decisions decisions

Four of 80,000 likely high school applicants share early thoughts

Families lined up outside Brooklyn Technical High School on Saturday to enter the city's annual high school fair.

The city’s high school admissions process definitely seems more complex and competitive since Sergio Coria went through it 20 years ago.

Corio made the observation after spending more than four hours at the Citywide High School Fair at Brooklyn Technical High School on Sunday with his 13-year-old sister, Nicole.

“It’s a good eye-opener to see how many students you are competing with,” Sergio said about the fair, which more than 30,000 people attended over two days. “It’s a wake-up call on what you need to do and how you need to do it — you definitely can’t wait until the last minute.”

Nicole had already identified about a dozen schools in the city’s high school directory that seemed to speak to her interests in art, math, and science. But she said narrowing down her choices hadn’t yet given her much piece of mind.

“It’s scary: You don’t know if you’re going to get accepted, and then once you get there you don’t know if you’ll like the teachers,” she said.

Plus, Nicole said, she was nervous about heading off to high school without her best friends, who unlike her were shooting for specialized schools and selective music schools. “It’s kind of sad because I’ve been with them so long,” she said.

One consideration that Nicole won’t have to make, according to Sergio, is about her commute. Any good school is an option, even if it means a lot of travel time, he said.

“Some families like to be nearby to where they live, but I think a commute is a good idea,” Sergio said.  “That’s the way you’re going to get mature – by traveling on your own and developing city smarts.”

For Karida Ali, on the other hand, the entire high school search might come down to commute time.

The Richmond Hill eighth-grader currently attends York Early College Academy in Queens, which goes through high school, but is considering schools in other boroughs. Her mom, Zabeida Ali, thinks that’s an ill-advised plan.

“In terms of travel time, is it really worth it?” to make the move, asked Zabeida Ali, who said older daughter, now in college, skipped the citywide fair in favor of a Queens-only high school fair. The city does not allow students to transfer high schools because of travel time unless their commute is longer than 90 minutes each way.

Karida has a guaranteed spot to stay at York Early College Academy if she ranks it as her first choice. But she wants to try her luck at the city’s most selective schools, the specialized high schools that include Stuyvesant High Schools and Bronx High School of Science.

Karida’s ambition has started a bit of an argument with her mom, who would rather she stay at York, where she can earn college credits and graduate with a two-year associates degree.

But Karida said she was not deterred and would be sitting for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test next month. “I just want to experience taking the specialized high school test and see where it goes from there,” she said, adding that she is focused now on studying for the test.

Attending the high school fair was a way to gather backup options for Anthony Rivera, as well. The eighth-grader currently attends a Catholic school, but he’s also seeking scholarships to private high schools and looking at science-themed public schools, too.

But along with his mother, Anabelle, and his younger sister Nicole, Anthony said he found the fair overwhelming and hard to navigate.

“It’s kind of a mob in there,” he said.

So the family opted just to puck up materials from science and engineering schools and listen to the principals’ and students’ pitches, but not ask any of their questions. That will happen at the individual schools’ open houses, they said.

“I hope the open house will be more calm, less people, and that we’ll have more of a chance to talk,” Anabelle said.

But she said she was glad the family had made it out to the fair nonetheless, because now they’ll have a head start when Nicole goes through the process in two years. “We’re here looking for him, but at the same time we’re keeping an eye out for her too,” she said.

The Mendez family from Far Rockaway, Queens, was also laying groundwork for a future high school search. Father Marvin brought 10-year-old Jadon along with Zakiyah, who is in eighth-grade now.

Zakiyah said she wants to go to a school close to home that has a strong writing program. She focused on talking to current students while her father took down hard details about each school, including their progress report scores and student-to-teacher ratios.

After checking out a bunch of schools, Zakiya identified the Academy of Finance and and Enterprise as an early favorite. “They’ll help us create our own business and they do community service,” she said. “I would start a fashion business.”

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

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