Colorado

Boasberg shuffles leadership team

Denver Public Schools’ top boss has reshuffled his leadership team as the city’s school district moves toward rolling out its new strategic plan and after one of his top lieutenants departed for a new job.

In an email to district staff, Tom Boasberg announced Susana Cordova, formerly the district’s chief academic officer, will become the chief schools officer. Meanwhile Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, who previously oversaw the district’s innovation and reform office, will become the chief academic and innovation officer.

According to an email provided to Chalkbeat by DPS officials, Cordova will oversee all schools with the assistance of Ivan Duran, the recently minted assistant superintendent of primary schools, and Greta Martinez, who is newly appointed to assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness.”

Martinez’s new title was previously held by Antwan Wilson. Wilson is leaving Denver to lead the Oakland Unified School District beginning July 1.

“The new structure will allow the chief schools officer to align our support, accountability, and implementation across all grade levels and all schools,” Boasberg said in his email. “By making the work of [the Office of School Reform and Innovation] in promoting innovation pilots and authorizing autonomous schools a part of the work of the chief academic and innovation officer, I am also excited about the increased opportunities to promote and share innovation and best practices across all our schools, regardless of governance type.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the education advocacy organization A+ Denver, said the announcement has promise.

“I think it’s smart and long overdue,” he said after being briefed on the transition this morning by Boasberg.

Schoales said the district’s academic and innovation offices previously worked independently of each other and weren’t aligned to provide the best support to its schools and school leaders were often getting direction from multiple central administration teams. He hope the reshuffle will change that.

“I think it potentially has big implications for the district,” he said.

The district did not immediately release new salary figures for Martinez or Whitehead-Bust.

Boasberg’s email

Dear Colleagues:
As we have worked together to craft our revised Denver Plan this spring, I have spent much time engaging with our teams on how to best accelerate our academic improvements and close our achievement gaps. You have been clear with me about the importance of coherence and alignment across all our schools and central school-support teams in order to support our educators and share our learning as we implement the new Common Core and Colorado Academic Standards.

I am pleased to let you know that we are going to restructure some critical roles on our senior leadership team to strengthen this alignment and coherence. To achieve these goals, Susana Cordova will serve in the newly-created leadership position of Chief Schools Officer, which will oversee the support and management of all of our district-run schools. Ivan Duran has been doing an excellent job as our Assistant Superintendent in charge of our elementary schools, and he will continue in that role. I’m pleased to share that Greta Martinez has been named as our Assistant Superintendent for Post-Secondary Readiness in charge of our secondary schools. Both Ivan and Greta will be reporting to Susana.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust will be moving to the new role of Chief Academic and Innovation Officer. Alyssa will lead all of the departments that are currently part of the Chief Academic Office. She will also continue to lead the Office of School Reform and Innovation in all its current duties, with the exception of leadership and network support for innovation schools. Leadership of the innovation schools network will move under Susana as Chief Schools Officer; and she is committed to supporting the flexibilities in their innovation plans.

The new structure will allow the Chief Schools Officer to align our support, accountability and implementation across all grade levels and all schools. By making the work of OSRI in promoting innovation pilots and authorizing autonomous schools a part of the work of the Chief Academic and Innovation Officer, I am also excited about the increased opportunities to promote and share innovation and best practices across all our schools, regardless of governance type.

We are lucky to have such talented people here in DPS and incredible leaders like Susana, Alyssa, Ivan and Greta. They are caring, accomplished, equity-driven educators who have a fierce dedication to our mission.

While the shifting of responsibilities and teams always has sensitivities and challenges, we have worked through these conversations with an overriding goal of determining the right team structures to best support success for our teachers, our school leaders and our kids.

My overriding message to you as we make this leadership shift is: Don’t wait. Lead. Please continue the excellent work you are doing. Do not pause or second guess our current plans. We are deeply committed to the work we have underway this summer and in the new school year, and the better alignment on our leadership team will help drive results for our kids.

I have great confidence that our experienced and talented school-leadership team will help us move more quickly toward our shared vision of Every Child Succeeds.

Best,
Tom

CorrectionAn earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Susana Cordova. 

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