school closure season

Calls for Brooklyn's P.S. 19 to stay open despite abysmal scores

At the first school closure hearing of the year last week, students and parents said their school’s youth was a reason to give it another chance. On Wednesday night, families and staff at Brooklyn’s P.S. 19, the Roberto Clemente school, appealed to decades of existence as a reason the school should stay open.

“This has been a school that has been called Roberto Clemente for many, many many years.” said Barbara Medina, who attended the school in the 1970s and sent her son to it in the 1990s. “The name should carry on.”

P.S. 19, located in Williamsburg, was the lowest-scoring elementary school on the city’s progress reports this year. Families have spurned the school in droves in recent years, causing enrollment to drop to about 350 from more than 1,200 a decade ago.

Yet about 100 people turned out to protest the city’s plan to close the school, which the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on next month. They said more could have been done to prevent the school from dropping from a B grade in 2009 to an F this year and to soften the impact of the enrollment drop.

“Every year since 2008 we’ve lost four to six teachers,” said Patricia Tambakis, a 27-year veteran of the school who is its union chapter leader. “We have no math teacher, we have no literacy teacher, we have no music teacher, we have no science teacher. We have no librarian. We have no academic intervention teachers. How are we supposed to pass when they’re setting us up for failure?”

Dorita Gibson, a Department of Education deputy chancellor, said the department had offered principal and teacher trainings and other resources over the last year aimed at boosting the school’s academic performance. But she said the city decided the school should be closed after seeing that those supports had not led to test score gains.

The idea that struggling schools could thrive with more support has been a prominent theme in this year’s school closure debate. But some of the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing suggested that P.S. 19 would do better with less involvement from the city.

“You know what, the school ended up worse than it had before the DOE came in and intervened, okay?” said Elaine Manatu, a member of District 14’s elected parent council. “So instead of pointing to P.S. 19 to talk about what hasn’t worked in P.S. 19, DOE needs to look at themselves, and look at the fact that they have failed this school and they have failed these kids.”

Parents and graduates said they understand that the school has serious shortcomings. But they said closure would do away with its assets, too.

Walkiria Gonzalez said the school’s friendly staff allayed her concerns about her daughter’s safety when she moved to Williamsburg this year.

“There is nothing better for a parent [to be] at peace knowing that your child is safe, okay, and this school has that. I’m not ignored when I walk through that door,” said Walkiria Gonzalez, who moved to Williamsburg this year and enrolled her daughter in P.S. 19’s second grade.

“I have no complaints of the school,” she said. “Instead of you bringing in a new school, why don’t you help what’s happening here? This school needs help, but the teachers are wonderful, I can vouch for that.”

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.