rocky road

Home providers say EarlyLearn overhaul leaves them in the dark

Hundreds of child care providers like Iraida Tkacheva are affected by the EarlyLearn initiative.

On a cool Friday afternoon, 10 bright-eyed toddlers played outdoors, giggling and speaking Russian, before heading inside for a homemade lunch. During the week, they spend more time with Iraida Tkacheva, their child-care provider, than they do with their working parents.

Tkacheva has transformed nearly every room in her Bensonhurst house to cater to the children’s needs: an area with tables and chairs where the toddlers eat, a library full of children’s books, a nap area surrounded by walls plastered with educational posters, and a backyard that accommodates toys for playtime with security gates and enclosed circuit cameras to ensure the children’s safety at all times.

Yet once the mayor’s ambitious overhaul of the city’s child-care system takes place on October 1, through a program called EarlyLearn, Tkacheva and hundreds of people who offer subsidized child-care in their homes are set to lose their jobs if funding falls through.

EarlyLearn – one of Bloomberg’s latest education reforms before he leaves office next year – sets out to increase the quality of publicly funded early childhood education while distributing child-care slots to the neediest neighborhoods. It is, according to some advocates, the biggest change to the city’s child-care services in 40 years.

Criticism of EarlyLearn has focused on the fact that it reduces the overall number of early childhood seats. But another major change — about who the city is hiring to provide child care in private homes — has some child-care advocates concerned.

Until now, home providers who work with small groups of children have largely been part of networks that manage and oversee everything from the instructional activities that help children prepare for kindergarten to the meals that are served. Under EarlyLearn, they will become an offsite component of day care centers that, for the most part, have only served older children in a single location.

The EarlyLearn contracts that the city’s Administration for Children’s Services issued last month stripped existing family care networks of seats. And half of the day care-based networks that won contracts have never provided family care services before.

ACS officials said they preferred networks that offered both family care and center-based services so children can move seamlessly over time within the same program.

“Our goal in all of this is to have as little disruption to the families as possible,” said Myung Lee, the deputy commissioner of the Child Care division in ACS. EarlyLearn restricts the age of children in family care – after a child turns 4, they are expected to attend a day care center.

But family care advocates said that the new contracts will introduce inefficiencies because inexperienced networks will have to do the work that existing networks have been doing for decades. Two of the networks that didn’t get contracts, the Jewish Child Care Association and the East New York Family Child Care Center, have been providing family care more than four decades.

“We are devastated and perplexed over why the city would eliminate family child care networks, given the fact that they are a vital and essential part of the early childhood system in this city,” said Andrea Anthony, the executive director of the Day Care Council. “The majority of care for children 3 months to 2 years old is done by family child care providers.”

The changes to the city’s subsidized child-care system could cost about 2300 family care providers their livelihoods if they aren’t hired by the networks that received the new contracts.

“We’ve been in this business for over 40 years. I really don’t understand the situation,” said Almarie McCoy, the executive director at the East New York Family Care Center. Since finding out that the center lost ACS funding, McCoy has been helping the providers she works with fix their resumes and practice their interviewing skills. “We’re trying to prepare the staff for employment elsewhere.”

Carol Grant, who works for the East New York Family Child Care Center, said that she also has no idea what will happen to her once her network closes at the end of June.

“I would lose employment, which means I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. It’s my primary employment,” she added. “It’s going to affect everything.” Grant has a 14-year-old with special needs and is in the process of adopting a 2-year-old.

Grant said that she would be less concerned if she had more information about the transition.

“I reached out to ACS to find out what is going to happen to us, but no one gave me an answer. They’re going to have a meeting to meet us,” she said. “But nothing concrete has been told to us.”

City officials said they expect a smooth transition because the new networks are likely to try to hire existing family care providers, who already have relationships with children and homes that are set up to provide care.

“It’s up to the providers to decide which network they’re going to affiliate with,” said Lee. An ACS official explained, in an email, that open houses to match family care providers with networks will take place late June through July. But the city hasn’t set exact dates or locations for the open houses.

For some, the information is streaming in too late, and getting high-quality family care programs up and running by the new contracts’ Oct. 1 start seems likely to be problematic.

“I have no faith that [the city] will do something in a very seamless, efficient manner,” said Tammie Miller, the Child Care Providers Chair in the United Federation of Teachers union. “I think four months is too short. When you look at the enormity of what the networks have to do, it will be shoddy at best in four months.”

In addition to hiring new providers, the networks will have to rework their curriculum and retrain providers for EarlyLearn’s toughened academic expectations.

“I feel uncomfortable. It’s not so easy to switch from one network to other,” said Tkacheva. “I don’t know their requirements, their rules, their regulations.”

Still, Tkacheva said she has high hopes she’ll find a new network during the transition period and continuing to serve just as many children in her home. But she said she’s not looking forward to the rocky months ahead.

“It wouldn’t have been so bad for ACS to meet with providers and ask our opinion about the transition and how we feel, and what we can improve,” said Tkacheva.”I know I do a good job. I help children to succeed in the future.”

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