luck of the draw

A second chance in HS admissions for charter school hopefuls

Steven Taveras holds up a card indicating that he was the first student selected for Believe Southside Charter High School.
Steven Taveras holds up a card indicating that he was the first student selected for Believe Southside Charter High School.

Last week, most eighth graders in the city found out which high school had accepted them. Tonight, hundreds of eighth graders in Brooklyn learned whether they would be lucky enough to have a charter high school choice for this fall as well.

I joined hundreds of the hopeful eighth graders for an admission lottery trifecta held in Greenpoint tonight, the first time charter schools could legally conduct their lotteries. The students had all applied for one or more of the schools in the brand-new Believe High Schools Network. The first school in that network, Williamsburg Charter High School, opened in 2004, and two more, Believe Northside and Believe Southside, are set to open this fall. Before the lottery, WCS founding principal Eddie Calderon-Melendez told me that over 700 students had submitted applications for the 500 available spots, some applying to two or even all three of the schools.

“I can feel how nervous you are,” said City Council member Diana Reyna, who ceremonially drew the first names in the lottery, to a chorus of agreement. “My heart is racing as much as yours.”

The first two names drawn were for students who weren’t present. But when Steven Taveras heard his name called to be the first student selected for Believe Southside, he leapt from his seat and bounded to the front of the auditorium, where he was immediately pulled into a round of handshakes and photographs.

A few minutes later, the IS 318 student was still beaming, but he said he wasn’t sure why he’d be giving up his seat at nearby Progress High School. “Mommy picked everything,” his mother, Maria Taveras, interjected. She said her younger son was thriving at his charter school, Williamsburg Collegiate, and she wanted the same kind of disciplined environment for Steven. “It’s a better beginning for him,” she said.

3405215013_376be7788c
Alida Mayer, right, celebrates her acceptance to Williamsburg Charter High School at tonight's lottery.

Alida Mayer was the next student selected. The eighth grader at St. Nicholas School came with two close friends to the lottery, which she said she entered after attending a WCS information session. She said the teachers all seemed to have a good sense of humor, unlike the teachers at her Catholic school. She told me she had been accepted to a vocational school in Queens but would most likely have been headed to St Joseph’s, another parochial school, if she hadn’t gotten lucky in the lottery tonight.

As the numbers neared 300, the limit for how many students will enroll at the flagship school in the fall, an anxious silence settled over the remaining families. Those whose names weren’t drawn will be placed on a waiting list, which Calderon-Melendez told me has stretched in the past to 2,000 names. The waitlist rarely moves, he told me, but parents still call every year to make sure their children are still on it. “Those are sad phone calls,” he said.

 The 350th name called tonight was Ruth Igbayo’s. The eighth grader at MS 61 was accepted to the well regarded science program at Abraham Lincoln High School, but she said she would hold out for a seat in one of the Believe charter schools. “I heard they are for more gifted students,” she said. “I want to take more accelerated classes.”

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.