New York

City to use Americorps to staff struggling schools with mentors

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

The city’s signature school-improvement initiative is getting a helping hand from the nation’s largest service agency, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced today.

Americorps will spend $5.8 million over the next two school years to place a civil service volunteer in each of the nearly 130 schools that the de Blasio administration is converting into “community schools.” The initiative is a campaign pledge for Mayor Bill de Blasio and includes the 94 low-performing schools that are part of the mayor’s much-scrutinized Renewal program. 

Officials touted the partnership as one of many ways that outside groups will flood needy schools with different kinds of support, ranging from expanded social services, extra academic support, and more enrichment activities. The job of each Americorps member will be to tutor and mentor students and provide outreach to parents, with an eye toward reducing chronic absenteeism, one of the metrics that officials are monitoring to measure progress in the schools.

“Sometimes a child comes to school because they’re going to see you,” Fariña said to an audience of service members at Baruch College, where she announced the grant with Americorps director Bill Basl and the city’s Chief Service Officer, Paula Gavin. “Not their teacher, not their classmates, but they’re there to see you. And they look forward to seeing you because you’re closer to them in age, you’re going to greet them in a different way and you’re going to socialize with them in a different way.”

Americorps, a public and privately-funded federal agency established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, has long connected people to work in New York City schools, including as teachers through Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows. More than 8,000 members are currently working in New York City, many of which work in schools through other education nonprofits like City Year, Blue Engine and Citizen Schools.

As part of their service, most members receive small stipends to cover living expenses and a $5,730 scholarship for college credits or to pay back college loans.

City officials said about 150 people would make up the first-year cohort and that one member will be placed in each of the 128 schools that de Blasio is converting into community schools, at some point during the 2015-16 school year. The remaining members will work centrally in the education department’s new community schools office or on “beautification” projects in different schools.

Although Americorps is often seen as a program for young adults between jobs or before entering college, Fariña said she’d like to use recruit parents for the roles, too.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could train many more of our parents through Americorps so that becomes another way to get back into the work world?” Fariña said later at an education conference at New York University.

The announcement comes with less than three months left in the school year and most Renewal schools still have not finalized partnerships with main community-based organizations, a central component to de Blasio’s plan. The city is providing funds to hire a full-time community school director who will serve as the liaison between the school and outside organizations in each school.

De Blasio is planning to spend $150 million over three years to convert 94 long-struggling schools and use a $52 million state grant over four years for the remaining 34 schools.

 Although they are receiving different amounts of support and resources at different paces, the schools are symbolic of the new administration’s move away from closing the city’s bottom-ranked schools, an approach favored by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio’s approach, especially for the his Renewal Schools initiatives, has been the subject of steady criticism from opponents, such as charter school advocates, who say his plan lacks the urgency and aggressive changes needed to turnaround long-struggling schools. As the issue has become fodder for a debate over renewing mayoral control in New York City, de Blasio has responded in recent weeks by showcasing schools where more significant changes have taken place and sharpening his rhetoric around ridding the schools of low-performing teachers.

More than 40 of the 128 schools are further along in the process and have already partnered with a community-based organization. Officials said the pairing process for the remaining schools is in its final stages and could partnerships could be announced as soon as the next few weeks.

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.