Monday Churn: Calling for safer schools

Updated – An advocacy group and several education associations are calling on elected leaders to create a statewide Safe Schools Task Force to reduce bullying in Colorado schools.

One Colorado, which works on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals and their families, issued the call today in an open letter to newly elected Gov. John Hickenlooper, members of the 2011-12 General Assembly and others.

“In recent months, young people all across the country have taken their own lives after suffering from anti-LGBT bullying,” said Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado. “We must head off the crisis in Colorado by addressing this problem immediately.”

In addition to Clark, representatives of the Colorado Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, Colorado Association of School Executives and Colorado Association of School Boards signed the letter.

You can read the letter here and the press release here. Learn more about One Colorado at their website.

Also today, the Colorado Department of Education announced the state is one of eight selected by the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study or TIMSS.

“It’s important that we know how Colorado students are performing in math and science in comparison with the world’s strongest students,” said Dwight Jones, the state’s education commissioner, in a news release.

In Colorado, some 50 schools in 28 districts will administer the test to a sample of 8th-grade students beginning April 4. Read the release here.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning

The unpaid members of the State Board of Education have a pretty busy workday ahead of them today. They’ll first meet from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the boardroom at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave., to review bids submitted by search firms vying to help the board find a successor to Commissioner Dwight Jones.

Jones’ last day at work is Dec. 13, and the board has named Robert Hammond as interim commissioner. The board hopes to have a search firm selected and ready to go by its January meeting, but a new commissioner isn’t expected to be selected until spring.

After that session, board members will walk down the hill to the Department of Higher Education at 1560 Broadway, where they have a 2-4 p.m. joint meeting with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The two panels are supposed to adopt a framework and “a joint vision” for a new state testing system. Action by the two boards, required by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, is one step in a long process, as a new state testing system isn’t expected to be in place until 2014. (Get more information here.)

Public Employees’ Retirement Association Executive Director Meredith Williams is one of five finalists to head the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, according to Pensions & Investments, an industry news service. The Texas system, at nearly $95 billion, is about three times larger than PERA.

What’s on tap:

The Adams 12-Five Star school board convenes a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. this evening to vote on charter applications from the Global Village Academy and the Goals Charter Academy. The board returns to work at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for a regular board meeting. Both sessions will be held in the Aspen Room of the Training Center at the Educational Support Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton, and you can see both agendas here.

The annual higher ed marathon kicks off at 9 a.m. Tuesday when the Joint Budget Committee holds its budget hearing for the Department of Higher Education. The format includes presentations by leaders from each of the state’s systems and institutions, so a full day is scheduled. Hearing room A in the Legislative Services Building, 200 E. 14th Avenue, is expected to be packed with college presidents, trustees, DHE officials and CCHE members and the ever-present higher ed lobbyist corps.

No decisions are made at such affairs, but the session will give presidents a chance to pitch their colleges, and committee members have the opportunity to ask about touchy issues such tuition rates and how colleges might tolerate various levels of state budget cuts.

The annual convention of the Colorado Association of School Boards opens Thursday at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, running through Sunday (get more information here).

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education meets at 1 p.m. Thursday with a heavy agenda, including approval of the higher education master plan and votes on tuition flexibility proposals from the CU System, the Community College System, the University of Northern Colorado and Adams, Mesa and Western State colleges. The panel previously approved plans from the CSU System, Metro State and Fort Lewis college (see story).

The meeting will be held on CU-Boulder’s East Campus at 4001 Discovery Drive (see agenda).

The Joint Budget Committee will hear a staff briefing Friday on the Department of Education’s proposed 2010-11 budget from 9 a.m. to noon in the third-floor committee room at the Legislative Services Building, 200 E. 14th Ave. Outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter has proposed a very modest increase in K-12 spending, but not enough to cover inflation and enrollment growth (see background story).

The State Council on Educator Effectiveness meets from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in the Hershner Room at the Wells Fargo Center, 1700 Lincoln St. The meeting will be preceded by a 9 a.m. presentation on educator effectiveness sponsored by the Colorado Legacy Foundation. Theodore Hershberg of the University of Pennsylvania and Claire Robertson-Kraft of Operation Public Education who will discuss the framework for school reform contained in the 2009 book “A Grand Bargain for Education Reform: New Rewards and Supports for New Accountability.”

Good reads from elsewhere:

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

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