course correction

City nixes space-sharing plans for three Success charters and three new district schools

Last updated: 6:40 p.m.

The de Blasio administration is reversing space-sharing plans for nine schools set to open next year, entirely nixing three Success Academy charter schools and three district schools, the city announced this afternoon.

The other three schools, two middle schools and a high school, will be able to open in different spaces, pending approval from the city’s Panel for Educational Policy. The nine schools were among 49 whose space-sharing plans were approved in the waning months of the Bloomberg administration.

But the numbers show that, despite de Blasio’s anti-charter school rhetoric, the city ultimately left alone the majority of the new school plans that the administration inherited in January—including seven Success Academy schools set to open next fall. In all, 24 charter schools will be allowed to open in city-owned space next year, including more than a dozen co-location plans that received a free pass because they had been approved last June and earlier.

The announcement doesn’t address the status of four new schools approved to open in 2015. A fourth charter school, American Dream Charter School, will be allowed to open with fewer classes than it planned.

“The previous administration handed over these proposals – and we have had to review all of them under inflexible deadlines,” Fariña said in a statement. “While the circumstances for each proposal are unique, we identified clear criteria and we followed it. But more importantly, as enrollment deadlines approach, we considered the thousands of families that could be affected.  We were deliberate in our decisions and, under the circumstances we inherited, believe this is the best approach.”

Today marks the culmination of de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s promised review of the recently passed plans. A spokesman for the department said the decisions were based on four criteria, including the their impact on programs serving students with disabilities, whether they would place elementary school students in high school buildings, and the messiness of the plan’s logistics. A fourth factor was the size of the school, with the city indicating it did not want to increase the number of schools with fewer than 250 students.

In a statement, de Blasio cast the decisions as a rational response to his administration’s priorities.

“We set out consistent, objective criteria to protect school communities from unworkable outcomes,” he said. “And today, we are taking the best possible path forward, rejecting those proposals that do not meet our values, and working with school communities on those proposals that can be implemented responsibly.”

The fact that all three charter schools whose plans were reversed are Success Academies did not come as a surprise. Success CEO Eva Moskowitz told board members this week that she expected some of her schools to be affected and she said she planned to sue the city over the decision. Moskowitz will host a press conference in Harlem later this afternoon where she will comment on the decision. 

She also is also taking part in a large rally next week in Albany to ask state lawmakers for extra funding and legislative action to allow charter schools to access pre-kindergarten funding.

New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman strongly criticized the decision in a statement.

“Mayor de Blasio’s recommendation to halt three public charter school co-locations and reduce the enrollment of a fourth is a disappointment for the students and their parents who have been looking forward to attending the school of their choice this fall,” Merriman said. “Hundreds of families have applied for schools that are part of a charter school network with unmatched academic results that now will likely not open.”

But de Blasio allies, including United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, praised the move despite its limited scope.

“I’m glad the DOE has taken an important first step in vetoing some particularly troublesome pending co-locations,” said Mulgrew, who sued the city over co-location plans last year. 

Meanwhile, a few principals were ecstatic. At Long Island City High School, one of the city’s remaining large high schools, the city had planned to reduce enrollment and add a new district high school to the building next year.

When principal Vivian Selenikas got a phone call this morning that the decision had been reversed, she was thrilled.

“Today is a wonderful day,” she said. “As I told my staff, our mascot is a bulldog. And sometimes being bulldogs with a bone makes all the difference when something isn’t right.”

The principals at East Harlem Scholars Academies and Central Park East High School were also pleased that plans for a grade expansion and co-location of a district school in their building was withdrawn today.

“Although we wholeheartedly support the desire to expand middle school options across the city, we agree with the Chancellor that this particular plan was unworkable,” principals Cheyenne Batista São Roque and Bennett Lieberman said in a statement.

Principals on the other side of the decisions were significantly less enthusiastic. Those included Melissa Melkonian, principal of American Dream Charter School, whose school will be allowed to open but with fewer students.

“We are disappointed in today’s  decision by the de Blasio administration, which means that many families now see their child’s chances of attending American Dream Charter School drop,” she said in a statement.

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