Vox populi

Comments of the week: Schools cope with Hurricane Sandy

In response to the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on schools and families last week, city officials and educators have been scrambling to help school communities—some impacted more immediately than others—cope.

For some schools, that means making sure students have access to the resources they need to get their schoolwork done, whether it’s internet they lack, or unable to return to their homes. In other schools, some of the most pressing concerns for teachers and administrators include creating meaningful lessons out of the hurricane, and making up for the lost week of instruction.

In our Community section, iSchool teacher Christina Jenkins argues that schools should take the opportunity to teach students about how communities respond to crisis and natural disasters.

“Real life should trump our lesson plans,” she writes. “There’s so much to analyze: cartography, disaster risk and our ability to mitigate it, the fake disaster images circulating online, the power of crowdsourcing.”

Commenters agreed that engaging students on the challenges facing the city now was a good idea, but they suggested a few different approaches for doing it without preventing them from covering the curriculum they had already planned.

“ms. v” wrote:

I’m teaching a unit on designing emergency shelters that we started before the hurricane, but I’ve adapted it based on our specific situation now. When I taught science, various events worldwide happened at least once or twice a year, but we couldn’t drop everything to study earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, epidemics, etc. every time they were relevant here or abroad. Instead, I addressed them briefly in class at the time, and then looked for the places and times in the curriculum to connect bac to those major events with depth and analysis.

And “nycdoenuts” said teachers at his school were also trying to find a middle ground between ignoring the hurricane in favor of the normal curriculum, and launching into an in depth exploration:

We have real deep reservations about simply picking up where we all left off in our curricula -almost as though nothing ever happened. And on the other hand, we also feel a need to return the students to some routine of normal (particularly mine, who experienced only a minor impact last week). The ambivalence we’re all feeling is deep and raises questions that, frankly, are too big for me and my colleagues (what does a return to normal entail? How Long would that take? What would have to be done? and What parts of the school (the classroom? advisory?guidance?) would play which roles in that?).  I totally agree that the city is somewhat broken right now. I think we should expect that classrooms (which are an extension of how we here in the real world live) are going to be somewhat broken for a while as well.

Several readers also offered suggestions for how the city can add school days back into the calendar by taking away previously scheduled time off.

“Travis Dove” suggested getting rid of January final exams in his school, or replacing the January Regents exam period with more classroom time:

In January my school gives us finals for a week where we learn nothing – perhaps we can just skip those and have regular sized tests and get that week back. There’s also January regents week where we basically get another week long vacation. February break is also nicely placed, and Spring Break is the week where my school has planned every one of its international trips, so unless 20-30 kids are okay with being absent for an entire week, I don’t think that will work. As for summer vacation, in July, after AP tests, regents, finals, and everything else, it would basically be a week long board game session.

“An Effective Teacher says…” suggested doing away with professional development days, but not vacation days, which many teachers value as time to rest up:

…Most people simply do not understand how much time an effective teacher puts into this job every day, including weekends. They complain that we have summers “off”, but they don’t realize that during the school year the majority of us are putting in more hours in those 185 days than they do their entire year. I teach from 8am until 6pm every school day (and my lunch break is used organizing/phone calls). Add in the few hours of lesson planning, grading, and phone calls that must be done daily, and all I do during the week is work and barely sleep. On the weekends, I get caught up on whatever paperwork and lesson/curriculum planning I haven’t finished. These breaks allow me to rest a bit, but also continue planning, updating my online class site, gradebook, etc… Taking away the scheduled days “off” will hurt the students I teach and make me a less effective teacher.

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