Co-Location Cooperation

Three delayed co-locations approved after Fariña reins in concerns

PHOTO: Brian Charles
Chancellor Carmen Fariña listens to community members weigh in co-location proposals at the Feb. 25 Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

Three space-sharing plans got the green light Wednesday after their decisions were delayed last month, though not before a debate about how to make sure the co-locations wouldn’t get in the way of the city’s efforts to turn around struggling schools.

At issue were whether three of the co-locations could undermine the city’s “School Renewal” program, an initiative that involves outside social-service groups partnering with the city’s lowest-performing schools to offer services like job counseling and mental health services. The schools would be moving into or expanding in buildings shared by a school in that program, which are only just beginning to determine what services they will provide.

“I am worried overall, that if we continue co-locations with Renewal schools we are threatening — if not jeopardizing — that the community schools will develop the programming that they need and have the space to actually house it,” panel member Norm Fruchter said during Wednesday’s meeting.

In response, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that the city’s community-schools program will be “state-of-mind focused and not room-focused,” and that most important aspect of the programs will be how they are integrated into the school day. The chancellor added that community programs could offer extra benefits when housed in shared buildings, where it would be easy for services to “spill over” to co-located schools.

Before the meeting, the city also added language to the proposals allowing negotiations about specific spaces in the school to continue as the community-schools plans were finalized.

“I say to PEP, do what you need to do, but I’m committed to making this work,” Fariña said before panel members voted on co-locations for Achievement First University Prep, Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx, and Success Academy Bed-Stuy I, which was adding a fifth grade.

Those three proposals, and another five co-location plans, were approved.

Last month, Fariña had surprised parent advocates by calling to delay the votes on four proposals, saying that officials needed more time to consider community feedback. The announcement came after hundreds of parents, community members and elected officials wrote letters, made phone calls and attended public hearings to voice concerns over the plans, which also eroded support for a few of the plans among panel members themselves.

Some of the principals involved in the delayed co-locations said Wednesday they had gotten more attention from city officials over the previous month, and were prepared to work together. In two cases, Fariña praised the principals for collaborating and said she was personally committed to ensuring the schools have the resources to make the co-location work.

“If anything, you’ll get more than what you would have if you hadn’t collaborated,” she told them.

The meeting offered partial answers to two crucial questions: Would the de Blasio administration be able to improve the process of deciding on co-locations? And would the city succeed at convincing panel members — some of whom had fought co-location proposals as activists in the past — to go along with proposals, even when the schools involved remain less than thrilled?

On Thursday, Fruchter attributed the new agreement to a significant outreach effort.

“There was very clearly a lot of dissatisfaction and concerns on the part of elected officials,” he said of January’s meeting. “I think what the chancellor did was meet with all the elected officials and meet with the schools, and what that produced was a lot of agreements. It didn’t mollify all of the schools impacted, but it went a long way to reduce concerns.”

Still, the city hasn’t overcome all of the issues raised by January’s proposals. One of the four proposals, which would put Academic Leadership Charter School on the fifth floor of P.S. 277, a 118-year-old building in the South Bronx, is still not on the panel’s future agenda, though officials have said all of the proposals would be decided on by March.

P.S. 277 is considered by some PEP members too crowded to even consider accommodating another school. But pressure remains, given the state law that forces the city to either find public school space or pick up the tab for charter schools to operate in private space if they are new or adding grades.

“There were a bunch of us that were concerned that while the school had some extra space there was not enough to put another school there,” Laura Zingmond, who was appointed to the PEP by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, said earlier this week. “There are hallways so narrow that when you extend your arms out you can touch both walls.”

“There was a general consensus that this was the wrong mix,” panel member Robert Powell said.

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