staying warm

As blizzard looms, thousands get free coats at community schools

As temperatures drop and a blizzard looms, the city announced Thursday that 13,000 young students will receive new winter jackets paid for by private donors.

The bulk of the coats will go to 32 elementary schools that are part of the city’s “community school” initiative, which seeks to boost attendance rates and test scores by targeting non-academic issues that can impede learning — anything from exposure to domestic violence to a lack of warm clothing. The schools serve a disproportionate share of low-income students and students who live in temporary housing, according to the city.

The roughly $650,000 gift was coordinated by the nonprofit Operation Warm and funded by several families’ charitable foundations and Morgan Stanley.

“As a result of this donation, we are removing a barrier to attendance during these cold months,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

Twenty of the schools are also part of the city’s “Renewal” program for low-performing schools, which is designed to revamp those schools partly by converting them into community schools loaded with support services for students and families. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed spending $100 million to apply that model to struggling schools across the state.

Fariña has zeroed in on attendance at the 94 Renewal schools. After the first year of the nearly $400 million Renewal program, the single performance measure Fariña highlighted was a three-point reduction in the number of frequently absent students.

Across the city, attendance dips on snowy days. Every missed school day affects students’ grades and test scores, but the impact of frequent absences is twice as large for students from low-income families compared to their more affluent peers, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The partnership is the latest instance of philanthropy intersecting with the city’s plans to improve its struggling schools. Last summer, the fashionable eyewear company Warby Parker pledged to provide free eyeglasses to students at community schools.

The city has also funded a coordinator at each of the 130 community schools to cultivate and manage their partnerships with outside groups. That is enticing to education philanthropies that want to know that schools have the capacity to use the extra resources they provide, according to Chris Caruso, executive director of the education department’s community schools office.

“Philanthropies have been very interested in this work,” he said.

Karena Thompson, principal of P.S. 335 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said the school was set to receive about 300 coats. She plans to distribute them to students who live in homeless shelters first, then to other needy students and their siblings.

“We’re truly grateful,” she said, “that we’re able to provide winter warmth.”

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.