school closing season

Small school resists meeting the fate of a larger one it replaced

Ama Willock urges DOE officials not to close her son's school, Middle School for the Arts in Crown Heights

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the success of the small schools opened during his tenure in his State of the City address, families and staff from one of them were preparing to fight the city’s closure plan.

The Department of Education opened Middle School for the Arts, or M.S. 587, in 2004 to replace M.S. 391, a much larger school that was persistently low-performing.

But the Crown Heights school never fulfilled its promise. Last year, only 13 percent of the 334 students met state proficiency standards in reading, and only 11 percent were proficient in math. In December, the city proposed to close the school.

That proposal drew about 40 students, parents and staff members to speak out at a public hearing in the school’s auditorium Thursday evening. They said the school’s low test scores do not accurately capture what happens there and argued that replacing the school again would not solve its problems.

The hearing kicked off a three-week sprint of hearings the city has scheduled at each of the 25 schools it proposes to close or shrink this year, 11 of them middle schools. More hearings could be added to the docket if a plan Bloomberg announced in his speech — to close 33 struggling schools, at least in name, in order to retain federal funds — moves forward.

Teachers defended the school‘s grim academic track record to department officials and parents on the Community Education Council for District 17.

“I’m a passionate teacher. I’m always here. I know that the students who sit in front of me every day need extra, extra, extra, extra support,” said Andrea Patrello, a sixth-grade math teacher who has been at the school for four years. “I was brought up with the mentality don’t give up. To me, the whole solution of phasing out schools is giving up.”

Richard Thomas, a social studies teacher and the chair of the School Leadership Team, said one reason the school isn’t meeting performance benchmarks is that the students have behavioral problems and gang affiliations that make them more difficult to teach.

“This is a case where statistics don’t tell the whole story. What we have here is one size fits all, irrespective of the makeup of the student population,” he said. “Before you can start teaching students you have to deal with so many multiple issues.”

A parent, Ama Willock, said her son enrolled in the middle school this year because of his passion in the performing arts. If the closure is approved next month by the Panel for Education Policy, which has never rejected a city proposal, Willock’s son would be in the school’s last class.

Willock said the department’s assessment of the school’s performance was correct. But she disputed its claims that opening a new school in its place would solve the problems Middle School of the Arts has faced.

“I’m not here to support a failing school,” she said. “But changing the name on the school is not going to help.”

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

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.