STRIVE community: No more delays

STRIVE Prep supporters gathered before the Denver Board of Education Thursday to make a clear plea: Don’t put off the decision on the location of their new high school any longer.

About 50 people attended a Choose North Now meeting in early October, one of several heated meetings about a proposal to open a STRIVE Prep high school at North High.

The parents and students who flanked the microphone in the boardroom did not provide a preferred location. They simply want a decision.

Student Edgar Campos said STRIVE has already altered the trajectory of his young life. He was comfortable talking to the adults in the room because he has to give a speech every six weeks at STRIVE Prep, he said. The system of reward and penalties at the school keep him on track.

“Students have to really pay attention because if you don’t you will get behind,” Campos said. “This school has given me confidence that I can get to college.”

After every speaker, members of the STRIVE crowd snapped their fingers.

District staff already recommended a location for the first STRIVE high school in the charter network: North High School. Under a controversial district proposal the high school would take the place of the STRIVE Highland middle school. Meanwhile, the middle school would move into the vacant Remington building.

But a vocal contingent of Northwest Denver parents and community members have fought the proposal. They worry the addition of a charter high school will disrupt the transformation now underway at North, a turnaround school, and create unnecessary competition. Furthermore, they don’t believe there will be space for STRIVE if student projections at North come to fruition.

A working group of citizens from all affected schools proposed alternatives but was unable to garner community support for any of them. The board is slated to make a decision on the location of STIVE Prep High School, scheduled to open next fall, on Nov. 29.

At a community forum Tuesday at North High School, district staff said there were two new options for STRIVE Prep.  One of the buildings is vacant; the other is not. However, the purchase or lease of a privately owned facility would require spending additional district resources.  Due to the sensitivity of the real estate negotiations, staff declined to provide details regarding the two options.

STRIVE Prep’s CEO Chris Gibbons said STRIVE families were asked by STRIVE staff not to attend the informational meeting at North to provide a space for the North community to express its feelings about co-location and ask questions.

At the board meeting Thursday, STRIVE middle schooler Esmeralda Contrerras said STRIVE has helped her grow as an “independent scholar.”

“I encourage the Board of Education to quickly decide where my STRIVE Northwest high will be located,” she said.

The system of rewards and consequences “make us realize our mistakes, fix them and quickly move on.”

STRIVE teacher and parent Lee Vigil said STRIVE embodies a true love of learning in a “small, safe” learning environment.

“The doors are always open,” she said, adding that teachers, students and staff are leading their own kind of educational “revolution.” Middle school students never have less than an hour of homework each day and are expected to read for at least 30 minutes per day.

“The teachers and leaders at STRIVE Prep are visionary,” she said. “These scholars know where they come from, where they are going and why.”

“We have been waiting since March. We need to proceed quickly and decide upon a location. There is too much at stake to delay any longer.”

Linda Gonzales, parent of a STRIVE eighth-grader, said the board needed to make a speedy decision for the kids.

“It’s kind of important for our kids,” Gonzales said. “They don’t really think about much but school. For them next year is coming very quickly. We have a school to prepare for and get ready.”

Neither board members Arturo Jimenez nor Andrea Merida attended the meeting. Board member Jeannie Kaplan said her colleague Jimenez was in Washington, D.C., as part of a program to train Latino school board members and school leaders. Board President Mary Seawell had to leave the meeting early due to a childcare conflict, although she was there for the STRIVE testimony.

Candace Ortiz, a member of the stakeholder working group and mother of a STRIVE eighth-grader, said the time has come to make this difficult decision.

“It’s been a long summer and long few months,” Ortiz said. “I believe in all three options. I believe we do have a lot of viable options. I believe that a lot of work has gone into this… I am pleading with you tonight, as a member of the stakeholder work group, this decision is not delayed any further. Please keep the date of Nov. 29 as the date where the decision is made.”

With that, more snaps from the audience. Board members – who have already listened to exhaustive testimony on the divisive co-location plan – listened, but didn’t make any comments.

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