communications strategy

State outlines education policy agenda in email blast to teachers

The logo of SED's new website for educators

State education officials are pushing their reform agenda with editorial boards, on television and the radio — and now, in teachers’ email inboxes, too.

Last week, Education Commissioner John King sent an email to teachers across the state explaining the State Education Department’s plans to boost student achievement. Under the subject line “We Must Do Better,” the email acknowledges that many teachers are frustrated by changing expectations and curriculum standards and asks educators for advice about what the state can do to help them.

The email was the first of its kind and is part of a stepped-up campaign to fill educators in on the policy changes taking place in Albany, officials say.

“When I became Commissioner last June, I set two goals: one, to help make sure every student graduates from high school college- and career-ready; and two, to make the State Education Department a model government agency focused on customer service,” King wrote in the email. “As part of that effort, I’ll be reaching out as often as possible — through e-mail, Twitter, and other communication tools — directly with educators in the field.”

Other elements of the department’s ramped up communications strategy are already online. Earlier this year, SED launched a new website, EngageNY, that offers resources for teachers and principals and is more user-friendly than most SED sites. And King joined Twitter in September, posting dozens of times since with public service announcements and pictures from school visits.

Last week’s email went out on the state’s TEACH listserve, which includes the email addresses that teachers across the state listed when they applied for certification, as well as to superintendents and principals. State officials are working on bringing the teacher database up to date, according to an SED spokesman, Dennis Tompkins, who said the department planned to send similar messages “at least once every quarter — more often if issues dictate.”

Here’s the complete email that King sent to teachers across the state last week:

From: NYSED Commissioner
Date: November 22, 2011 7:18:18 PM EST
To: TEACH@listserv.nysed.gov
Subject: Message from Commissioner King: We Must Do Better
Reply-To: NYSED Commissioner

Hello. I hope your students are enjoying a safe, productive school year. When I became Commissioner last June, I set two goals: one, to help make sure every student graduates from high school college- and career-ready; and two, to make the State Education Department a model government agency focused on customer service. As part of that effort, I’ll be reaching out as often as possible — through e-mail, Twitter, and other communication tools — directly with educators in the field. I hope we can build an ongoing dialogue about our schools and our students.

There’s a great new SED website for educators, EngageNY.org, with great teaching and learning tools including professional development guides, lesson plans, and other teaching resources tied to the new Common Core standards. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. 100,000 educators already have. It’s really worth a look.

There’s been a lot of discussion about education in New York recently, but one thing that’s not open for debate is the need to get better. We have many excellent schools and school districts around the state delivering outstanding results for students. Our high school graduation rates have increased consistently and we are a leading state in terms of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams. However, too many of our students are not graduating from high school, and too many students who do graduate aren’t ready for college or careers. We’re seeing increasing numbers of students who graduate and matriculate at our colleges, only to find they need extensive remediation. They’re being taught things in college they should have learned in high school.

The result? A high school diploma isn’t worth as much as it should be, and college students are wracking up ever increasing debt to pay for courses they should have received in high school. College freshmen are paying college prices for high school courses.

This is not good for students and parents, and, if we want New York to be competitive in the global marketplace, it’s not good for our state. We have to do better.

That’s why the Board of Regents adopted the Common Core standards. The Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 47 states and the District of Columbia, provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

I know a lot of educators are frustrated; they feel like they’ve seen all this before.

In the past, there have been calls for high accountability, but with little support to reach that level. That’s not a formula for success. If we want our students to meet the goals we set for them, we have to provide students and teachers with the level of support they need to reach those goals. High accountability and a high level of support are the formula for success.

That’s why the State Education Department is implementing the Common Core through 12 shifts in instruction, and we’re aligning assessments beginning in 2012-13 to make sure students are meeting the new standards.

We’re also working to implement a Data Driven Instruction model to improve instruction in real time, and we’ll be implementing Evidence Based Observation to drive targeted professional development. The goal is to create a continuous cycle of improvement and professional growth and help every student graduate high school college- and career-ready.

EngageNY.org is just one tool we’re using to help move our students forward. We’re developing more curriculum models. Using federal Race to the Top funding, we’ve created the Network Team Institute to bring educators from around the state together for training sessions led by national experts to help plant the Common Core seed around the state.

We’re working with teacher preparation programs across the state to provide clinically rich experiences at the undergraduate and graduate levels, so the next generation of teachers is ready to step up to this new paradigm in P-12 instruction. And we’re pursuing new pathways to graduation and career, including an expansion of Career and Technical Education and the use of the No Child Left Behind waiver. We’ll be backing the demand for accountability with real support.

There’s much more to come, but we’ve taken some major steps forward.

I know the arguments against being bold. Money is tight and getting tighter. The shifts in instruction should be phased in more gradually. Students aren’t ready for all this.

But the longer we delay, the more students we deny the opportunity for success. Tough times demand hard work. The best way out of these tough times is to build a workforce ready to take on the economic challenges of the global economy. If we slow down reform, we’ll shut down opportunity for millions of our students.

We must start now, in every school. Our tomorrow is being built today, in classrooms across the state. We cannot allow frustration to limit our vision. We cannot allow budget constraints to close the door on our students’ future. I know resources are scarce; I understand the limits the economy is forcing us all to endure. But for the sake of our students, we must do better.

Please visit EngageNY.org. Let us know what’s good, and let us know what should be better. This is the work that will build a better future for our students and our state. Let’s do that work together.

John B. King, Jr.
Visit EngageNY.org
Follow me Twitter: @JohnKingNYSED

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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