On the road

Five boroughs in five days: Follow along with Chancellor Carranza on his inaugural school tours

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Carranza shook hands with students at Brighter Choice Community School in Brooklyn on the second day of a week of school tours.

Chancellor Richard Carranza is spending his second week in New York City visiting city schools — a lot of them.

On Monday, he headed to the Bronx to visit three schools. Tuesday, he’s stopping by three more, this time in Brooklyn. And he’s expected to keep the tour up the rest of the week.

The visits are just one part of  the Department of Education’s public introduction of Carranza to the city. On Monday, the DOE also released the first part of  a video interview series, in which Carranza emotionally talks about walking his parents around his college campus.

Chalkbeat reporters Alex Zimmerman, Christina Veiga and Monica Disare will be along for the ride in the education department’s bumpy press van and will share dispatches here. Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, April 9

7:36 a.m. Many chancellors have done five-borough tours on their first days of school. Carranza plans to stretch his tour out all week, Alex reports from Tweed, where he’s about to get on the press van to Concourse Village.

That’s no small feat: It’s a challenging week for school visits, because elementary and middle schools will be administering state testing starting on Wednesday.

8:45 a.m. Carranza is at Concourse Village Elementary School now. Located in District 7 in the Bronx, one of the most struggling districts in the city, the school it has won accolades for making both academic gains and addressing students’ social and emotional needs, a de Blasio administration priority. According to Insideschools, graduates are increasingly sought by area middle schools — including M.S. 223, the school that Carranza’s predecessor, Carmen Fariña, visited on her first day as chancellor.

8:55 a.m.

9:02 a.m.

9:30 a.m. At Concourse Village Academy, Carranza visited kindergarten, pre-K, and 3-K classrooms.

Carranza was mostly quiet during the initial classroom visits — he did not pepper the principal, students or teachers with questions, something that had become a hallmark of his predecessor. “I’m in fact-finding mode,” he later told reporters. “I’m looking with a very non-prejudiced eye and just taking it in.”

Carranza sang and danced along with pre-K students who were learning about different parts of plants through a song called “I’m a Little Daisy.”

Carranza touted the city’s investments in early childhood education — the expansion of pre-K has been a signature accomplishment of Mayor de Blasio.

“It’s one of those game-changer initiatives,” he said, noting “you have to wait a little bit to see the results.”

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Chancellor Richard Carranza is greeting families outside Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx on his first official school visit.

Carranza said Concourse Village was chosen for his first visit partly because of its geography: It is a high-performing school, but it is nestled in one of the city’s poorest regions and many other schools in the district struggle.

“It’s no mistake that I’m here this morning,” he said.

Asked about the city’s homelessness crisis — roughly one in 10 students live in temporary housing – Carranza said he is interested in talking about the problem with advocates from around the city.

“I will absolutely be sitting down and working with whomever is at the table,” he said. (Still, the mayor has taken criticism from advocates who were upset that he did not include funding for additional social workers in his original budget proposal.)

Answering questions from reporters, Carranza said he is interested in addressing the city’s achievement gap, and mentioned school segregation by name — something both the mayor and former-Chancellor Fariña had avoided.

He said he spent much of his first week being briefed on policy issues and meeting his new co-workers at Tweed.

“Last week I spent all of my time really diving into the policy issues and bringing myself up to speed,” he said.

10 a.m.

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Chancellor Carranza meets with students attending a college tour in the Bronx.

Carranza’s next stop is a tour of Bronx Community College with a group of 7th graders from PS/MS 279, as part of College Access for All. The initiative, founded under Mayor de Blasio, helps school build a culture around college and careers.

Three hundred fifty-five middle schools are participating in the program this year across 21 districts, according to Raana Kashi, a college access for all program manager. It will be in all middle schools across the city next year

The middle schools in the program get extra funding to help students start thinking about college, including these college visits.

“This should be how you feel comfortable” Carranza said of the college campus.

“If I can do it, you can absolutely do it,” he told the students during the tour Monday.

11:30 a.m.

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza mingled with 3K students at PS 25 in the Bronx.

De Blasio and Carranza channeled their inner children at PS 25 The Bilingual School. They squeezed into tiny tables and played with Play-Doh and food from a toy kitchen as they chit-chatted with the youngsters.

P.S. 25 was among the first schools in the city to take advantage of the mayor’s push for pre-K for all three-year-olds. In brief remarks to reporters, de Blasio said pre-K is becoming a “universal right.”

“This is the foundation of creating a whole generation of lifelong learners,” the mayor said. “This is a brand new reality.”

Still, the city faces an uphill climb before all three-year-olds are eligible for free pre-K. The city anticipates that it won’t happen until 2021, a much slower rollout than the rollout for all city 4-year-olds. And expanding universal pre-K to include 3-year-olds is expected to require $700 million from state and federal sources by 2021 during a time when the state faces a $4.4 billion funding gap and a federal tax overhaul could create tighter school budgets.

Last week, the mayor suggested that Carranza would “supercharge” his universal literacy initiative designed to get students reading on grade level by the third grade.

For his part, Carranza said the benefits of universal pre-K might not accrue immediately, but that he expects long-term benefits from the program — including in reading.

“When these students get to the third grade I can assure you they will be reading on grade level,” Carranza said.

Tuesday, April 10

8:45 a.m. Chancellor Richard Carranza started his second day of school tours at Brooklyn Studio Secondary school in the Bath Beach neighborhood. He kicked off the visit by helping Principal Andrea Ciliotta with morning announcements. “Let’s have some joy in school! Are you with me?” he asked over the public address system, drawing some cheers from students.

9:13 a.m.

9:23 a.m.
Carranza has made college access and preparedness a talking point over the last two days. On Monday, he went on a tour of a college with students. And Tuesday, he attended a college advisory class. “Remember, it’s got to feel like home. And remember you can do it,” he told students.

9:32 a.m.
It’s no secret that music has played an important part in Carranza’s life — he’s an accomplished mariachi musician and has played music with students.   So of course he attended a band class Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, much to the dismay of reporters, Carranza didn’t pick up an instrument. He did meet a student with the same last name who plays the same instrument that he did in high school — the baritone sax. “Are we cousins?” he joked.

10 a.m.
Carranza said he plans to make a habit of his school visits, squeezing in at least one a week — or more.

“I just think it’s really critically important to have the DNA of school. The only way to do that is to just walk into a building,” he said. “When I moved into a central office role, I’ve always wanted to stay connected to what really happens in schools.”

He also said he’s been known to follow around a student for a day. (Though, after throwing an opening pitch at a high school baseball game Monday afternoon, Carranza joked he’ll probably avoid joining students for baseball practice until he can improve his arm.)

“We as adults make lots of decisions for students, but it is so informative when we hear from students what it actually is that they want and what they need.”

He called College Access for All a “game-changer.” Earlier, he met with students in a college advisory class while they used iPads to take surveys about their interests. Once they settled on a theme — agriculture, education, or finance, for example — the program helped them track corresponding majors and which colleges offer them.

“I know not everyone is going to want to go to college. I’m not saying everyone needs to go to college. What I am saying is students should be armed with information so that when they walk across the stage and receive a diploma, they can make an informed decision with their families,” Carranza said. “But they’re prepared to go if they want to.”

Asked for his big takeaway from his visit to Brooklyn Studio — where he visited a band room, posed for a selfie with a 10th grade student, and a learned some words in a sign language class — Carranza echoed his predecessor in saying passion is key to helping students learn.

“You see the passion in the adults. We often talk about academic achievement and we talk about goals and we talk about issues. The one thing I don’t think we talk enough about is joyful learning… what I’ve taken away from Brooklyn Studio today is the students, the staff — they’re joyful. They’re happy to be here.”

Reflecting on his seven days on the job, Carranza said he has been struck by the “level of dedication” New Yorkers have to their schools.

“We have a can-do spirit in New York City that is palpable,” he said.

While he said the city faces many of the same issues as other urban centers, New Yorkers are motivated to take those issues on.

“But what we do have in New York City is the will, the passion and dedication to take them on in a very New York kind of way. So I’ve been very impressed,” he said.

When he was done taking questions from the press, Carranza called up the Student Council president and asked what he’d like to see in his school. The president, John Chauca said he was happy in his small school but asked for air conditioners in the classrooms. (The city has already pledged to install ACs in all schools.)

Victor Chamorro, a 7th grade student council representative, had hoped to ask the chancellor about his plans to keep students safe in their schools and neighborhoods in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, tragedy.

“We’re all hoping the community will be safer,” he said.

10:45 a.m.
Carranza visited several classes at Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School, the first charter school visit of his tour.

11:45 a.m.
Carranza hits his final stop of the day — Brighter Choice Community School. While there, Carranza visited dual language classes and stopped to shake the hands of students and staff and thanked them for what they do.

11:58 a.m.

Wednesday, April 11

9:30 a.m

Carranza is in Manhattan for day three of his week-long tour. His first stop: Orchard Collegiate Academy, one of the city’s “Rise” schools. The 21 schools in the program have shown enough progress, according to the city, to begin to phaseout from the “Renewal” turnaround initiative. Rise schools get to keep the social services that were introduced as part of the city’s community schools effort — just one prong of the Renewal program to boost performance — but other supports will get pulled back over time.

At Orchard Collegiate, Carranza said the community schools model is “fundamental” to driving academic progress. Before posing for a selfie with students, some told the new chancellor that they need more funding for better science labs and upgrades to their building.

11 a.m.
The chancellor attended a Computer Science Opportunity Fair at the armory next. Expanding computer science education has been a priority of the de Blasio administration. “New York City is where it’s happening,” he told a room full of computer science students. But, he said, there aren’t enough women or people of color in this field.

At the event, Carranza played a video game created by students at Tottenville High School — and he won!

12:30 p.m.

Carranza capped off his tour of Manhattan at Food and Finance High School, a culinary school with a kitchen, fish tanks, and a rooftop garden. Ironically, the school had a big problem just last year: The kitchens were not working.

But on Wednesday it was all smiles as Carranza toured the school and sampled some student-made tostones with sauteed peppers. The new chancellor paused on the school’s roof to speak about the importance of career and technical education.

“These are gateways to jobs across the world,” Carranza said. He also said that he wants to increase the city’s investment in CTE schools.  

 

1:30 p.m.

While at Food and Finance High School, Carranza also began to walk back his statement that opting out of tests is an “extreme reaction.” He made the comment in an interview with NY1 and since then, several parents who object to the tests have criticized his response.

Opting out of standardized tests is a hot topic in New York state, where last year nearly one in five families chose to do so. However, that number is much smaller in New York City, where only about 3 percent of families sat out of the exams.

“I’ve been quoted as saying the opt-out is an extreme. It’s not an extreme,” Carranza said on Wednesday. “What I’ve said is that there are extremes on the continuum, one being we should have a testing culture and test all the time. And some would say just don’t take any test. I think we have space in a very enlightened community like New York City to have a much more nuanced conversation.”

Thursday, April 12

8 a.m.

On the fourth day of Carranza’s five borough tour, he hopped on the iconic Staten Island Ferry, where the captain engaged him in a little lighthearted chatter about charter schools and standardized testing. After taking selfies with the Statue of Liberty, he headed to New Dorp High School.

The school’s Future Teachers Academy, a program that gives high school students teaching experience, was a favorite spot for former Chancellor Carmen Fariña. With interest in teacher preparation programs plummeting, Fariña thought encouraging middle and high school students to explore teaching would help fix the problem.

Carranza seemed to share in her excitement about the academy. “My heart is really full,” he said. “We’re generating the next generation of teachers right here in this school.”  

After visiting the school’s physics lab, and forensics science class, Carranza addressed a report that homeless students are more likely to be suspended than their peers. He called the homeless student suspension rate “unacceptable.”

 

10:45 a.m.

The next stop on the agenda was the Richmond Pre-K Center, a pre-K site run by the education department that has 86 students and opened in 2015. During the visit, a pre-K student outperformed Carranza in a hockey game (the chancellor took it very well) and then Carranza read a story to a group of students. Afterwards, the new chancellor sat on a classroom rug as some of the Staten Island’s youngest learners searched for vocabulary terms to describe the characters in the book.

 

11:45 a.m. Who doesn’t love to end a visit with a slice of pizza? Capping off Carranza’s Staten Island adventure, the chancellor stopped at Denino’s Pizzeria to meet with parent leaders.

 

Michael Reilly, the president of District 31’s Community Education Council, asked Carranza to keep My Brother’s Keeper in Staten Island. Carranza promised he would. The program, inspired by President Obama’s initiative, is intended to help boys and young men of color reach their full educational potential.

Other parents engaged Carranza on the difficult subjects of school discipline and safety. One parent expressed concerns about a lack of punishment for misbehavior. Carranza suggested the student must understand why their behavior was wrong. That’s consistent with Carranza’s view that educators should take a less punitive approach to discipline.

The new chancellor also said that whether or not schools should have armed guards depends on the context and that he has worked in schools with and without armed police officers.

Friday, April 13

Carranza’s last day of school tours took him to Queens. His first stop: Aviation Career & Technical Education High School in Long Island City, where students earn certifications and licenses that can qualify them for well-paying jobs once they graduate.

In an aircraft structural repair class, students used loud drills and heavy tools while learning how to fix the skin of an airplane. Carranza recognized one piece of machinery right away: one used to press sheet metal. His father was a sheet metal worker and Carranza demonstrated his knowledge of how to use the equipment.

The next stop was an advanced propellers class where students were using protractors to measure the angles of massive metal propellers after learning about vectors in math class.

“I’m so happy we have women in this program,” Carranza observed.

Administrators used the opportunity to make a pitch for more funding. While overlooking an expansive repair bay full of different aircraft, Assistant Principal Mario Cotumaccio said it is expensive to run the program and asked the chancellor to “remember us” at budget time.

Carranza noted that the program at Aviation High School not only prepares students for jobs, but also focuses on rigorous academics. He said the school’s graduation rate is among the highest in career and technical education programs.

“These students know math in a very deep and profound way,” he said. “We see some incredible things where students aren’t just sitting in classrooms in rows. They’re using their hands.”

Carranza wrapped up his five-borough tour at Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria, which is part of a network of girls-only schools. The sound of a piano stopped him in his tracks, and the chancellor poked his head into a room where a student gave an impromptu singing performance.

“Hey, remember us little people when you’re up on stage,” he joked.

Carranza made his way to a coding class where a seventh-grader game him a lesson in Scratch, a programming language.

The very last stop was a chemistry class as students prepared for an experiment in measuring the concentrations of Kool-Aid in a solution. He gave a thumbs-up when he noticed one student’s shirt that read: “Girls Rule!”

Earlier in the day, Carranza said he is eager to continue his school visits as a regular part of his job — without a “large entourage.”

“I want to see the full panoply of the portfolio in New York City,” he said. “I’m going to be very intentional about paying a visit and taking a look — boots on the ground.”

By the numbers

5 tough questions a new report puts front-and-center for Chicago’s next mayor

PHOTO: (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
With wife Amy Rule by his side, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018 he will not seek a third term in office at a press conference on the 5th floor at City Hall in Chicago.

Faced with an alarming report that lays bare shrinking enrollment and racial inequity, Chicago Public Schools must wrestle with some tough decisions. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek re-election means he won’t be the one addressing those issues for much longer.

Here are five questions raised by the report that Emanuel’s successor faces:

What about all those empty seats?

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
Historical enrollment and projections at Chicago Public Schools.

The Annual Regional Analysis, compiled by the school district and Kids First Chicago, projects plummeting enrollment to worsen in coming years. The district has more than 145,000 unfilled seats. By 2021 that gap could be more than 156,000 seats.

The next mayor will have to wrestle with that dismal trend just as Emanuel did in his first term, when he pushed the unpopular decision to shutter 50 schools. That move, research shows, exacted a heavy psychological toll on communities and hurt students’ academic achievement, especially in math. Yet, five years after the closings, the district still faces a massive surplus of classroom space, and is closing high schools in Englewood.

Some have argued that the district should change how it calculates space utilization at schools. They say the formula assumes an average class size of 30, and doesn’t adequately account for needs such as special education.

Community members have also called for an end to school closings, and said the city should consider creative solutions such as sharing space with social service agencies, redrawing attendance boundaries, and investing in academic programs to attract more students.

What can the city do to make neighborhood schools more attractive?

The analysis indicates that many families are skipping their neighborhood schools, including top-rated ones, for schools outside their area. Many schools suffer from low enrollment, and reside in communities where residents have cried out for more investments in neighborhood schools.

Kids First CEO Daniel Anello said the remedy should be to “improve quality and tell the community over and over again once you have.”

“There’s disparities terms of access and disparities in quality that need to be addressed,” he said. “The benefit of having a regional analysis is that people can see where those disparities are, and think about how we should invest in specific places to ensure the families there have access to high-quality options.”

Austin resident Ronald Lawless, who works as a community organizer and education consultant, was baffled to see that the West Side region, which includes Austin, has nearly 30,000 unfilled seats, about one in three of them at top-rated schools. Yet less than 40 percent of kids in the community attend their zoned neighborhood school. He said the district must combat stigma and misinformation that keeps people from neighborhood schools.

How can Chicago dig beyond school ratings to evaluate schools?

The analysis leans heavily on the annual school ratings policy.  But no rating system can tell the whole story about school quality — and Chicago’s ratings rely primarily on standardized test scores and attendance, metrics that often reflect the socioeconomic makeup of the areas from which schools draw their students.

If the new mayor’s administration continues current practice, it will undoubtedly run into opposition from community groups that have been vocal about what they see as shortcomings.

Alexios Rosario-Moore, research and policy associate at the community group Generation All, said, “What we need is a qualitative assessment that involves universities, researchers, non-profit organizations and communities to determine what kind of programming that community needs.”

Anello of Kids First said no measure is perfect, but that Chicago’s school rating approach stacks up favorably against other districts. Yet, he conceded that the ratings don’t fully flesh out what it’s like in classrooms, and that “we can always be working to make it a better measure.”

 

 

How does school choice intersect with transportation?

For better or for worse, the analysis showed that more and more students are attending choice schools, meaning buildings outside their assigned attendance area.

Some students have to travel far for the academic programs and high-quality schools they want, especially those coming from high-poverty neighborhoods and communities of color.

Elementary students travel 1.5 miles on average, but the average distance to school for elementary students is highest (2.6 miles) in the Greater Stony Island region, which includes far South Side neighborhoods like Roseland, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing and South Shore.

High school students travel 3.6 miles on average, but high schoolers in the Greater Stony Island area commute and average of 5 miles, tied for the longest community with the Far Southwest Side region that includes the Beverly and Morgan Park community areas.

Raise Your Hand spokeswoman Jennie Biggs said, “a choice-based system in a large, urban district that lacks universal, free transportation isn’t even providing the same set of choices to all kids.”

And Rosario-Moore of Generation All said he finds it surprising “that in a city so oriented around a school choice model that public transportation is not free to all students.”

How can Chicago better engage its rich arts community through public schools?

Chicago doesn’t offer its highly-desirable fine arts programs equitably across the city, and are most concentrated along the northern lakefront and downtown. Ingenuity Executive Director Paul Sznewajs praised Emanuel and schools chief Janice Jackson for investments in the arts and partnerships with cultural institutions and agencies, but said Chicago’s next mayor should do a better job of tapping into the city’s rich arts community.

He said that the Annual Regional Analysis focuses more narrowly on “a small sliver of arts in schools,” because it identifies available seats in what amounts to fine arts-focused magnet schools, of which he said there are probably 50-60 in the city.

PHOTO: Sam Park
This map shows the number of fine & performing arts program seats available to elementary school students in each “planning area.”

But even if the school district were to double the number of arts magnet schools, Sznewajs said it must address equity, “so that when students walk into school, whether in Englewood or Ravenswood, that child can expect to the get the same things when it comes to the arts.”

Q&A

How one Memphis leader works to stop both ends of the school-to-prison pipeline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Michael Spearman supervises Shelby County Schools' 24 behavior specialists to get to the "why" behind student misconduct.

Michael Spearman knows firsthand the consequences of harshly punishing students for misbehavior, as opposed to figuring out the underlying cause.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Michael Spearman currently works at the detention center at Regional One Health when inmates need treatment. He also serves as a “crisis intervention officer” to respond to mentally ill people who come in contact with police.

In addition to his day job as lead behavior specialist for Shelby County Schools, he has spent more than two decades as an officer and detective with the Memphis Police Department. If the school system can’t address a student’s behavior, those students are more likely to enter the justice system as teens or adults. This reality for many students, especially students of color, is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Now that the Memphis school system has been able to add back behavior specialists and other personnel meant to meet students’ emotional needs, Spearman says there’s hope to disrupt the pipeline.

His team of about two dozen behavior specialists, in addition to meeting with students who have been suspended to get to the “why” behind their misbehavior, are working with school staff on classroom management, creating and using meaningful alternatives to out-of-school suspension, and reducing time students are out of school.

This year, behavior specialists will initiate small “restorative circles” at 15 schools. People connected to the student — for example a teacher or another school staffer, a pastor, a family member — gather to talk about the student’s behavior and determine next steps. Too often, advocates say, schools skip over alternatives to out-of-school suspensions, which contribute to students losing motivation to study or open the opportunity to get involved in petty or violent crime.

Chalkbeat sat down with Spearman to talk about strategies that have resulted in students changing their behavior. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How do you see your roles interplaying with each other? How does each job impact the other?

In the Memphis Police Department, I’ve always worked in roles where I dealt with youth and the community. When I first graduated from the academy, I patrolled all of the public housing projects in Memphis, and provided community activities and services for the youth in the housing developments. I was one of the lead community officers where I oversaw the Boy Scouts, coached in the Police Athletic League, and was one the lead mentors.

From that, I really realized I had a passion for education. Working in public housing, my shift was from 4 p.m. to midnight. So, I decided to apply to be a substitute teacher. I knew I wanted to go into education, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. Would I have to leave the police department? Could I stay? I started substitute teaching at both Bellevue Middle and Vance Middle schools and got my teaching certification.

From there, I was blessed to work as an officer at Bellevue and Vance schools. Being in that role introduced me to education and the processes as far as academics and behavior. I served as a mentor, counselor, anything an officer could be in the building. My thing was building relationships with parents, with the staff, and students.

I was then tapped to serve with the FBI with the Internet Crimes Against Children unit — we arrested producers of child pornography, sex offenders. I took some courses through the FBI about behavior triggers of sexual molesters and interviewed criminals or people with behavior issues. That’s when I saw my career coming full circle.

Meaning, you saw those behavior triggers in students you had worked with?

"When you have those issues festering within your mental system and you never go to get any help, as I say, what’s in you comes out."Michael Spearman

Right. When I was with the FBI, I said, “Wow, this has something to do with the educational piece.” After the FBI, I came back to the Memphis Police Department and worked with the sex crimes unit for children 13 and under who had been abused.

I was interviewing based on their behaviors and triggers — why they do what they do. That’s when I started noticing the defendants were becoming younger. And there were some defendants I knew from working in the schools. That solidified why I’m doing what I’m doing, understanding why things happen, and that I wanted to make a difference.

Tell me about your previous role at Cypress Middle School as a family engagement specialist.

I worked with the principal to build the culture of the school. We wanted to decrease chronic absenteeism, decrease tardiness, decrease out-of-school suspensions, utilize in-school suspension more, and assist teachers with strategies in classroom management. And my favorite role, I was also athletic director.

I loved every day at Cypress Middle. It was a little different because I grew up in South Memphis and I was at a North Memphis school. But as police officers, we know how to adapt to different situations; we’re trained to adapt. We’re also trained to observe and not have tunnel vision.

The first thing I wanted to do is find the parents and get parent participation back. I always think about myself and how would I want to be treated. If you know how you want to be treated, that’s how you should want the next person to be treated. Once we get the parents involved in the school, then we can get the community back involved. We went from probably eight parents coming to the parent-teacher organization meetings to about 50. (The school closed in 2014.)

Want to learn more about the school-to-prison pipeline and those working to stop it?

    • Randy McPherson, student support manager of behavior and student leadership for Shelby County Schools; Rod Peterson, principal of Oakhaven Middle School; and LeTicia Taylor, licensed restorative practices trainer will discuss restorative justice and conflict resolution at a panel event is hosted by Stand for Children in partnership with Campaign Nonviolence Memphis, Pax Christi Memphis, Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, and the National Civil Rights Museum.
    • When: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18
    • Where: National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry Street
      Memphis, TN 38103
    • RSVP here: https://ckbe.at/2pmrSlf

We would walk the neighborhood twice a month with teachers on Saturdays and have cookouts or other events to let parents know we were a part of the community. We would talk about the academic programs, tutoring, and character education we had going on at the school.

We had sponsors who would donate prizes for students with good attendance records and getting to school on time. Those same sponsors would send volunteers who would help us make phone calls to parents to let them know what was going on. We had a computer lab for parents working on their GED, and we worked with a city agency to help with job placement.

You’ve mentioned “triggers” several times. Can you elaborate on what those are and what works to minimize those?

When I say triggers, for me it’s about what ticks them off, what makes them angry. I’m going to use this word “checking” in Memphis that means somebody is talking about what you look like or things of that sort. And then you have a lot of family issues in the African-American community. When you look at broken homes, we don’t have a lot of fathers in the home. So, that’s a major trigger.

I’ve seen those triggers on every level of law enforcement. You have some who have been violated by their parents or a family member at young age and they never told anybody. So, when you have those issues festering within your mental system and you never go to get any help, as I say, what’s in you comes out. A lot of it comes out incorrectly and people have issues that the outcome is prison time.

On the education side, I would just take the time to sit down with students who had been suspended a lot or “frequent flyers” as we call them and talk with parents or guardians or someone they are close to in the household. I also made household visits. I love speaking with parents face-to-face when they’re home from work to hear what’s going on and figure out how to help the student. That’s anything from helping out with the student’s character to how to get the student to school on time.

On the law enforcement side, the only thing you could do is talk about the what if. If you could relive that incident, how would you handle it? We come back with what you should have done on how to interact, communicate, and cope.

How do schools contribute to that problem?

"Once you build relationships with those students, they will not only respect the school but they also will turn and respect themselves."Michael Spearman

I believe now the school district is doing a great job and trying to decrease and stop the school-to-prison pipeline. The district has systems in place now where you have advocates in the schools, you have your behavior specialists, you have in-school suspension, you have your professional school counselors. And you have outside organizations that are working in the schools now. We have the adults in the building who can identify you and pull you to the side on a mentor-mentee basis to talk about problems before a suspension or expulsion is issued.

I know from being a part of this system and trying to make it better for our African-American males, the district is doing a tremendous job to reduce to the school-to-prison pipeline.

The more resources we have for the employees the better it works out for the school district and the relationships we build with the students — because, always remember, relationship-building is the most important piece of the school day. If someone out of all those resources can build that solid relationship with the student who has been defiant and fighting, that one person in the building can relate and talk to the student about what’s going on. Once you build relationships with those students, they will not only respect the school but they also will turn and respect themselves. You see the fruits of your labor when that child who was acting up on Monday comes in on Wednesday and gets to school on time, in uniform, and goes and sits in that teacher’s class who’s probably been referring him 10 to 12 times.

You have to keep asking about their academics too. Because now they’ll know their mentor is going to ask them about what they learned, they’ll be more attentive.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
“Progressive discipline” chart behavior specialists are helping schools implement.