In a first, city plans to end contract with a support organization

For the first time since introducing school support organizations in 2007, the city plans to end its contract with one of them. But unlike when the city closes failing schools, it has refused to publicly release data showing how the network has performed.

(Update 4/20: City officials now say they are planning to publicly release the data next week.)

Replications — one of several non-profit organizations that provide schools instructional and administrative assistance — will not be able to contract with schools next year, a Department of Education official confirmed today. Every year, the DOE ranks how well support organizations and networks are doing based largely on the test scores and graduation rates of the schools they work with. These rankings have been used to close low-performing networks, but this is the first time a support organization has lost its contract because of them. Replications’ founder John Elwell said today that the decision to cut ties with the DOE was a mutual one.

“I was going to ask them to let us out of the contract,” he said.

Elwell said that for two years, DOE officials have been threatening to end the department’s contract with him based on his network’s ranking at the bottom of the list. He said this year 20 other networks placed lower than his in the rankings, but Replications did not do well enough to keep its contract.

DOE officials have refused requests for the rankings, though they have shown them to principals. Former Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern disagreed with the DOE’s decision not to release the rankings showing how Replications’ schools had performed.

“I think the public has a right to know not only how schools perform but also how networks perform,” he said.

Elwell said that while some of Replications’ problems were financial — it was not taking in enough money from contracts to cover its basic costs — he blamed most of the network’s problems on shifting expectations from the city.

“I think it’s a very bad model,” he said. “We’ve become a mini district office with very little capacity. Meanwhile, the accountability is based on the schools improving on the progress report and the quality review, which to be honest, we have almost no control over,” he said.

The model of having a handful of city-approved organizations that contract with schools for instructional help began in 2007. That year, former Chancellor Joel Klein and Deputy Chancellor Nadelstern, who recently retired, shifted the city schools from a system of geographic regions to one of support organizations. The change meant that schools had to contract with one of many groups — either city-approved non-profit organizations or DOE-run ones — for support, rather than being assigned to one of six regional offices.

Last year, the city reorganized how schools get support again. The city’s large service centers, which offered schools assistance with writing their budgets and other back office tasks, were decentralized. Those operational tasks were moved over to the school support organizations, which had primarily been in charge of providing schools with professional development and instructional help. Currently, each support organization oversees a group of networks that are responsible for 20-25 schools.

Initially, Replications had no involvement with either administrative or instructional support. It was a non-profit with the goal of opening good schools by replicating the models of already-successful schools.

“Replications had one idea, which is a good one: if Mott Hall High School works, then let’s do another Mott Hall. And if that works, let’s do a Mott Hall 3,” said Clara Hemphill, senior editor at the New School’s Center for NYC Affairs, who authored a report on school support organizations.

But when the city switched from regions to support organizations, Replications changed, too. It signed up to provide instructional support to the schools it had opened as well as others that chose to a join. A year later, it and other networks were asked to oversee operational support, too.

Nadelstern said he thought highly of Replications’ work opening new schools, but felt the organization had a rough transition to managing them.

“I do think the task of opening an effective school is different from supporting one that’s up and running and that was the transition they had to make,” he said. “To their credit they accepted the challenge.”

Hemphill agreed, but said that Replications’ problems are not unique. Other support organizations are having trouble shifting from providing instructional help to also offering operational assistance, she said.

“The DOE is trying to see if it’s possible to live without district offices and without superintendents and clearly Replications wasn’t able to provide all that stuff,” Hemphill said.

Currently, there are 14 New York City schools that pay Replications a fee for its help. They will have to find new support organizations for next school year.

Elwell said that the end of his contract with the DOE would not spell the end of Replications. The network still has three schools in Baltimore where, Elwell said, he has more authority to change how the schools function by managing a fraction of their budgets and hiring their principals.

Schools in Replications’ Network

Grades 9-12

  • Mott Hall Bronx High School (NYC)
  • New Era Academy (Baltimore)
  • Renaissance Academy (Baltimore)
  • The Henry Street School for International Studies (NYC)
  • High School of World Cultures (NYC)
  • The Brooklyn Latin School (NYC)
  • Frederick Douglass Academy III (NYC)
  • Knowledge, Achievement, Success Academy (KASA) Baltimore Preparatory (Baltimore)
  • Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School (NYC)
  • Grades 6-8

  • The Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy IV (NYC)
  • The Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII (NYC)
  • Frederick Douglass Academy III (NYC)
  • Knowledge, Achievement, Success Academy (KASA) Baltimore Preparatory (Baltimore)
  • Mott Hall Community School (NYC)
  • Mott Hall Science & Technology Academy (NYC)
  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (NYC)
  • Grades K-5

  • P.S. 15 Jackie Robinson (NYC)
  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (NYC)
  • 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

    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