2011-2012 progress report (part 2)

Mixed progress in city's latest plans to open, overhaul schools

Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by Chancellor Walcott and principals, discussed the city's school creation efforts during a press conference in April about the opening of 54 new schools.

If the Bloomberg administration has executed any education policy promises with fidelity, it has been around opening new schools. But its record on the trickier task of improving existing schools has been more mixed.

That trend continued last year, according to our analysis of the city’s progress toward fulfilling the education commitments it made during between September 2011 and August 2012. We found that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott are on track to meet most of their school creation goals, but when it comes to improving ones that already exist, their success is less clear. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.)

The city did better at fulfilling its school creation and improvement goals than it did at keeping its promises about boosting teacher quality, which we examined earlier this week. In the final part of this series, we will look at whether city officials have kept their word about taking new approaches to handling high-need students and engaging parents.

On creating new schools:

  • The city will open 100 new schools before the end of 2013, including 50 charter schools.  (Bloomberg’s State of the City address, January 2012)
    The city is so far on track to hit this goal. Fifty-four new schools are opening this fall, bringing the total number of schools that have opened under the Bloomberg administration to 589. Of the newest crop of schools, 24 are charter schools.
  • Fifty new middle schools will open by 2013, of which 25 will be charter schools. (Walcott’s middle schools speech, September 2011)
    The city also chipped away mightily at this number, and depending on the method of counting might be more than on track to hit the total. This year, 18 of the 54 new schools opened with middle school grades, including seven charter schools. Another eight of the new schools, all charter schools, opened with elementary grades but plan to serve middle school students once they are at full enrollment in several years.
  • The city will help high-performing charter networks grow faster. (State of the City)
    When Bloomberg made this promise, he specifically name-checked Success Academies and KIPP as two networks whose strong performance he would like to see replicated. This year, three new Success Academy charter schools and one new KIPP school opened in the city. All of them had sought to open since long before Bloomberg made the commitment. At least five other local charter schools also replicated this year.
  • The city will bring in charter school operators that run successful schools elsewhere. (State of the City)
    The city has so far struck out here: Except for KIPP, which has long run New York City schools, none of this year’s new charter schools are part of national networks. One operator that Bloomberg specifically mentioned, Rocketship Education, opened two new charter schools in its native California but so far has not opened or even proposed a school for New York. Its CEO has said dozens of districts have recruited the network but he is wary of operating under different regulations in different places.
  • The city will launch at least a dozen new career training programs by 2013. (State of the City)
    Six new career and technical education schools opened this fall, focusing on tourism, health careers, energy and technology, and software engineering. Four of them are district schools, and two are charter schools that plan to add CTE programs in later years.
  • The city will open three new high schools that include the first two years of college.  (State of the City)
    A month after Bloomberg vowed to replicate Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology High School, where students will be able to earn an associate’s degree by staying on for two years after receiving their high school diploma, Chicago announced it would open five schools in the model. Chicago’s replicas opened their doors this month. But New York City has not added any more “9-14” schools.

On improving existing schools:

  • Ten middle schools will undergo “turnaround” using federal funds allocated by the state. (Walcott’s middle schools speech)
    After Walcott’s middle school speech, he and city officials did not utter another peep about this plan. Then, in January, when Bloomberg surprised the city by announcing that dozens of schools would undergo turnaround, a federally prescribed overhaul strategy in which principals and teachers are replaced. Of the 33 schools on Bloomberg’s list, just six were middle schools. None of them, of course, ended up being turned around using the strategy, and the city is not receiving the federal funds.
  • The city will improve 33 struggling schools using “turnaround.” (State of the City, January 2012)
    Bloomberg proposed this plan after he came to odds with the teachers union about teacher evaluations, a required component of less aggressive school improvement strategies. It’s no secret how this plan turned out. After the city moved at a blistering pace to close and reopen the schools with new names and new staffs, an arbitrator ruled that the city’s hiring plans violated its contract with the teachers union. The schools could not undergo turnaround, and the city lost out on another pot of federal funds meant to help them. Now, at least some of the schools seem to have reopened for the year in more chaos than they closed.
  • The city will ask the City Council to redirect funds from 51 low-performing middle schools to other schools that have “shown promise but need continued support to succeed.” (Middle schools speech)
    Details about how the City Council’s middle school funds are being spent have always been murky. But Walcott announced details of the evolution in April, when he provided a status update about his middle school reforms. The new program, the Middle School Quality Initiative, is bringing together 18 struggling middle schools so they can learn from the practices of higher-performing schools.
  • More middle schools will join the Innovation Zone using federal Race to the Top funding. (Middle schools speech)
    This year, about 100 schools joined the Innovation Zone, a set of schools that use technology and other changes to tailor instruction to individual students. Of them, 39 were middle schools, bringing the total number of middle schools in the zone to 70, according to department officials. All schools in the zone get support either throughfederal Race to the Top funds or from private donors.
  • The city will use $15 million in state funds to buy non-fiction books aligned to the Common Core standards. (Middle schools speech)
    In April, Walcott announced that purchasing for the two-year book buy was underway. The books would become available to schools April 26, he said.

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.