transition time

From March: At uncertain moment, Tisch is mum on her future as Regents chancellor

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch poses with outgoing Regents members after a contended appointment process ushered in new members critical of Tisch's agenda. Tisch said she plans to step down from the board next year.

A week after losing two more allies in state education policy, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she’s unsure of her own plans for the future.

“We’ll talk about it in a couple of months,” Tisch told reporters on Monday when asked if she would seek reappointment when her term ends next year.

“Serve out my term?” Tisch said, when asked about her shorter-term plans. “Absolutely.”

Tisch, who has overseen the body that sets New York state education policy since 2009 and served on it since 1996, said such discussions were premature in an interview Tuesday. But her noncommittal response adds to the uncertainty looming over state education policy, following months of leadership changes that has left Tisch — a driving force behind the state’s new teacher and principal evaluations and the introduction of Common Core standards — more isolated.

Lawmakers last week voted to replace two Regents, James Dawson and Robert Bennett, who supported the ambitious education-policy changes Tisch has overseen. Their replacements are among a new wave of more skeptical appointees.

Also missing from Tisch’s corner is John King, who stepped down as education commissioner in December and who for six years guided a series of aggressive policy changes, including a statewide expansion of charter schools.

“It’s a shot across the bow of the accountability regime promoted by Tisch and King,” David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College, said of last week’s Regents election.

The Regents are now searching for King’s replacement. Meanwhile, the final dollars from the $700 million federal Race to the Top grant that spurred the state’s reforms in 2010 are likely to be disbursed this year. Many of those changes are now in their second year of being implemented statewide, and the education policy debates have shifted to the legislature as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pursues an aggressive series of changes to teacher tenure rules, evaluation methods, and the state’s role in overseeing struggling schools.

Tisch also lost an important ally in Sheldon Silver, who controlled the Regents selection process and stepped down as Assembly Speaker earlier this year after being indicted on corruption charges. Tisch and Silver were lifelong friends, and his fall was seen as a loss of some protection for the Regents against criticism from Assembly members.

Tisch said she wasn’t interested in discussing her plans on Tuesday, which included an emotional final meeting for the Regents being replaced. (Harry Phillips, a third Regent, voluntarily resigned.)

“We’re just all recovering from this Regents [selection] round,” Tisch said.

At the meeting, Regents exchanged hugs and shook hands with the members of the departing trio, who each spoke briefly and received standing ovations from the other members and observers. The three had a combined 67 years of experience on the board.

“Unlike Harry, I’m not leaving because I wanted to leave,” said Dawson, who represented nearly 100 school districts north of Albany, in a teary goodbye. “I’m leaving because of New York state politics.”

Bennett, who represented school districts in Buffalo and Western New York, left offering praise for the board’s leadership, but questioned whether other members were too easily influenced by outside groups. His reappointment was opposed by the teachers union in Buffalo.

“I know we’ve got two great leaders in the vice chancellor and the chancellor who have a great history and are here for the right reasons,” Bennett said. “There may be some members on the board that are carrying the water of certain constituencies.”

A number of Assembly lawmakers who would likely have some say in whether Tisch is re-elected offered praise for the chancellor this week. Catherine Nolan, chair of the education committee, said the replacement of Regents members last week was not a referendum on Tisch’s performance as chancellor.

“I hold her in the highest regard,” Nolan said. “It was in no way about the leadership.”

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

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