Change of schedule

DOE officials promise swift changes for Queens high school

Department of Education officials have promised to resolve scheduling problems this week at Queens Metropolitan High School — and to keep a closer eye on the school in the future.

Officials from the DOE and Children’s First Network have visited the school multiple times in the past week, observing classes and meeting with parents and administrators. They will also sit in on future Parent-Teacher Association meetings, according to a list of promises that officials outlined in a meeting with PTA members at Queens Metropolitan High School last week.

Since early in the school year, parents at the year-old school have complained of missing textbooks, incompetent substitute teachers, and multiple schedule changes that forced students to miss gym class, electives, and some core subjects.

After he discussed the problems by phone with one parent, the city’s Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, told the audience at November’s regular Panel for Education Policy meeting that the DOE would act quickly and aggressively to fix the problems.

He was not among the officials who met with parents last week at an open meeting in the school’s auditorium. The officials said they had worked late into the evenings and through the previous weekend to address the issues and create new schedules, which took effect today.

According to John Sadowski, the parent who originally contacted Polakow-Suransky and has a son in tenth grade at the school, the officials a detailed a shortlist of promises for improving the school:

  • As of today, students will have new schedules which include time for gym instruction and more opportunities to take a foreign language, but fewer electives.
  • A DOE representative will attend all future PTA meetings.
  • A substitute teacher with a license to teach chemistry from the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve pool will teach the 10th-grade class until the end of November. The school will hire a permanent replacement by December 1st.
  • The school will order more chemistry textbooks to make up for the shortfall—administrators said they anticipated enrolling fewer students and did not order enough books last year.
  • The DOE will schedule a follow-up meeting with parents at the school to check the progress of these changes in the next three weeks.

Sadowski said several of the two dozen parents and three students who attended the meeting voiced concerns about the administrative problems. Some also criticized the leadership decisions their principal, Marci Levy-Maguire, made early in the year as issues began snowballing, but said they were willing to give her “another chance,” he said.

“Most people are optimistic,” Sadowski told me. “We feel like giving it a chance to see what happens.”

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.