re-routing

City to reduce number of latecomer students sent to Renewal high schools

Mayor Bill de Blasio meets with students and faculty at Automotive High School. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

The city will begin sending schools in its “Renewal” turnaround program fewer latecomer students, who often pose extra challenges for schools, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced this week.

The move offers some relief from one enrollment quandary facing the city’s low-performing schools. Under the city’s choice-based admissions process, low-performing high schools often struggled to fill their seats, some of which the city would later fill with students who entered the system after typical admissions deadlines. Those “over-the-counter” students could potentially pull down the school’s performance even further, in what some have called an enrollment “death spiral.”

“I know that many of you have expressed concerns about the admissions process for ‘Over-the-Counter’ students,” Fariña said in a memo that Renewal schools received Wednesday. “We plan on reducing the number of OTC students who are assigned to Renewal Schools.”

But the move would also restrict the flow of students to Renewal Schools, which have just three years to make significant academic gains, and many of which have seen their enrollment fall for years. Since funding is tied to enrollment, such declines have made it difficult for the schools to offer special programs and elective classes.

Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said superintendents and Renewal officials will balance the needs of latecomer students with improvement efforts underway at Renewal schools. At the same time, they will try to help those schools attract more students during the normal admissions process.

“In their critical role, they will be thinking through the best way to refer OTC students to Renewal Schools or other schools in the district — based on student’s needs and while continuing to support the progress underway at each Renewal School,” Kaye said in a statement. “Also, by promoting the new services offered at Renewal Schools — like course specific offerings, community school services, extended day learning, and small group tutoring opportunities — we’ll work to attract community partners and students to these schools.”

The city is also considering redirecting latecomer students in younger grades, she said.

The policy change begins to address a question that some Renewal school staffers have been asking behind closed doors: How can the city expect them to make rapid gains if it keeps sending them students mid-year who may have recently arrived in the country or been released from jail? It comes after the city told two Renewal schools last year facing extra scrutiny from the state — Boys and Girls and Automotive high schools in Brooklyn — that it would temporarily stop sending them latecomers.

Almost all the Renewal schools confront the interlocked challenges of declining enrollments and especially challenging student populations. Over the past two school years, 80 of the 94 Renewal schools have seen their enrollment dip, and 14 have seen more than one-third of their total enrollment disappear since 2013, according to a recent analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office. The schools are serve an outsize share of English language learners, black students, Hispanic students, and students in temporary housing — all of whom typically post lower-than-average test scores and graduation rates.

Boys and Girls High School illustrates how those challenges can intersect. Its enrollment has plummeted from 2,300 to 500 students in just a few years, leaving it with many needy students but less funding. The over-the-counter freeze was meant to spare the school from receiving many more students with exceptional needs. But even though the relatively small number of latecomer students could hardly plug the school’s growing enrollment gap, some staffers see the policy as one more obstacle to repopulating the school.

“That moratorium,” a Boys and Girls staffer said last month, “chokes us to death.”

The city has more than 400 high schools, 35 of which are in the Renewal program. Since the city’s high-performing schools have many more applicants than seats, it’s likely that over-the-counter students will end up at other schools that are struggling to meet their enrollment targets, but not receiving the benefits of the Renewal program. There are a lot of such students: A 2013 report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform estimated that 36,000 students enter New York City high schools outside of the typical admissions process.

Between 2008 and 2011, data showed that those students were disproportionately assigned to struggling high schools that the Bloomberg administration had decided to close or would soon begin that process. Some of the schools with the highest share of over-the-counter students in 2011 are now in the city’s Renewal program: Forty-five percent of students at Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research were latecomers, as were 36 percent of students at DreamYard Preparatory School and 33 percent of students at Brooklyn Generation School.

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