students say

Convened by de Blasio to talk school safety, New York City students tell him his latest solution is misguided

PHOTO: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
A student asks Mayor de Blasio a question during Thursday's town hall meeting about school safety.

When it was Andrea Colon’s turn to ask a question at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s town hall meeting on school safety Thursday, the high school senior got right to the point.

Why is the city “prioritizing police and metal detectors instead of ensuring we have enough social-emotional and mental health support in our schools?” Colon asked the mayor, who had invited roughly 100 students to talk about gun violence and school safety at the Vanderbilt YMCA in Manhattan.

Student after student grilled Mayor Bill de Blasio about metal detectors, just weeks after the mayor said all middle and high schools would be subjected to random screenings. De Blasio made the decision to expand random screenings after a school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people — and ignited a student-led movement for gun control that the mayor has endorsed.

“I don’t think we are making that mistake, honestly,” de Blasio said in response to Colon, noting that he supports programs that target mental health issues.

“I believe we need some police inside and outside of schools at times,” the mayor added. “I think the idea is to create a different relationship” with school police.

Different versions of that back-and-forth played out multiple times during the mayor’s nearly two-hour town hall meeting, highlighting the tightrope de Blasio is trying to walk on school safety.

On one hand, he is sympathetic to advocates who have long raised concerns about the way students of color are policed in schools, and under his leadership, suspensions have declined (though they are still disproportionately issued to students of color). But on the other hand, he has resisted calls to withdraw metal detectors and faced a consistent drumbeat of critics who say schools have become more chaotic under his watch. Those critics seized on a fatal school stabbing in the Bronx earlier this year to make their point.

One Staten Island student, Joe Silverstein, voiced that criticism, asking the mayor to add metal detectors and police officers to more schools. “This would have saved a child’s life in the Bronx a few months ago,” he said.

Still, many more students argued that the city’s metal detector policies make them feel like criminals; school safety officers don’t make them any safer; and there are too few guidance counselors. At one point, the mayor polled the audience, asking if school safety agents created “openness and an environment for dialogue.” Few hands went up.

“We got some work to do, that’s not a shocker,” de Blasio acknowledged.

On multiple occasions, de Blasio tried to steer the conversation away from metal detectors, which he noted are permanent in just 93 of the city’s 1,500 school buildings. After his wife, Chirlane McCray, who co-hosted the town hall, asked what mental health services students wanted to see in schools, the mayor insisted students answer that question before raising their own.

The mayor’s answers didn’t satisfy Ayobami Olabode, who attends Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Park, Queens. During the town hall, Olabode told the mayor that while a small fraction of schools across the city have metal detectors, most of the high schools in his neighborhood — which serve many students of color — have them.

“He said it’s not a color thing, but I think that it is,” Olabode said after the meeting. “I feel like he tried to brush it off.”

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.

March for Our Lives

Memphis students say Saturday protest is not just about school shootings. It’s about all gun violence.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
A student at Columbine High School holds a sign during a protest of gun violence, on March 14, 2018 in Littleton, Colorado.

Students marching Saturday in Memphis against gun violence say they are not only protesting the shootings that killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. They also are speaking out against shootings that happen daily in their own city.

Seventeen-year-old John Chatman says he fears school shootings, but he especially fears the common gun violence in his neighborhood of South Memphis. He has lost close friends to shootings.

“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Chatman said. “I think [this march] is a great stand. We should protest against school shootings. But we have to talk about what kids like me are seeing in Memphis on the daily.”

Memphis had 200 homicides in 2017, down from 228 the previous year, the deadliest year recorded in the city in two decades.

Chatman is one of hundreds of Memphians expected to participate in this weekend’s March for Our Lives event as part of a nationwide protest sparked by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The largest march will be in Washington, D.C., where up to a half million protesters are expected, but smaller demonstrations are planned in cities and towns across the nation. In Tennessee, other marches are slated for Jackson, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Clarksville, Cookeville, and Johnson City.

The Memphis march will start at 10 a.m. at Claiborne Temple, and Savanah Thompson will be there. One of more than a dozen student organizers, she worries that news about people getting shot has become commonplace.

“Being in Memphis, you get used to hearing about gun violence,” said Thompson, a freshman at White Station High School. “This affects the youth in our city. … We never want a school shooting to happen in Memphis or anywhere ever again.”

Alyssa Kieren, a student leader at Collierville High School, hopes the march fosters a sense of unity.

“We’re trying to stress that this isn’t a partisan issue,” Kieren said. “We have to acknowledge there is a problem and we have to come up with solutions. … The thing we’re upset about is that children are dying in our schools, and they’re dying in our city.”


Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education.