hands on

Low-scoring but not closing, CTE school showcases job training

Graphic Communication Arts juniors Lissy Alcantara and Kianne Martinez and senior Aziza Ramsay show off the video on HIV awareness they shot and produced at FACES NY.

Just days after their school was spared from closure, students from Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts showcased fruits of the school’s longstanding Career and Technical Education program.

Founded as the High School of Printing in 1925, Graphic Communication Arts has offered students hands-on training in photography and visual arts since a time when CTE programs were called vocational schools.

Now, through a workplace learning program funded by the city’s Department of Education and the federal government, dozens of students at the Hell’s Kitchen school are working as interns at private and public sector companies — 16 businesses this fall. More than 50 students also participated in summer internships that ran the gamut from print-production to photography to legal services.

Four of the students are putting their academic-year training in photo and film editing to use at FACES NY, a social services agency that helps at-risk populations with HIV/AIDS prevention. Earlier this year the interns shot and produced a video about HIV awareness, which they are promoting via a Facebook page and a Tumblr blog they maintain for the agency.

The mini-documentary they produced was as much a lesson in professionalism as film editing, according to the three students I met Tuesday, because it required them to talk to peers about sexuality and other difficult subjects.

“It’s done, but we need to go in and re-edit it now: bring the audio levels up, fix the text,” Aziza Ramsay, a senior, said after playing the 8-minute clip — a combination of narration, statistics and interviews with classmates about HIV.

The internships are meant to instill a sense of discipline and responsibility in the students by mirroring college and career expectations, according to Jack Kott, the school’s workplace learning coordinator. The students were selected through an application process at the school, Kott said, and all are paid minimum wage for up to 10 hours of work a week.

Last year more than 100 students from Graphics were able to take paid internships, but budget cuts slashed the number of students able to participate by more than half, according to Lantigua Sime, the assistant principal of CTE and photography.

“So far we’re still getting funding, but there is a lack of support from the DOE, and I don’t know why,” he said. “The Common Core calls for career and college readiness, and that is what we provide. That’s exactly what the federal government wants.”

Graphics was one of nine schools with CTE programs whose poor performance landed them on the city’s preliminary list of 21 high schools that could be closed this year. The school got an F on this year’s progress report, down from a D in 2010, even though its graduation rate rose by 5 percentage points.

Three other schools joined Graphics in escaping closure, but the city has proposed shuttering five schools with CTE programs. Three of them are, like Graphics, among the 33 city high schools fully designated as CTE schools. One of them, Grace Dodge Career and Technical High School, was chosen as a demonstration site when the city announced plans to bolster CTE programs two years ago.

Kott and Sime attributed the school’s new lease on life to the testimony of students and recent alumni who told DOE officials that the extensive work-study programs prepared them for life beyond high school.

“That helped sway the committee to say, “Hey, we really need to take another look to see what’s going on here,'” Kott said. “I don’t think the DOE gives CTE schools enough credit for what they engender.”

The three students said the school was their first choice because of its extensive photography and design course offerings, even though its performance on state assessments is lackluster and they must travel to the West 50th Street building from as far as Kingsbridge in the Bronx and Far Rockaway in Brooklyn. They said the school’s closure would have been a significant blow to students throughout the city who want to receive in-depth arts and technology instruction.

“This is really the only school in the state that offers four years of photography,” said Kianne Martinez, a junior. “A lot of 14-year olds who want to go into this field wouldn’t be able to do that, because most schools only offer photo in senior year, and even then it’s not traditional black and white, it’s just digital.”

Lissy Alcantara, also a junior, said she plans to study psychology and design in college, though how those two disciplines fit together is an open question for her. “I’ll promote you, I’ll promote you,” she said, turning to Aziza, who wants to study film and someday create an arts-focused youth center.

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