Tennessee

Just over half of Shelby County students are registered a week before classes start

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said Shelby County Schools will need to close up to 24 schools in the next five years.

Despite the fanfare around Shelby County’s new online registration, only 56 percent of district parents have registered their children for school with just a week before classes start.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday that he views the percentage as a success for the first year of an all-online registration process.

But to boost the number, the district is opening all schools on Tuesday for parents to register their children. The schools will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with employees on hand to help with the online process.

“Not surprisingly, in some of our more impoverished areas, the online registration numbers are very low,” Hopson said. “We’re going to be supporting those schools tomorrow, so parents can come in and register.”

(See Chalkbeat’s preview of the change to online registration, including the challenge of the “digital divide” in Memphis.)

“All in all, I’m pleased with the online registration process,” Hopson added, “but I know there’s going to be some heavy lifting that we’re going to have to do tomorrow.”

Hopson offered the registration update in his office while fielding questions about the district’s performance, including the state Department of Education’s recognition Monday of 170 schools, including 35 in Shelby County, for their growth or performance on standardized tests in 2014-15. (A full list of the reward and priority schools can be found on the state website).

He cited increased leader and teacher training and effectiveness as the main driver for growth in Shelby County Schools.

“You’re seeing the fruits of all that hard work,” he said, referring to the district’s academic overhaul with the help of a $90 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’ll stack our teachers up against anybody in the country.”

In a special work session on Tuesday evening, the Shelby County Board of Education is scheduled to look at the district’s newly released scores and consider whether to give Hopson a performance bonus. Hopson’s base salary is $269,000, and his contract runs through June of 2018.

Asked about the prospect of a bonus, Hopson parried the question to praise the work of teachers and administrators in Tennessee’s largest public school district, which has become an incubator for education improvement efforts among struggling schools and students.

“I’m proud of the work our teachers and school leaders are doing, and they deserve all the credit,” he said. “The board has set ambitious but obtainable goals, and they’re going to hold me accountable to those. I support them in whatever decision they make.”

Hopson added that the district still has a long way to go, especially in boosting its sunken literacy rates.

“We’re still very concerned about literacy; we talk about that all the time,” Hopson said. “You’ll see that we’re going to have a laser-light focus on that.”

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

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.