marked absent

Large crowd expected for rally, but many charters still staying home

Thursday’s much-hyped charter school rally in downtown Manhattan is estimated to draw thousands of students, parents, teachers, and political allies in support of their education policies. What it doesn’t have, for a third straight year, is full representation of the city’s ever-growing charter school sector.

The city’s four largest charter school organizations are expected to turn out a majority of participants, while most other charter schools are sitting the rally out. Those decisions are a reflection of the diversity of the city’s charter sector, which this year consists of 197 schools and 6 percent of public school students, and also to continued disagreement about how schools can most effectively achieve their political goals.

“We believe that a more productive approach is to expend our efforts in working collaboratively with the city and DOE to bring the necessary changes into fruition,” Renaissance Charter School Principal Stacey Gauthier said.

Dozens of schools are still expected to attend, but most will come from the same networks: Success Academy, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP. Success Academy’s 32 schools will be closed for the first half of the school day and reopened for the afternoon to accommodate for the rally (A spokesperson said that no student learning time was missed). Achievement First’s 17 schools in Brooklyn will stay open, but a spokesperson for the network said it expects to send 1,200 students and families, mostly from its middle and high school grades. At the 21 Uncommon Schools, rally attendance isn’t required and staff members have the option to attend or stay at school.

But in interviews with non-participating school leaders, a variety of reasons were cited for their absence. Some said the decision was educational, while others said they weren’t asked for input around the event. Several others said they weren’t invited to attend. And others, like Gauthier, reprised concerns that a massive rally seen as an attack on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña would be inappropriate.

The concerns are not new. Fractures within the city’s charter schools sector, often seen as a monolith, first burst into public two years ago when school leaders and advocates said they would not participate in a similar rally because some believed the political aspirations of Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz were as much a part of the agenda as a show of force on behalf of the entire sector.

Underneath the public squabbling were divided positions on enrollment policies, how co-locations should be handled, and how large a role charter schools should play in public education.

Those issues, of course, aren’t yet settled. This year, in an effort to distinguish themselves from the city’s large charter management organizations, several charter schools have banded together as the Coalition for Community Charter Schools. They say the group agrees that charter school enrollment should mirror those of nearby district schools and has sought to work closely with the de Blasio administration.

The leaders of most of the coalition’s school leaders who are a part of the coalition said this week that they weren’t opposed to tomorrow’s charter school rally, but wouldn’t be taking part.

Sonia Park, executive director of Manhattan Charter School, said her school would be “supporting from afar.” Park said she didn’t want to take students out of class or ask her parents to take time off of work to attend.

Vasthi Acosta of the Amber Charter School in Harlem, which drew a high-profile visit from Fariña and de Blasio last month, said her priorities would be elsewhere on Thursday.

“I think it’s really early in the school year and we’re trying to focus on our instructional work,” said Acosta.

Crowd estimates for the event have been a moving target that is mostly pointed up. The final tally, unlikely to be independently verified, will probably land close to or exceed last year’s total of 17,000, an important mark that some in the charter sector see as more important than displaying a unified front.

“If you don’t have a platform, then the whole point is to show momentum,” said a charter school advocate not involved in organizing the event.

Officially, organizers say the rally is being designed to put pressure on Fariña and de Blasio, who have been criticized for not articulating a clear plan for the city’s low-performing schools. But sights are also set on issues that need to be settled by the state legislature: raising the number of charter schools allowed to operate in New York state and increasing state funding for charter schools.

In a nod to those priorities, at least four Democratic state lawmakers, including Brooklyn Assembly Member Karim Camara and Senate co-leader Jeff Klein will headline the event, according to Families for Excellent Schools, which is organizing the event.

Acosta said she’s on board with many of the big-picture policies that the charter school sector is seeking this year, particularly extra facility funds for schools in private space. But there is another reason Acosta said she didn’t really compelled to air those concerns at Thursday’s rally.

“We weren’t even invited,” Acosta said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported how Success Academy had scheduled it school days to make time for the rally.

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