Equity

School board moves a step away from neighborhood middle schools in northwest Denver

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters on Feb. 9, 2016, after technical problems halted the state's new online assessment called TNReady.

After months of planning and angst, the Denver school board voted tonight to approve a shared enrollment zone for middle school students in northwest Denver.

Denver Public Schools has been introducing shared zones — where students aren’t automatically assigned to a single school, but are guaranteed a spot at one of a number of schools. — in neighborhoods across the city in what officials say is an effort to foster integration and promote school choice.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the new approach to school assignments will “promote opportunity and equity within northwest Denver…and promote integration and equity in our school district, which are foundational principles of our democracy.

“The narrower you draw your boundaries, the more likely you are to see schools that are less diverse,” Boasberg said. “The broader you draw the zone, the more likely you are to draw greater diversity.”

Those issues have been pressing in northwest Denver, which includes middle-class neighborhoods and rapidly-gentrifying areas, as well as the largest housing project for lower-income families in the state, Quigg Newton.

The board had voted to close the middle school at Trevista@Horace Mann, a pre-K-8 school near the Quigg Newton project, earlier this spring, citing low enrollment and difficulties adequately staffing the school to serve English language learners. That required the district to redraw middle school boundaries in the region.

The new enrollment zone in northwest Denver will include STRIVE, Skinner Middle School, Denver Montessori Jr/Sr High School, and Bryant-Webster. Trevista will remain open as a K-5 school.

Boasberg commended the principals at each of the schools involved in the zone. “We have a common set of values, equity and integration,” he said. “They put aside the fact that some are district, some are charter.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the plan. Jimenez raised concerns about whether the zone would genuinely foster integration, whether choices would be accessible to the neighborhoods neediest students, and about transportation plans for families in the region.

Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.

Some residents of northwest Denver had raised concerns about the fact that each of the schools except Skinner has a specialized focus. Some with children at Skinner were concerned that the school would become overcrowded. Others were concerned that the proposals would automatically assign students to STRIVE, a charter school. Still others were concerned that some of those avoiding STRIVE were biased or misinformed about the charter school’s model.

Dozens of families and employees at the affected schools appeared at a board public comment session last week to share their thoughts on the plan.

The new zone gives preferences to students with certain backgrounds at certain schools: Students who already attend Skinner will be given preference at that school. Students with Montessori backgrounds will be given preference at the Montessori school. And students who have been attending dual language elementary schools will be given preference at Bryant-Webster.

Board members said the district plans to provide for transportation and will evaluate how transportation options are working and how enrollment patterns are playing out each year.

“It’s a dynamic, changing neighborhood,” said board member Mike Johnson.

“The legal environment makes it so challenging to do the things we’d hope to do to create equity,” said board president Happy Haynes. “The district’s been very creative in finding ways, through choice and through shared enrollment zones, to address equity issues.”

The district also voted tonight to approve a three-year placement of Denver Montessori Jr./Sr. High School at the Smedley building in northwest Denver.

The board rejected an amendment proposed by Jimenez that would require the district to create a new, district-run middle school in northwest Denver before moving any other new or existing program into the region. Board members said they were not sure how that amendment would align with a new policy that dictates how schools are placed in buildings.

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