Process of elimination

Dozens of elementary and middle schools told they might close

J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn is one of 36 elementary and middle schools that the Department of Education has put on notice because of poor performance.

Three dozen schools that received low grades from the Department of Education on Monday are already getting notice that the city is gravely worried about their performance.

Department of Education officials have identified 36 schools — including 15 middle schools and 25 schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx — for an “early engagement” process that could lead either to closure or another lease on life.

This is the third year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year’s closures will be the last of the Bloomberg administration.

The potential closure list is nearly twice as long as last year’s, when the city held early engagement meetings at 20 elementary and middle schools and ultimately moved to close 10 of them. It is culled from 217 schools whose progress report scores put them at risk of closure, according to the city’s rules.

This year’s list includes several schools that have already had closure scares. Two schools, M.S. 142 in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, went through early engagement last year. (Chappie’s sister elementary school is now in the process of closing.) M.S. 142 and another school, J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, were also slated to undergo a different closure process called “turnaround” last year until the city was forced to abandon those plans.

The list also includes two charter schools that the city allowed to open, Bronx Community Charter School and Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which serves students in the foster care system. Both of the schools are up for renewal this year.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve.

But in starting early engagement, which includes communication with parent leaders and public meetings at each school, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the department’s deputy chancellor in charge of school closures.

“These are difficult conversations, but it’s important to have this dialogue and hold our schools to the highest of standards,” Sternberg said in a statement. “We’ll take the feedback that we receive from the school and community into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success.”

Fifteen of the schools are middle schools, signaling where the department could start making room for some of the 25 new middle schools it has vowed to open next year.

The city has vowed to open at least 50 new schools next year, including 25 middle schools.

The schools represent only a small fraction of those with progress report scores low enough to put them on the chopping block. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or below — this year, 217 schools — can be closed, according to the department’s guidelines.

Seven of the schools landed on the list after drawing three straight C grades from the city. Five of the schools earned B’s two years ago, when many city schools saw their grades plummet because of changes to the way state tests were scored.

A teacher at J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, reached before the city announced that the school was on the early engagement list, said she thought she school was improving after a rocky year under the specter of turnaround.

“The students are working towards something this year. It’s a very positive tone,” said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak about the school. Principal Maria Ortega, who narrowly avoided losing her job under turnaround, declined to comment.

The teacher did warn that teachers started the year with very little time to plan after many had left for the summer expecting not to return, something the city could hold against the school when assessing its likeliness to improve.

The department has not yet turned its attention toward high schools, whose progress reports will come out later this month.

Officials from both the teachers and principals union decried the early engagement process as being too little, too late for the long-struggling schools.

“We are troubled by the DOE’s statement that it is beginning conversations with these schools now to gain a better understanding of what is happening,” said principals union president Ernest Logan in a statement. “These conversations should have occurred before these schools ever arrived at this point.”

“Tweed’s measurement system depends almost completely on standardized tests, and its ‘engagement’ process does little or nothing to help struggling schools improve,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, also in a statement. “Unfortunately, closing schools — rather than fixing them — remains the centerpiece of Mayor Bloomberg’s education strategy.”

The schools undergoing early engagement:

J.H.S. Jackie Robinson, Manhattan
M.S. 45/STARS Prep Academy, Manhattan
P.S. 133 Fred R Moore, Manhattan
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte, Manhattan
P.S. 154 Jonathan D Hyatt, Bronx
M.S. 203, Bronx
Young Leaders Elementary School, Bronx
Performance School, Bronx
J.H.S. 125 Henry Hudson, Bronx
Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School, Bronx
P.S. 64 Pura Belpre, Bronx
P.S. 132 Garret Morgan, Bronx
P.S. 230 Roland Patterson, Bronx
M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
Globe School for Environmental Research, Bronx
P.S. 6 West Farms, Bronx
P.S. 50, Bronx
The School of Science and Applied Learning, Bronx
P.S. 67 Charles Dorsey, Brooklyn
P.S. 167 The Parkway, Brooklyn
Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn
P.S. 174 Dumont, Brooklyn
P.S. 224 Hale Woodruff, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 291 Roland Hayes, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero, Brooklyn
I.S. 349 Math, Science, and Technology, Brooklyn
P.S. 73 Thomas Boyland, Brooklyn
P.S. 165 Ida Posner, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 8 Richard Grossley, Queens
P.S. 140 Edward Ellington, Queens
I.S. 59 Springfield Gardens, Queens
P.S. 156 Laurelton, Queens
Mott Haven Academy Charter School, Bronx
Bronx Community Charter School, Bronx

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