who should rule the schools

Pro-mayoral control group has new name and will get a blog, too

The nonprofit pro-mayoral control advocacy group that was originally titled MASS, for Mayoral Accountability for Student Success, is now called Learn NY, and its official first day of existence is today. The group has close ties with the Bloomberg administration, but it is not being funded by the mayor, officials said in a background press conference with reporters this morning.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has already done impressive digging into the group’s media strategy. A spokesperson for the group confirmed to me today that the blog commenter Haimson noticed voicing his passion for mayoral control is indeed on the payroll of Learn NY. Brian Keeler, an online-media specialist who ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2006 with the help of a following he built at Daily Kos, has been posting positive comments on this blog, Leonie’s, and others. He is also an employee of the Web design firm that built Learn NY’s Web site and will write a regular blog on the site, the spokesperson, Julie Wood, said.

Something that will surely be asked — especially by critics of mayoral control and the Bloomberg administration, including Haimson — is how much of a “MASS” organization Learn NY really is. This is an important question to ask, for sure, just as it will be important to ask of groups opposing mayoral control. The question in this case is difficult to answer, partly because the pro-mayoral control forces have been circling for a while, but with some unexplained zig-zags.

First, there was the news, from Adam Lisberg at the Daily News, that a pro-mayoral control campaign was being led in part by Emma Bloomberg, Mayor Michael’s daughter and an employee of the Robin Hood Foundation. The foundation invests in charter schools that are generally strong mayoral control supporters. Then, Jenny Medina and Elissa Gootman reported in the Times that a campaign would be called MASS; that it was expected to have Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf serve as informal liason to the Bloomberg admnistration; and that Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone and chairman of MASS’s board, would recruit additional board members.

Now, MASS is calling itself Learn NY; has the same original three board members; and is disavowing all ties to the Bloomberg administration (though its leaders say that they have had conversations with administration officials). The group is also staking out a position that tacitly accepts two of the most-repeated criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg’s rule of the schools, pushing for a way to increase parental involvement and for a way to increase transparency and access to data.

Here’s the key excerpt from Canada’s introductory op/ed, published in Sunday’s Daily News:

There is more data available now than ever before, but parents and citizens deserve to have full confidence in its accuracy. An independent organization should be formed to analyze school performance and policy effectiveness. There should also be increased fiscal transparency, with audits to ensure that money is going toward children and learning.

The Department of Education has not done nearly enough to engage parents. Parents should have more notice before major decisions, like school closings or the cell phone ban, are made. And they should be given forums to voice their opinions – not merely free-for-all complaint sessions, but substantive discussions that are taken seriously. The DOE should establish community engagement benchmarks to monitor progress toward greater involvement of parents.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.