Tennessee

Introducing myself and Chalkbeat’s effort to serve you better

Good morning, Chalkbeat Tennessee readers!

As promised, we want to continue to update you about our journey to becoming Chalkbeat. (In case you missed it, we told you why we created Chalkbeat, introduced you to our bureau chief Daarel Burnette and our newest reporter Jackie Zubrzycki.

Today, I want to tell you briefly about my job as “director of engagement.” I was hired as a reporter at GothamSchools– one of the websites that helped create Chalkbeat– in New York in April and then became Chalkbeat’s first “director of engagement” a couple months ago. We define engagement as, “the body of work that maximizes our readers’ opportunities to access, learn from, interact with, and act on our journalism.” In simpler terms, it means I want to get more people to read, share and talk about our stories.

Reporters can write dozens of stories a day that expose problems or spur debate, but if no one sees those stories, does the reporting even matter? Bet you can guess my answer. I’ll be making sure our reporting makes it to the people who need it most. (You can read more about my engagement strategy and my background in this Q&A published by ReportHers).

While I’ll be overseeing our engagement efforts at all four of our bureaus, I’ll be based in New York and will work closely with New York community editor Emma Sokoloff-Rubin and Colorado community editor Tiffany Montano– you’ll hear from both of them next week. We hope to hire a community editor in Tennessee soon!

Here’s what my job means for Chalkbeat Tennessee readers:

1. A strong sense of community: We want Chalkbeat Tennessee to be a place where educators, policymakers and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. One way I want to achieve that is by improving our comments section. I’ve worked with our bureau chiefs to write a new comments policy that will be shared with you and enforced regularly once our new site launches. We hope that our renewed focus to our comments section will create a more welcoming venue for reader comments that lead to productive conversation.

2. Having an advocate in the newsroom: My goal is to bring a user and reader perspective to our newsroom as often as possible. I want to make sure our stories are easy to understand and that readers feel like their voices are being heard. My job is to remind our reporters and editors every day that ultimately, we are here to serve you.

3.  More opportunities to contribute to our reporting and interact with reporters. Some of our best stories come from our tips e-mail address and we often read valuable insights in our comments section and on Twitter. I’ll be advising each bureau on how best to build relationships with readers and I’ll also be devising ways for readers to contribute to the content on our website. One example is our School Snapshot project, in which we asked you all to submit photos of something that makes your school special or unique and tell us about it.

We’re extending the deadline until the end of this month and if you haven’t submitted one yet, you can check out the photos from each of our bureaus below for some inspiration! And if you have any questions about my job or suggestions about what my job should be, e-mail me at aanand@chalkbeat.org or Tweet me at @anikaanand00.

Photo submitted by Ted Beasley Jr., the supervising producer of Germantown Community Television in Germanton, Tennessee (a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee). He writes that the television and theater programs at Germantown High School are both operated by students in the production workshop class and teachers. GHS-TV is the community television station for the city, and he writes that in the photo, “Our students are in the middle of a taping for our newscast,  Wake Up, Germantown!. The students pictured are (from left) headlines anchors Kayla Myers & Kelsey Kimble and sports anchor Cooper Terle. All are in the 12th grade.”
Photo submitted by Ted Beasley Jr., the supervising producer of Germantown Community Television in Germanton, Tennessee (a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee). He writes that the television and theater programs at Germantown High School are both operated by students in the production workshop class and teachers. GHS-TV is the community television station for the city, and he writes that in the photo, “Our students are in the middle of a taping for our newscast,  Wake Up, Germantown!. The students pictured are (from left) headlines anchors Kayla Myers & Kelsey Kimble and sports anchor Cooper Terle. All are in the 12th grade.”
Photo submitted by Wendy Daniel, a fifth grade teacher at Mesa elementary in Cortez, Colorado. She wrote, “When a parent called me concerned because her child told her that he ate his science test, I had to explain!!! It was an animal cell replica made out of edible clay and if they replicated it correctly, they got to eat their science test!!!”
Photo submitted by Wendy Daniel, a fifth grade teacher at Mesa elementary in Cortez, Colorado. She wrote, “When a parent called me concerned because her child told her that he ate his science test, I had to explain!!! It was an animal cell replica made out of edible clay and if they replicated it correctly, they got to eat their science test!!!”

 

Photo submitted by assistant principal Matt Ridenour of Wea Ridge Elementary in Lafayette, Indiana. He writes, “The attached picture is what makes Lafayette’s Wea Ridge Elementary unique and cool. Assistant principal,  Matt Ridenour, raised money this summer to purchase this bicycle rickshaw. It is used to support our positive behavior program by giving deserving students rides through the school’s hallways. The picture is of assistant principal Matt Ridenour and Rep. Sheila Klinker.”
Photo submitted by assistant principal Matt Ridenour of Wea Ridge Elementary in Lafayette, Indiana. He writes, “The attached picture is what makes Lafayette’s Wea Ridge Elementary unique and cool. Assistant principal,  Matt Ridenour, raised money this summer to purchase this bicycle rickshaw. It is used to support our positive behavior program by giving deserving students rides through the school’s hallways. The picture is of assistant principal Matt Ridenour and Rep. Sheila Klinker.”
This photo was submitted by a Stuyvesant student with photo credits to Carol Deng and Jonathan Lee who are seniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The person writes, “Stuyvesant High School. Study hard. Play hard. Senior Pajama day 2013.”
This photo was submitted by a Stuyvesant student with photo credits to Carol Deng and Jonathan Lee who are seniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The person writes, “Stuyvesant High School. Study hard. Play hard. Senior Pajama day 2013.”

 

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