In first policy speech, Walcott to focus on moving "the middle"

Since becoming chancellor in April, Dennis Walcott has made many public appearances but few policy pronouncements.

That’s set to change tomorrow morning, when Walcott is set to deliver the first policy address of his tenure, a speech at New York University titled “Why We Can’t Rest: How To Move the Middle.”

The city is mum on what exactly the speech will be about, but it’s clear that Walcott has spent some time talking about middle schools in the last week. On Thursday, he met with roughly a dozen principals of high-scoring middle schools — both district-run and charter — to ask them a question that has long bedeviled educators and policymakers: How to curb the performance drop-off that takes place after students leave elementary school.

The 2011 state test scores released last month told a familiar story: Middle school students scored proficient at a far lower rate than students in the elementary grades.

“We still need to increase our focus on those years,” Walcott said at the time.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the city has made improving middle schools a priority. In 2007, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn convened a task force on middle schools and brought on Pedro Noguera, an NYU professor, as its chair. When its recommendations came out, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would follow several of them, pitching in $5 million a year for 51 low-performing middle schools and appointing a DOE official to focus only on middle schools.

Four years later, the school where Bloomberg made the announcement, M.S. 44 in Manhattan, has closed because of poor performance. The middle schools czar left within a year, and the 51 schools have seen their budgets wither during three straight years of citywide cuts. And performance hasn’t improved.

But the annual funding is still in the DOE’s budget and hasn’t been allocated for this year, according to Carol Boyd, who met with Walcott last week when he sat down with members of the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has long raised the alarm about failing middle schools. She said Walcott was tight-lipped about plans to improve middle schools but suggested — as CEJ has — that simply giving principals of struggling middle schools an extra $100,000 a year to use as they please hasn’t paid off.

“Instead of just doing that in lean times and times of accountability, they want to make sure it’s more targeted,” Boyd said. “That’s the best I could ascertain.”

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.