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Bronx Science tensions started with teaching methods: NY Mag

The roots of simmering conflict between teachers and administrators at the Bronx High School of Science are in pedagogy, not personnel, according to a new article in New York Magazine.

The article offers a case study in the pitfalls of principal autonomy without teacher support — and of increasing scrutiny on teachers at schools where almost all students are high-performing.

For years, teachers at Bronx Science, one of the city’s most selective high schools, have accused Principal Valerie Reidy of micromanagement and vindictiveness. They have filed mass union complaints, resigned in droves, and gone public with stories of unsatisfactory ratings they said were not justified.

Now, Reidy is telling her side of the story, and she says she just wanted to impose a pedagogical approach called “guided discovery,” in which teachers ask students a series of questions to help them arrive at answers themselves, to help Bronx Science’s high-performing students to do even better.

Guided discovery is used to some degree at many city schools, but Reidy wanted teachers to adopt it wholesale, and right away. From the article:

Reidy lights up when she talks about guided discovery; she believes it links back to the laboratory or “inquiry”-based learning encouraged by Bronx Science’s founders. But the method is highly scripted and can make teachers used to lecturing feel more like robots than educators. “What I find is when you have teachers with a lot of alphabet soup after their name, they take the college approach: ‘I’m going to come in and expose you to my brilliance,’ ” she says. “But real teaching is tight. This is not, ‘We’re going to have a loose conversation about the information, and then you can go home and teach yourself.’ You’re Socrates. You have to steer them to the solution.”

She devised a two-part strategy: Those new teachers who couldn’t or wouldn’t teach her way would not get tenure; the older, set-in-their-ways teachers would retire sooner or later, making room for young ones she could train herself (Reidy generally hires new, unmolded teachers, not experienced teachers who have earned tenure elsewhere). She promoted new assistant principals she felt would embrace her approach and be a model for others. She even handed out copies of her old biology lesson plans and suggested teachers take a pointer or two from them. “I’ve learned this over time, I’m good at this,” Reidy says. “The sequence of the questions has to be well thought out—because they’re building to a conclusion. The wording is important. I’ll often say to teachers, ‘Change this word. You noticed no hands went up? Change this word.’”

Read the entire story, by Robert Kolker, for a detailed accounting of Reidy’s efforts to shake up a teaching staff that she said had grown complacent and the “seismic upheaval” that has followed them.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.