training day

Trips, a TED talk, and Renewal decisions await teachers on training day

Thursday is a day off for students, but it will be a busy one for schools, where staffs are getting their first opportunity since Election Day for a full day of training.

Since 2006, the first Thursday of June has been a mandatory training day for teachers, principals and staff members. This time, “Renewal” schools are meeting to decide what performance benchmarks they want to hit in the coming years, others are planning field trips across the city, and — at Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s urging — many others will check out a TED Talk about the importance of connections between teachers and students.

“It’s an incredibly moving talk that may just change the way you approach education,” Fariña wrote of the video to principals last month.

It’s also the first full professional development day since Fariña’s newly-empowered district superintendents have been firmly in place, and a few are exerting their new authority. At least two superintendents instructed their principals to send them an agenda for their training days, raising eyebrows among school leaders who said it was a small but significant example of lost autonomy.

“In my five years we have never been asked to have our PD plans vetted in advance,” a principal said. “It’s a brave new world.”

An elementary school principal who also had to submit an agenda said she was surprised, but then realized it’s to be expected now.

“The stated rationale for returning to a stronger district structure is so that there is both more oversight of and support for schools,” the principal wrote in an email. “This request seemed in keeping with that intention.”

Other principals said their superintendents are taking a hands-off approach as they tailor their trainings to their schools’ needs. Judy Touzin, principal of East New York Elementary School of Excellence, said she is sending her teachers of gifted and talented students to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in an effort to “use different spaces across the city to support the learning in the classroom.” Other teachers are going to Teachers College for a training session on restorative discipline practices, while paraprofessionals will stay at the school for training on how to better serve students with disabilities.

The idea is “to focus on professional learning that’s most important and targeted” for all teachers, said Touzin, who took several of her teachers to a training session hosted by the Uncommon Schools charter-school network Wednesday.

The professional development day, called “Chancellor’s Conference Day,” grew out of the (now mostly apocryphal) city holiday of Brooklyn-Queens Day. Between 1829 and 2006, schools in the boroughs were closed to honor Sunday school teachers. The tradition faded over time and was changed altogether with the 2005 teachers contract, which extended the day off to students across the city but turned it into a professional development day for teachers.

The day can serve as a reflection of changes happening in the city’s schools, and gives teachers a chance to prepare for what’s ahead. In 2012, teachers were prepping for the rollout of the Common Core standards, and hiring committees at some “turnaround” schools that were headed for closure were meeting to discuss staffing. (A judge eventually blocked the closures.) But school workshops can also be more offbeat, in the past incorporating circus skills, hip-hop dance, or rugby.

This year, much of the day for teachers and principals of the city’s struggling Renewal schools will be spent working on an improvement plan that is due to the state later this month. Among the tasks will be for school leadership teams to come to a consensus about which performance benchmarks will be used to measure their progress over the next two years.

Fariña, who has made professional development a department priority, will be visiting a Queens middle school, although a spokeswoman did not provide the name. In the afternoon, she’ll go to the School for Global Leaders, a school in her collaboration program known as Learning Partners, for the program’s end-of-year celebration.

The chancellor said in her letter to principals last month that she wants schools to watch the TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson, and recommended at least 30 minutes of “deep conversation” about the passing school year. To end the year on a high note, principals she read from a book or praiseworthy letters, she offered.

“It’s important to end the day on an uplifting note,” she wrote. “Remind your staff that you are a community and that you are joined together by a shared mission to provide for your students’ success.”

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

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.