merry-go-round

City unveils algorithm that will assign ATR's to new weekly spots

The Department of Education is preparing for the high volume of new assignments it will have to make starting Tuesday, as Absent Teacher Reserve  teachers are shifted to a new school every single week.

Starting next week, the nearly 1,300 teachers in the ATR pool will report to a fresh school every Monday, an arrangement set in a deal between the city and teachers union to avert teacher layoffs. Teachers enter the pool when their positions are eliminated, usually because of budget cuts or school closures. While some teachers quickly find new positions in the city schools, others do not, and some stay in the pool for years without finding a new position.

A computer algorithm and multiple DOE staffers are tasked with making matches between ATR members to their weekly school placements, DOE officials told reporters today in a telephone briefing. The officials said the process is a work in progress, acknowledging that it may require more time and energy from central office staff and principals than the previous ATR arrangement. Previously, ATR teachers held long-term assignments. The relatively comfortable stability was seen by some as a reason why longstanding members of the pool failed to find new positions.

Union officials explained to skeptical teachers in the ATR pool earlier this week that the arrangement is meant to help them land permanent positions.

DOE officials echoed that explanation. The placements should be seen as a tryout that could easily result in a full-time position, according to Larry Becker, the chief executive officer of the DOE’s human resources division. 

But a month into the school year, there are fewer open positions than there are ATR members, and the department does not expect that the pool will be cleared, only reduced, Becker said. He said that there are about 550 open positions in the core academic subjects, the ones where hiring is most likely to be taking place right now.

Each week, a computer algorithm will assign teachers a new placement. The algorithm will take into account teachers’ license areas, the district where they last held a permanent position, and schools’ needs. A team of four or five DOE staffers will monitor the placements, Becker said. Becker signaled that more staff members might be brought on to the project if the city’s hiring freeze is lifted.

The computer programming was a one-time cost and the salaries amount to just a fraction of the $40 million in projected savings in substitute costs, officials said.

Becker said guidance counselors and teachers already filling in as long-term substitutes would not be reassigned weekly because doing do would harm students, Becker said. But he said most students wouldn’t experience any upheavals from the ATR deal because they would likely have had different teachers substituting in their classes each week anyway.

One unanswered question is who will evaluate teachers in the pool if they do not have a single direct supervisor over the course of the year. DOE officials are still considering the issue, but it is likely that principals, district officials, and department officials would jointly issue the ratings, Becker said.

At meetings for ATR teachers held by the teachers union this week, United Federation of Teachers representative Amy Arundell assured teachers that they would not be evaluated based solely on one week of work at a school. But several teachers who were assigned to temporary positions outside of their speciality voiced concerns that they could be evaluated while teaching classes or student populations that they are not licensed to teach.

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.