Tennessee

ASD will reach out to priority schools earlier, Barbic says

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Chris Barbic has led the Tennessee Achievement School District since 2011.

The Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools will ramp up communication with priority schools in the spring, much earlier than in past years, Chris Barbic, the superintendent of the ASD said today.

The priority list encompasses schools in the bottom 5 percent of the state, according to test scores. The ASD can assume control of any school on the list.

The idea came out of a meeting Thursday with Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson, the first in a series during which the district chiefs will formulate a three-year plan for the turnaround of Memphis’s lowest performing schools.

Barbic said that they are still in early stages of planning, but that community engagement is a top priority. He said officials from the ASD will visit schools on the priority list that are not already in the ASD or part of Shelby County’s innovation zone, and make them aware of the possibility of state intervention.

“We want to give them plenty of advance notice,” Barbic said.

A three-year plan crafted by Hopson and Barbic could have long-term implications for how turnaround efforts in Memphis will look going forward.

While the ASD’s ability to intervene inschools academically ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools is protected by state law, the two districts have until now benefitted from a cordial relationship.

Despite some recent sniping, a strong relationship going forward would be in their mutual best interest. Neither district has met its lofty academic goals and both have struggled with parental support and trust. Strong relationships with families are key to recruiting and retaining students and the tax dollars that come with them.

That’s vitally important to Shelby County Schools, which lost more than 32,000 students this past summer when six municipalities split from the district to create their own school systems. The loss of students meant the district had to cut $240 million worth of services andclose 10 schools to consolidate resources. Hundreds of teachers were laid off. Going forward, each school Shelby County loses to the ASD will further incrementally erode its financial viability.

The discussions will affect only how the ASD operates in Memphis, Barbic said. Talks about longer term plans in Nashville will start once the district gets a new director of schools this summer.

Hopson did not respond to phone messages Thursday.

For more information on the ASD’s intervention process, visit our interactive page here.

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.