exodus (updated)

David Steiner, top state ed dep't official, to leave at year's end

David Steiner
David Steiner. Photo courtesy of State Education Department.

Yet another top education official is making plans to vacate his position — this time at the State Education Department.

SED Commissioner David Steiner will leave the department at the end of the school year, he announced today.

Steiner appears to be leaving entirely of his own accord. People close to him described him as less interested in the “nuts and bolts” work of implementing the vision he helped the state set out for education. They said that Steiner, a former education school dean, is considering returning to the quieter and less political territory of academia.

The news outdid Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement this morning that his deputy mayor, Dennis Walcott, will replace Chancellor Cathie Black — at least in the department of rattling surprises. Even Steiner himself did not know that he would be announcing his departure today, according to people close to him.

“The only reason the announcement came today is because there clearly were rumors, and then after the Susan Arbetter show, and she raised those rumors, it felt like we needed to address them because we didn’t want to have rumors continue to percolate and circulate over the next few days,” a source at the state education department said.

Asked about rumors that Steiner might resign on that show, Capital Pressroom, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that Steiner was “exploring other options” after less than two years in Albany. Tisch appeared on the show to discuss teacher evaluations but also addressed the resignation of Cathie Black as New York City schools chancellor.

Steiner became commissioner in July 2009, replacing 14-year veteran Richard Mills. Steiner had been chair of the School of Education at Hunter College, where he pioneered the practice of videotaping teachers as they worked and then critiquing their performance.

Improving teacher evaluation emerged as one of the main themes of Steiner’s tenure as commissioner, with the state reaching an agreement with teachers unions on a plan to change how teachers are assessed. That plan has yet to go into action because it requires individual school districts to develop their own assessments and have those assessments approved by local unions. Recommended guidelines for the local assessments were released only this week.

“With the anticipated approval of a final teacher evaluation program in the coming months, I have informed Chancellor Tisch and members of the Board of Regents that I intend to leave the State Education Department later this year,” Steiner said this afternoon in a statement. “Together we will begin to plan for a seamless transition.”

People close to Steiner said he had grown disinterested in the job of commissioner.

“David came to do the vision stuff. He did it,” according to a person close to Steiner. “And the rest of it’s not up his alley. I think he was ready to do something else.”

Steiner hasn’t said what his next move will be. But Tisch said in a statement, “I know he is weighing a number of exciting options.”

STATEMENTS REGARDING DEPARTURE OF EDUCATION COMMISSIONER DAVID STEINER

As the end of the school year and the legislative session approaches, I am immensely proud of the reforms we’ve achieved  —  guiding New York’s successful Race to the Top application, designing a new teacher and school leader evaluation system, reforming teacher preparation and certification and implementing a tough re-setting of our 3-8 tests.  With the anticipated approval of a final teacher evaluation program in the coming months, I have informed Chancellor Tisch and members of the Board of Regents that I intend to leave the State Education Department later this year.  Together we will begin to plan for a seamless transition.

–Commissioner David Steiner

We recruited David because he is one of America’s leading education reform visionaries, and as Commissioner he has delivered – leading New York’s successful Race to the Top application and guiding this department through an amazing array of reforms.  As he approaches the end of his second legislative session and second school year as Commissioner, he has informed me of his desire to return to a role outside of state government where he can continue to champion reform.  I know he is weighing a number of exciting options.  In the weeks to come the Board will begin an orderly transition and continue to move forward with our reform agenda.

— Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch

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