community schools

Partner groups will help 45 ‘community schools’ transform into service hubs

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen FariƱa with students at P.S. 15 in 2014.

Since taking over P.S. 15 in the Lower East Side four years ago, Principal Irene Sanchez has rounded up more than a dozen outside groups to offer her students everything from reading and music lessons to vision exams, swimming workshops, and sessions with therapy dogs.

All the extra help is vital for her students — almost all come from low-income families, and more than 40 percent live in homeless shelters or other temporary housing — but managing all those partnerships became a job in itself, Sanchez said. So when she learned this summer that her school was eligible to join a new city program that pairs high-needs schools with agencies that will help provide and coordinate all those services, she canceled her vacation plans in order to work on the application.

“It was that important to say, ‘We’re doing it, but we need help,’” said Sanchez. Such support, she added, will “free up teachers and administrators to do the job of educating students.”

P.S. 15 is among the 45 schools named by the city on Monday that will pair up with one of 25 different support groups, including the Children’s Aid Society, Good Shepherd Services, and Teachers College. The plan, which Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced in June, is to develop new “community schools” that address students’ academic and personal needs by bringing in medical and dental services, mentoring and counseling, art and wellness classes, and other assistance for students and their families.

[See a map of the schools and their partners here.]

Each school will get a full-time coordinator to oversee the support programs, which will be provided by the partner agencies or other outside groups. The agencies will receive about $310,000 annually for each of their partner schools from a four-year, $52 million state grant meant to boost student attendance and reduce the number of dropouts.

Schools chose from roughly 60 vetted agencies, according to Sheena Wright, president of United Way of New York City, which is helping manage the program. Each school then interviewed about three agencies before making its selection, she said. Some of the agencies are partnering with multiple schools.

De Blasio’s schools-as-service-hubs plan follows a model that has been adopted by other cities and embraced by President Barack Obama and Governor Andrew Cuomo, not to mention many of the city’s education advocacy groups and the teachers union. The idea is not only to give students extra academic help, but also to attend to out-of-school issues like hunger, family instability, or health problems that can get in the way of learning.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that each of the 45 schools will set its own performance goals, which will focus on improved student attendance, parent involvement, and academic achievement. She cautioned that the the academic gains “won’t happen overnight,” but said progress in the other areas will eventually boost student performance.

“If you’re not in school,” she said during the announcement at P.S. 15, “you can’t learn.”

P.S. 15 Principal Irene Sanchez was so eager to sign up for the city's new "community schools" program she cancelled her summer vacation plans to work on the application.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
P.S. 15 Principal Irene Sanchez was so eager to sign up for the city’s new “community schools” program she cancelled her summer vacation plans to work on the application.

The partner groups are in the process of hiring the service coordinators for each school, who will work with faculty members and parents over the next few months to identify each school’s needs and create service-delivery plans. The plans are due by March, though some services might be offered before then.

The education department will send officials to visit the schools and will hire an outside evaluator to track their progress, Fariña said. But unlike the administration’s pre-kindergarten expansion, where each site is expected to offer similar experiences, each community school will be expected to arrange services specifically designed for its students and families, said Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.

“Every community school will look a little different,” he said.

Parents and school leaders at P.S. 15 chose to partner with Pathways to Leadership, a group that offers counseling, mentoring, and therapy in schools. P.S. 15 will also receive academic support from the city, since it is part of a new improvement program for low-performing schools. (Eleven of the 45 community schools are also in that school-improvement program, known as “school renewal.”)

Pathways to Leadership will help run an after-school program at P.S. 15 and bring in an on-site social worker and two interns, according to Kathleen Shamwell, the school’s new site coordinator. The school already reaches out to parents — it has previously bought a washer and dryer for them to use — but through its new partnership it might start to host adult classes or set up a “study hall” for parents to do their own homework while their children are supervised. Such services will ultimately benefit students, said Assistant Principal Laura Salmon.

“If their families are doing better,” she said, “they’re going to do better.”

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