lines should be used to resolve specific cases of overcrowding, not to reinvent how students are assigned to schools.
• The term “zone utilization rate” is a brand-new term that has no history. There is no consensus that setting a “target zone utilization” of 83% would be a desirable premise for the UWS. Target building utilization rates are a preferable basis for assessing catchment needs as they reflect actual usage by the community.
• We recommend retaining the mechanism currently in place for giving priority to zoned kids, then siblings, then district kids, then out of district, combined with a well-run lottery conducted in the early spring. This system can lead to efficient building use.
• In cases where needs of catchment elementary schools conflict with needs of non-catchment schools and trade-offs are required, priority should be given to the needs of the catchment elementary schools.
• In cases where established and successful programs are in place, (as at PS166) space should be allocated for those programs and this should be built into the zone size.
• New York City’s government failed to plan for school seats to match new construction. We should not exacerbate this failure by favoring new construction over existing housing when drawing new zone lines.
• In order to assess potential impact of any new zoning proposal, the community needs more information about the formulas used by DOE to analyze how many school seats correspond to a given number of housing units, city blocks, or areas proposed for rezoning.
• A logistical point: in future iterations of the proposal could you please number the pages, label streets on maps, and keep zone colors consistent between versions.

You have said that DOE does not plan for children until they register for seats. If the DOE is unable to anticipate how many children will be yielded by new construction, then perhaps this period of massive new construction in our district is NOT the best time to be redrawing zone lines. Whether or not zoning is used as one approach, the CEC sees that school relocations may be necessary as a means of alleviating some of the worst overcrowding, but only as a last resort.

We would like to emphasize some principles that should guide any plan:
• A new school is needed in the southern part of District 3, or will be within the time frame needed to construct a school if one were approved today. Without a new school we (as well as all other community leaders who have studied our situation) do not believe the overcrowding in our district can be properly addressed.
• The District 3 community values its successful tradition of providing a variety of learning environments for our children. The D3 lottery system was developed to permit fair access to these schools and give parents an opportunity to seek a school that matches their children’s learning style. We recommend preserving the lottery system. Movement among catchments is a means of maximizing the quality of education for all our children.
• Keeping siblings together at one school is one of the strongest values expressed by families in our district. We recommend that siblings be grandfathered in during any transitional zoning period.
• Expanding populations of kindergarteners will likely lead to expanding populations of middle schoolers in a few years, and we would like to know how the DOE plans to address that issue.
• Schools at the northern end of our district, which are not being considered under this current proposal, are nevertheless suffering from space pressures due to forced sharing with charter schools. This issue must be addressed before overcrowding in District 3 is resolved.

Attached are the responses to your proposal received from District 3 schools, and some block-by-block commentary on the new zone lines presented in September. We look forward to continuing this conversation.

Sincerely,
The members of CEC3:
Elizabeth Schell
Teresa Arboleda
Terry Gray
Morton Schuster
Jennifer Freeman
Christina Palmer
Olaiya Deen
John Davidge
Erma Jones Mason
Robin Klueber

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