Principals: Give us our superintendents back!

A cornerstone of Chancellor Joel Klein’s reforms has been what you might call the principal-as-CEO principle, the idea that principals should have the freedom to run their schools as they’d like, in exchange for consequences if they falter. The change has transformed not just principals but also another familiar school leader: the superintendent.

Superintendents used to spend their days inside the schools in their districts, coaching and evaluating principals. They’re still legally required to rate principals. But under the Department of Education’s latest reorganization, they have much less time to do these evaluations. That’s because they’re also required to train and support people at schools in other districts. The job has changed so much that superintendents don’t actually have to visit the schools whose principals they evaluate.

Some principals have said they appreciate being free from micromanaging superintendents. But others are now saying that school leaders benefited from the day-to-day scrutiny that the superintendents offered.

“Most people do a little better when we know that we are accountable, not just in two years, but in the day to day,” Jeffrey Scherr, who recently retired from Queens’ Francis Lewis High School, said at an event last week at Columbia University’s Teachers College for members of a TC-based principal fellowship program. (I wasn’t at the event, but Insideschools‘ Crissy Strining was and sent me her notes. TC also posted a summary.)

“A level of expertise was taken away” when superintendents lost their supervisory role, a principal of a Brooklyn secondary school said at the event.

Superintendents’ expertise is still available, according to DOE spokesman Andrew Jacob. “The superintendent is always available to talk,” he told me. “Principals can also invite their superintendents into their schools as often as they want.”

And at the TC event, other principals countered that School Support Organizations, which principals contract to provide teacher training, provide the same assistance that the superintendents once did, with the added bonus that they are beholden to the schools that hired them, not a set of rigid rules set at central headquarters.

“When [superintendents] stopped talking to me about bulletin boards, my scores went up 50 percent,” one principal said. (This principal told TC that he didn’t want his name in the press.) “The data speaks for itself.”

But Scherr questioned what he called a “data will tell all” attitude, arguing that principals need to be held accountable for more than just test scores.

Some superintendents were guilty of “snoopervision,” or looking to catch principals making mistakes, Scherr said. But when superintendents’ supervision was good, they helped principals head off problems quickly, he said.

“My concern is that the lack of supervision leads to the possibility of failure before the test scores come in,” Scherr said.

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.