changes at the top

Fariña to require more experienced superintendents who play stronger role in schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Current school superintendents will soon have to reapply for their jobs and undergo new training, while new applicants will need several extra years of school-based experience to be eligible for the role, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Tuesday.

The city is reshaping the role of the 43 superintendents covered by the new regulations, whose main tasks today are to evaluate schools and principals. Now, they will be expected to provide more support to principals dealing with everything from the city’s prekindergarten expansion to students with special needs, even as they continue to evaluate them, senior Department of Education officials said on a conference call with reporters.

While Fariña has already replaced most of the education department’s senior leadership, the latest changes mark the beginning of a shakeup among administrators who deal directly with individual schools. But it continues her push to elevate veteran educators to leadership roles: She appointed longtime educators as her top deputies, and has insisted that would-be principals spend seven years in schools before they apply to become school leaders.

The role of superintendents was greatly diminished under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who transferred many of their responsibilities to school-support networks that principals entered voluntarily. Fariña has vowed not to upend the network system for now, but by shifting more support duties back to superintendents and potentially hiring some new ones, her administration will now have a greater hand in what happens inside schools.

“These changes serve our greatest goal of directly improving classroom learning for students across the city,” Fariña said in a statement.

New superintendent candidates will now need to have worked in schools for at least 10 years, with at least three of those as a principal, according to the proposed regulation changes that must be approved by an oversight board in August. In the past, would-be superintendents needed three years experience as a principal or to have held a high-level role within the education department.

Superintendents could now be expected to interact more with families and to help school leaders manage the added training time and other elements of the new teachers contract, officials said. They must also now attend community events and show a commitment to arts education.

The current crop of 32 district superintendents and nine high school superintendents will have to reapply for their positions, but they will not be held to the same 10-year-experience requirement as future candidates. Still, all but six of the 43 current superintendents already meet the new experience requirements, according to the city. (The superintendents who oversee special districts for older students and those with severe disabilities are not covered by the rule changes.)

The superintendents must pass through a new application process that is now online and will require essays and references, the city said. The officials said they expect to rehire “the vast majority” of the sitting superintendents.

The city will train the superintendents using a two-year, $750,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation, which was also a major funder of the New York City Leadership Academy, Bloomberg’s training program for new principals. Department officials said this would be the first time superintendents took part in a group training, something they said would lead to more uniformity across the school system.

Current and new superintendents, as well as potential candidates for the job, will receive three weeks of summer training followed by monthly workshops and individual coaching during the school year, according to a Wallace Foundation spokeswoman. As part of the grant, the city will also “re-write” superintendents’ job description, said the spokeswoman, Jessica Schwartz.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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.