Colorado districts signal R2T interest

A collection of 17 school districts, boards of cooperative educational services and one charter school have formally indicated their interest in applying for a new federal Race to the Top program that’s targeted at the local level, not at states.

ARRA logoLarger districts in the group include Aurora, Boulder Valley, Denver, Poudre and Pueblo City. Also on the list are Eagle County, Fountain-Fort Carson, Harrison and Mapleton.

The $400 million program carries individual four-year grants of $5 million to $40 million, depending on district size and other factors. A central goal of the program is to help districts create personalized learning experiences tailored to individual students.

The U.S. Department of Education set a Thursday deadline for local education agencies to file intent-to-apply forms. The deadline for the full 117-page application is Oct. 30. However, districts that indicated interest aren’t required to finish the application process. And a district can still participate even if it didn’t file an intent-to-apply form.

The intent forms “will be used by the department primarily to develop an efficient process for reviewing grant applications,” according to the department.

The eligibility rules are complicated and include district size; percentage of low-income students, whether a district has teacher, principal and superintendent evaluation systems in place; commitment to college and career readiness for all students, and strength of data systems, among other things.

Winning districts will need to have 2,000 participating students, although groups of 10 or more districts – such as a board of cooperative educational services or BOCES – that serve fewer than 2,000 are eligible if at least 75 percent of all students in the group participate. Award sizes will depend on number of students served.

Here’s the list of Colorado entities that have indicated interest, including what DOE calls “expected” budget requests. The DOE did not screen interested districts for their potential eligibility.

  • Aurora, $20-30 million
  • Boulder Valley, $10-$20 million
  • Brush, $5-10 million
  • Center, $10-$20 million
  • Denver, $30-$40 million
  • Eagle, $10-$20 million
  • Fountain-Fort Carson, $10-$20 million
  • Harrison, $5-$10 million
  • Mapleton, $0-$20 million
  • Northeast Colorado BOCES (12 districts), $5-$10 million
  • Pinnacle Charter School (Thornton and Federal Heights), $5-$10 million
  • Poudre, $5-$10 million
  • Pueblo City, $20-$30 million
  • San Juan BOCES (nine districts), $10-$20 million
  • San Luis Valley BOCES (14 districts, including Center), $$5-$10 million)
  • South Central BOCES (14 districts, including Pueblo City), $10-$20 million
  • Vilas, $5-$10 million

The department received indications of interest from 893 potential applicants nationwide. Officials say there will be 15 to 25 winners when the awards are announced in December.

Race to the Top has morphed into a collection of programs since the first state-level competition was announced in 2009. Colorado applied but finished out of the money in two rounds for state grants. Colorado also lost a third R2T competition focused on early childhood.

Late last year, Colorado did win $17.9 million in a “consolation round” of funding for states that almost made the cut in a previous round. The state is using its half of that money to help develop the educator evaluation system and support the work of “content collaboratives,” groups of educators and experts that are developing methods for assessing student mastery of new state content standards, especially in subjects not tested by the statewide assessments. The other half of the R2T grants went to participating school districts to spend on their own work in the same areas.

The $4.3 billion R2T effort was launched as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package and is seen as the administration’s hallmark education initiative.

Some $330 million of R2T funds went to two groups that are developing multi-state tests to assess students on the Common Core Standards in English and math. Colorado has adopted those standards and recently joined one of the groups, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, as a governing member.

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 [email protected]

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