welcoming committee

Immigrant families get rock star treatment on the first day back to school in Memphis

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Neighbors, faith leaders and advocacy groups greet immigrant families arriving at Brewster Elementary School on the first day of class in Memphis.

Emerging from the shadows since federal agents raided several Latino neighborhoods in Memphis, immigrant families were greeted Monday by cheering neighbors and educators as they brought their children back to school amid assurances of protection.

Holding signs such as “Bienvenido” and “Every Student is Welcome,” clusters of people gathered at the entrances of about 25 Memphis schools with large Hispanic student populations on the first day of class. The welcomings were organized by church leaders and Latino Memphis, an advocacy group for the city’s growing Hispanic population.

“They welcome us. They support us. And we are not alone in this neighborhood,” said a mother named Aura after she dropped off her children at Brewster Elementary School, where about 30 people greeted the families.

Speaking in Spanish with the help of a translator, Aura described how she had been afraid to leave her house during the waning weeks of summer break after the arrests in Memphis of about 15 immigrants by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While targeting immigrants with criminal history, ICE officials also were arresting immigrants who were residing in the United States without authorization.

Leaders of Shelby County Schools have assured parents they can bring their children to school without fear of arrest. They’ve also dispatched workers to apartment complexes where arrests were made to tell families that the district does not share their personal information with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At Brewster on opening day, principal Angela Askew said the school still had not heard from up to 75 Hispanic students expected to return this year. Though lagging school registration is a chronic challenge in Memphis, the ICE arrests appear to have exacerbated the problem at the Binghamton neighborhood school, where Hispanics comprise about one-fifth of the student population.

“We drove around the neighborhoods that week telling people it’s OK for them to come in,” Askew said. “They were afraid to come, which is understandable.”

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Welcome signs greet families in English and Spanish.

Monday’s informal welcoming events offered a message counter to the raids, which have increased nationwide under the administration of President Donald Trump.

“Many Latino families have gone through a tough past couple of weeks after immigration agents targeted their neighborhoods,” Latino Memphis said in a statement announcing the effort. “…We want you to join us to make sure ALL students feel safe and welcome at their school.”

Last year in Shelby County Schools, Hispanic students made up 12 percent of enrollment, and that percentage is expected to rise.

Organizations such as Comunidades Unidas en Una Voz have been holding trainings for Hispanic families to know what to do in case an ICE agent comes to their home or if a family member is arrested.

Cristina Condori, an organizer with the group, said Monday’s turnout from community members should help ease the minds of families wary of bringing their children to school.

“It’s very important, this act,” she said. “They can receive support from the community that says all immigrants are welcome in this country.”

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.

share your story

Teachers: How does your district handle family leave? How did it affect your life?

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

New York City is in the news because a petition there is calling for the city to create paid family leave for teachers, who currently must use accrued sick days if they have a child and are limited to six paid weeks off.

Chalkbeat wants to know: How do other districts and schools compare? What implications do these policies have for educators and their families?

If you have an experience to share, or can simply explain how this works where you work, please tell us here. Your answers will help guide our reporting.