Tennessee

Meet Chalkbeat Tennessee’s newest reporter

It’s been about a month since we launched Chalkbeat Tennessee and we want to thank all of our readers for their interest in our coverage so far. Last week we introduced you to Daarel Burnette, our Tennessee bureau chief, and this week we want you to get to know Jackie Zubrzycki, our newest hire.

Jackie, and our other reporters in New York and Colorado, answered questions like why they decided to join Chalkbeat and which teacher most helped them to get where they are today.

Jaclyn (Jackie) Zubrzycki, reporter jackie

1. When you were hired: October 2013

2. Where you worked before & why you decided to join Chalkbeat: I covered urban school districts and leadership for Education Week and lived in Washington, D.C., where I also taught for two years and worked at an environmental nonprofit. I came to Chalkbeat because I was interested in being closer to the stories I was telling than I got to be as a national reporter.

Memphis is a great place to be exploring how people are trying to improve schools, and the results – intended and unintended – of that work.  It’s a story with national implications. I’m also looking forward to learning about how education fits into a city with such a fascinating history, and how schools affect the quality of people’s lives here.

I was also drawn to Chalkbeat’s start-up energy and its mission: Providing nuanced, independent journalism about what’s working and what’s not working in education.

3. What story you are most proud of: I like stories that leave you with a question. I wrote about some of the issues that came up in New Orleans after most of the city’s teachers had been laid off and were replaced by a younger, less-experienced group of teachers. That change came along with a complex set of questions about community, race, and what it means for schools to be “better,” and I finished writing knowing there was a lot left to learn and tell. A teenager who was expelled after getting something like 240 detentions from a very strict charter school surprised me when it turned out that he actually loved his school, despite its strict rules. Reporting about Memphis schools for Education Week left me very curious about what comes next.

I also like trying to understand how education and schools interact with other parts of society. For example, one story showed how schools and the juvenile justice  system often fail to collaborate, which means kids in many states can fall through the cracks when they try to return from juvenile detention centers to public schools. I spoke to a boy who was just getting back from a facility who had a maturity many of my friends would envy. I also wrote about how many kids with low test scores in Detroit are suffering from high blood lead levels.

I’m also on a mission to disprove researchers’ assumptions that reporters always oversimplify their work. Here’s a piece on Responsive Classroom, for instance.

My most-read story ever, however, was about whether schools should still teach cursive. It turns out people have very strong opinions about handwriting!

4. Teacher who most helped you get to where you are today: The teachers who have helped me most in recent years are all the teachers in my life now: My mom, who teaches third grade; my many friends who are current and former teachers; and my former colleagues, whose hard work, humor, and thoughtfulness still inspire me. It was a teacher-friend who encouraged me to give journalism a try!

My choir directors over the years, my yoga teachers, and my high school English teachers come to mind as people who both challenged me and kept me grounded.

5. Your most embarrassing or funny reporting moment: When I was reporting on New Jersey schools, one district spokeswoman who shall remain unnamed told me that some of the construction contracts in the district are still tied to the mafia. (!) That led to a conversation about a mob-funded wedding and my own stories about a distant uncle’s ties to the Polish mob.

After about 5 minutes of exchanging stories and laughing, though, she got really serious: “But please, don’t report on that…I want you to LIVE!”

Also, while I’ve got your attention: For readers’ reference, I pronounce my last name Zoo – Brick – Ee. Since I’ve started reporting, no one has asked if they could call me “Ms. Zoo,” which my middle schoolers in Washington were dying to do. 

E-mail Jackie at jzubrzycki@chalkbeat.org or follow her on Twitter at @JZubrzycki.

 

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