one last time

For Bloomberg's education panel, a quiet ending in the Bronx

The Panel for Educational Policy, which has overseen some of the most raucous debates over New York City schools over the past 12 years, ended its legacy under Mayor Bloomberg quietly and unemotionally Wednesday night.

The Panel for Educational Policy met on Wednesday night at the Taft Educational Campus in the Bronx.
The Panel for Educational Policy met on Wednesday night at the Taft Educational Campus in the Bronx.

Just a handful of audience members showed up for the Bronx meeting, where there were no public comments and little debate among members as they passed two revised building-use plans and three co-location proposals — including the once-controversial plan to put a new district high school in the struggling Boys and Girls High School.

“You can kind of tell they’re just limping over the finish line,” said panel member and Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan, who has served since 2007 and has been one of the panel’s few voices of dissent.

The PEP, the 13-member group of appointees that approves the city’s decisions on changes like school openings, closings, and co-locations, has been the mayor’s mechanism for pushing through his education policies.

It’s unclear how the panel will function and who will serve on the panel under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who has said he agrees that the mayor should appoint the majority of its members. De Blasio has also said he will be revisiting the decisions made by the panel in the last months of the Bloomberg administration.

But last night’s meeting featured relatively few agenda items — a far cry from meetings like the one held in January 2010, when the Panel voted to begin closing 19 schools and change 32 building plans in an auditorium packed with emotional speakers and protestors. A hundred police officers and security guards were on hand then, and the city had even prepared a contingency plan to move the panel members into the gym if the protests grew too loud.

Nearly four years later, the city made sure the final PEP meeting wouldn’t play host to much protest. DOE officials had secured the support of the Boys and Girls High School’s advisory committee in recent weeks for a co-located school honoring Nelson Mandela, though the school had resisted co-location in the past.

Sullivan and the Brooklyn panel representative Fred Baptiste, who was appointed in August, were the only panel members to raised issues with various proposals during the meeting. While Baptiste abstained from voting on the Boys and Girls High School co-location, he made his concerns clear to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“Our concern is [that] adding another school distracts from the mission of improving outcomes at Boys and Girls,” he said.

Walcott responded by listing additional resources the Department of Education has secured for the campus, including a new mental health center, new football field, and a new transfer school that opened in September.

Sullivan also raised a question about what kind of authority the panel and the DOE have in regulating charter schools. He specifically referenced the Daily News story about a “calm-down” room at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School that is “about the size of a walk-in closet” and is used to pacify children when they get out of hand.

Walcott said while KIPP is a state-approved charter school and the city doesn’t have direct authority over its policies, the city will be raising questions. “I’ve been personally involved in discussions on this particular issue,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, Queens representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj said he was humbled by the opportunity to advocate for the city’s children. Fedkowskyj, who served for five and a half years, said his term will expire at the end of the month.

“It was frustrating and challenging but it was also rewarding,” he said.

Walcott ended the meeting on that note as well, thanking the panel members for serving, even though meetings often lasted long past midnight.

“Thank you for your service as volunteers — to give your time, energy, and your time and time and time, late into the night. And [for] our passionate debate around beliefs … even if they may be different at times.”

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