town hall time

Fariña promises Common Core "re-rollout," downplays gifted programs at town hall

Chancellor Carmen Fariña gave some big hints about how the city will be handling the Common Core, co-locations, and gifted policy to parents in Far Rockaway on Monday night. 

“We wanted to come to the end of the world before we did things close to home,” Fariña said, to laughs from the crowd of parents from Queens’ District 27. 

In addition to her announcement about pre-kindergarten seats, some of the takeaways:

Details about new co-location policy: The Department of Education unveiled the broad outline of a new policy for space planning decisions on Monday, including more community meetings and walkthroughs of affected schools by a senior official.

In addition, “One of the things I will guarantee you is they will be done with the approval of the community and with one of my four deputy chancellors walking the building with the [school leadership teams] and making sure that everything being written up is exactly what we’re going to do,” Fariña said.

That addresses two major complaints of the existing co-location process: that local input is ignored and that the plans often misrepresent a building’s available space. It also signals Fariña’s expectation that the affected school will approve of the space-sharing plans—consensus that has been hard to come by in recent years.

Fariña also made it clear that the re-evaluation of the city’s space-planning guidebook, the “Blue Book,” would shift it toward a more conservative view of what spaces could be converted to new uses. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, schools frequently used space in unconventional ways to accommodate additional schools in the building.

“To me a science room is a science room, it is not a potential classroom,” Fariña said.

Common Core will get an official fresh start: “We’re going to re-roll it out,” Fariña said of the standards, though she offered few new specifics beyond points she’s made before: officials will be looking to better align the curriculum with student abilities and improve teacher training.

Another interesting tidbit: Fariña said that the city will, “to the degree we can,” pay schools for Common Core-aligned curriculum materials they wrote or edited if schools can show that their work could be used by others.

Gifted & Talented gets downplayed: When a parent asked about the dearth of gifted and talented options in District 27, Fariña didn’t answer her directly. Instead, the chancellor said her “goal would be to have neighborhood schools that provide gifted practices to all students.”

To train teachers, she said she’s bringing back Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis—researchers known for what’s called the Schoolwide Enrichment Model of providing high-level instruction for students of varying ability levels. (For parents who still want their children in independent, specially designed classes, that model is a frequent target of criticism.)

“My children did not go to gifted and talented [programs], and I think they had wonderful educations because their teachers taught all the kids in that class to the highest level,” Fariña said.

After the meeting, Fariña clarified that she wasn’t proposing changes to existing gifted programs, but the Renzulli training would be an option for schools moving forward.

More parent coordinator training on the way: Fariña said she’s bringing back serious training for parent coordinators, harkening back to her days as deputy chancellor when she took new parent coordinators to workshops at Teachers College and on museum tours to learn how to lead parent groups.

“They should also be the people who assist the principal, but not necessarily doing paperwork. In many cases they become the ex officio paperwork person when they should actually be the first person parents talk to and learn from,” Fariña said, mentioning parents of special needs students and English Language Learners in particular.

That’s exactly what some parent coordinators said they wanted from Fariña back in January.

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