the voice

Fariña sings praises of Queens charter school with a music theme

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Chancellor Carmen Fariña visits a third grade class. Early elementary years are where students are most likely to be in classrooms that exceed recommended sizes.

The fourth graders in Madolyn Accola’s class at the Voice Charter School on Thursday sat on a rug, slowly chanting sounds that made the room sound more like a monastery than a music classroom.

“Ta-tuuu, ta-tuuu, ta-tu-te-ta,” the students said in unison. “Ta-tu-te-ta-tuuu, taa taa.”

The sounds, known as rhythm syllables, are a part of everyday life for Voice students, who begin learning them in kindergarten and continue daily music classes through middle school. Reciting the syllables is a cornerstone of a Hungarian method, called Kodaly, that trains students to be able to perform music on sight.

The technique is also one way the school works to boost its young students’ language acquisition, especially among the English language learners who make up 18 percent of Voice’s student population, compared to 14 percent citywide. That’s what brought Chancellor Carmen Fariña to the Long Island City charter school for a 90-minute visit on Thursday morning.

“To me, it’s not just about the singing,” Fariña said. “It’s how the singing is used.”

Though the de Blasio administration has had a contentious relationship with the city charter school sector, Fariña has made regular visits to some of the city’s 197 charter schools. Voice represents the type of charter school that Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio have especially warmed to: usually small, unaffiliated with a large charter management organization like Success Academy or KIPP, sometimes unionized, and often operating in private space. The schools also tend to be on good terms with local elected officials and community leaders.

“They’re embedded into the community,” State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said of Voice during the visit, noting the school’s relationship with a service organization across the street serving incarcerated women and children.

The school is also performing well academically. Seventy percent of Voice’s students were proficient on last year’s math exams and 39 percent were proficient on the English exams, scores that ranked it among the city’s top-performing charter schools. Among more than 60 schools unaffiliated with a charter school network, Voice ranked second in math.

Fariña has said her school visits also serve as search missions for innovations that could be shared with other schools. After seeing six classrooms during her visit to Voice, she said the school’s approach to music instruction was a potential model for district schools.

“In some of our schools, we have music for two grades or after school,” Fariña said. “This is very much incorporated in the whole school day.”

But Headley, who was part of the city’s inaugural Teaching Fellows class in 2000, noted that he left the Department of Education after eight years as a teacher and assistant principal because the school he wanted to open wouldn’t have been possible as a district school.

“There wasn’t a way in the New York City district school schedule where it was possible to have music every day,” Headley said. The charter model then proved useful in other ways, he said, such as giving teachers more preparation time each day.

Still, Fariña believed that schools could learn from Voice, whose early grades are co-located in a school building with P.S. 111, and said she’d like the school to join her Learning Partners program. Officials have said that recommendations from a Fariña-headed working group tasked with coming up with recommendations for de Blasio to improve school space-sharing will be released soon.

“I think it’s really, really important that schools like this thrive and do well,” Fariña said after the visit.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.