Exchange Program

Co-located 'Learning Partners' forge bonds as they swap ideas

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Educators from three schools in the John F. Kennedy High School campus met on Thursday as part of the Learning Partners program.

Instead of traveling to far-off countries, what if exchange students stayed closer to home — say, in the building where they already go to school?

Chancellor Carmen Fariña floated that idea to educators Thursday in the Bronx’s lumbering John F. Kennedy High School campus, which is home to seven small schools. Speaking to three of the schools, which have struck up a close working relationship, Fariña suggested the next step could be to trade teachers and honors students for a week at a time as a way to swap ideas and sow goodwill.

The triad — Marble Hill High School for International Studies, the Bronx School of Law and Finance, and Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy, or BETA — are members of Fariña’s signature initiative, called Learning Partners. Its own sort of exchange program, Learning Partners sends educators on regular visits to high-achieving host schools (in this case, Marble Hill) so they can gather ideas and build professional networks. The program cuts to the core of Fariña’s school-improvement philosophy — that the best people to train educators and offer ideas to better their schools are fellow educators.

Among the 73 Learning Partners schools, the Kennedy campus triad is the only group housed in the same building, or co-located. Co-location can be an explosive issue, and with many school buildings already overcrowded and new charter schools seeking space, it might become even more so.

As the city prepares to release new co-location guidelines, Fariña said Thursday the issue doesn’t need to be divisive, and she pointed to the three Bronx schools as a model of how to make space sharing work. She even suggested that other schools that share buildings could come visit these three — a sort of Learning Partners, co-location edition.

“We struggle so much about co-location, but there are ways to deal with it,” she told the group of educators from the three schools gathered in the campus library. “And you have found a way.”

The Kennedy campus schools joined Learning Partners last spring, when it was still a pilot. But they already had a good rapport, their principals said. They formed a building council years ago to address logistical issues like bell times and lunch schedules, their students play on building-wide sports teams, and they worked together to revamp the shared library, which was recently completed.

Still, teachers from the separate schools seldom interacted before Learning Partners. Now, they compliment the work posted outside one another’s classrooms and observe each other teaching, several said. Even elevator rides in the eight-story building have improved now that the teachers in the lift recognize each other, one said.

“I do think it’s a great way to build community on the campus,” said Marble Hill principal Kirsten Larson. “Because co-location is one of the most difficult things — having to share resources without funding behind it, without support.”

Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy English teacher, Dana Holness.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy English teacher, Dana Holness.

In the spring, the schools decided to focus on the intensive projects that Marble Hill requires students to complete throughout the year in every subject and present to reviewers during hour-long presentations. BETA tried out similar projects over the summer with incoming freshmen, while Law and Finance is rolling them out in special-education classes this year. And Marble Hill, inspired by questions that their building colleagues raised, decided to tweak its own system, reducing the number of projects from three to two per marking period.

The group’s emphasis now is on strengthening their school “cultures.”

To Marble Hill, this includes things like its strict dress code and their equally high expectations for recently arrived immigrants, who are expected to present their projects in English even if they are still learning the language. At Law and Finance, it means making it cool to be smart, said principal Jessica Goring. And at BETA, a strong school culture is one where teachers have similar approaches and mindsets — something the school is trying to learn from Marble Hill, said BETA principal Karalyne Sperling.

“How do they get all their teachers to drink the Kool-Aid?” she asked, admiringly.

The Learning Partners program has played out so well among the three schools in the Kennedy building, the four others should also be brought on, said Marble Hill teacher Sherry Lewkowicz.

“That,” she said, “seems like the obvious next step.”

Correction: A previous version misidentified the principals of two schools. Jessica Goring is the principal of the Bronx School of Law and Finance, and Karalyne Sperling is principal of the Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy.

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.