space wars

Proponents of Cobble Hill pre-K: We have "grassroots" support

Parents and elected officials speak out in favor of a plan to open an early childhood center instead of a charter school.

A day before a public hearing about a space-sharing proposal that would bring the Success Charter Network to Brownstone Brooklyn, advocates of an alternative plan took to the street to promote their idea.

The counter-proposal, made after the Department of Education announced it had chosen a Baltic Street school building for the charter school chain’s newest outpost, would use the space instead for a preschool.

Success Charter operator Eva Moskowitz suggested in the New York Post today that the counter-proposal came from the teachers union in an attempt to block her school from getting space in the building.

That’s “absolutely not true,” said Jeffrey Tripp, the UFT chapter leader at the School for International Studies, one of the schools in the building, at a press conference today. He said the preschool proposal is supported by a “grassroots movement.”

“I’m proud to be a member of the UFT but this [alternate proposal] is not something the UFT was behind,” he said.

The plan — for which DOE officials say no application has yet been received — was first floated by a retired DOE official and a local politician in response to the DOE’s plan to site Cobble Hill Success Academy in the building that International Studies shares with the School for Global Studies and a special education program. It’s also being supported by the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group.

The dust-up has AQE, which typically advocates against school closures and co-locations on the grounds that they are unfair to poor and minority students, in the position of supporting a preschool program that would likely serve many affluent families.

Today, Assemblywoman Joan Millman explained that an early childhood center would serve children zoned for P.S. 261, P.S. 29, and P.S. 58, three popular neighborhood schools whose pre-K classes cannot accommodate every family that seeks a spot.

“I have noticed increasing numbers of parents who come to me and say they can’t get into local schools,” Millman told me.

Parents from some of those schools and others spoke at the press conference today, saying that the neighborhood needs both pre-K and middle school options. Putting pressure on the two secondary schools in the Baltic Street building would make them unlikely middle school destinations for local families in the future, they said. (The schools currently struggle to attract students from the immediate vicinity.)

Under the DOE’s space-sharing proposal, International Studies would go from 36 full-size and nine half-size classrooms to 21 full-size and four half-size classrooms. Global Studies would lose an even higher proportion of its classrooms, dropping to 15 full-size and five half-size classrooms from 32 and 11, respectively.

In contrast, parents and officials said today, an early childhood center would require just five classrooms and put little strain on shared spaces, meaning that International Studies’ culinary arts space and Global Studies’ new computer lab would not be in jeopardy.

Plus, students from the middle and high schools could volunteer in the preschool classes, suggested Melinda Martinez, the mother of four International Studies students. She said her oldest son selected the school because of its culinary arts program.

Several parents from the School for International Studies joined the press conference. No one from the School for Global Studies participated.

Millman told me that the controversy over Cobble Hill Success suggests that she and other legislators erred when writing the state’s charter school law in the 1990s. They should have allocated funding for charter schools to find space so they wouldn’t have to compete with traditional public schools, she said.

In District 15, where Cobble Hill is located, three of the four charter schools already open are either housed in private space or are in the process of constructing their own buildings.

A public hearing about the co-location will take place tomorrow at the Baltic Street building. The Panel for Educational Policy, the city’s school board, is scheduled to vote on the proposal next month. It has never rejected a DOE proposal.

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