legal quirk

Principal: State charter law creates rare zoned high schools

Charter school principal Eddie Calderon-Melendez, right, speaking to parents and students at his schools' lottery. (GothamSchools, Flickr)l
Charter school principal Eddie Calderon-Melendez, right, speaking to parents and students at his schools' admission lottery. (<em>GothamSchools</em>, Flickr)

The conventional wisdom about charter schools is that they allow families a way out of their zoned schools. But for soon-to-be high school students, charter schools actually provide the nearest alternative to a zoned option, according to one school operator.

The high school admissions program run by the Department of Education is citywide, meaning that students can apply to any school in the city. But the state law governing charter schools treats high schools just like schools serving younger students: They are required to give priority in admissions to students living in their school district.

Because many charter schools have more applicants than seats, charter high schools necessarily end up with mostly students from their district. For that reason, “we’re actually a throwback to the zoned school,” Eddie Calderon-Melendez, the principal of Williamsburg Charter High School, told me last week at the lottery for the three schools in his Believe Network.

There are currently only a handful of DOE high schools who admit students based on their addresses, and there are no zoned high schools left in all of Manhattan. The decline of zoned high schools began decades ago when the city first introduced high school choice. By the time Joel Klein became chancellor, large zoned schools were underperforming, and he ramped up the rate at which they were broken down and replaced by small schools open to all high school applicants. 

Perhaps because of the low quality of what had once been zoned high schools, few have questioned the disappearance of zoned high schools. But Calderon-Melendez said serving a local population, even at the high school level, has benefits that citywide schools cannot replicate. When high schoolers go to school in their own neighborhood, they feel safer and more secure, they can participate more easily in after school programs, and their parents can stay involved, he said.

Calderon-Melendez said the state’s charter school law makes it possible for him to run schools that meet the particular needs of students in District 14, which includes Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and parts of Bushwick. Most of WCS’s students, including Calderon-Melendez’s own son, come from the neighborhood, and Calderon-Melendez said his goal is for the school’s new building, located in Bushwick, to become a community center for its families. He said he looks for local ties when hiring teachers and tries to provide paying jobs for parents who need work. WCS is even serving members of the neighborhood’s Polish community, who historically have not enrolled in its schools; Calderon-Melendez said more than 10 percent of his students speak Polish at home.

WCS is already keeping some students in the neighborhood. At the lottery last week, I met several students who said they would be attending one of the schools in the nearby Grand Street Campus if they didn’t get a spot at WCS. But far more of the eighth graders I spoke to said they would be commuting into Manhattan and Queens next year if they didn’t win a spot in the lottery, to schools such as Murray Bergtraum, Graphic Communication Arts, and Health Professions.

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

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.