calendar conflicts

Teachers at George Washington High file grievance over imposed schedule

The recommendations call for George Washington High to get $6.7 million for upgrades or renovations.

Daniel Singer, an English teacher at Denver’s George Washington High School, has been stood up.

His principal was supposed to call him weeks ago, he said. But he’s still waiting.

The call, which was supposed to happen in early July, was to set a date for Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, to meet with the school’s teacher leadership team and the principal to finalize and approve the school’s master schedule, the document that sets teachers’ and students’ workload.

GW principal Micheal Johnson and his administrative team had published a draft schedule for teachers, but because that teacher leadership team was cut out of the process for next school year, union leaders claim, the document is invalid and in violation of its contract with Denver Public Schools.

With no signal from Johnson to collaborate, the Denver teachers union last week filed a formal complaint with city’s schools administrators.

A meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 12 between the district and the union.

The official grievance is the latest development to rile some of the southeast Denver community of parents and teachers since district officials announced their plans to open access to the high school’s storied International Baccalaureate program. School officials hope that the changes will expand educational opportunities for more of the school’s students. But the announcement sparked a firestorm among some parents who feared the move would water down the IB program’s academic rigor.

While the changes to the IB program aren’t supposed to take effect until the 2015 school year, the process by which officials made the decision has drawn the ire and skepticism of some teachers and a vocal group of parents.

And now anxiety over those changes appears to have been aggravated by their concerns over which teacher will be in which classroom and whether district officials will keep their word to leave the IB program as it is for one more year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Billy Husher, a union organizer, referring to principal Johnson’s alleged disregard for collaboration.

A DPS spokeswoman said the district had no comment pending a full review of the grievance.

But Husher counters district officials have known about the lack of clarity in the scheduling process since late spring.

According to an email dated May 16 recapping a meeting between Husher and Greta Martinez, the district’s assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness, the district in an earlier meeting had agreed that staff should provide input on the schedule.

Days after the school year ended, with still no meeting, Husher filed a grievance with the district. Husher said he withdrew his grievance at the request of the human resources department so that a school-level resolution could be found.

That’s when Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, reached out to Johnson.

“He said he was going to call me in early July and he never did,” Singer said. “In my seven years [at GW], it’s never been done this way.”

Meanwhile, many parents, already incensed over the changes to the IB program, began firing off letters in late May to district officials and school board members demanding to know who would be leading their students classrooms.

George Washington parent Joel Witter, who sent a letter, told Chalkbeat this week that district officials responded that because scheduling decisions are personnel matters, they wouldn’t be able to comply.

“We don’t know if the [IB] economics teacher and the biology teacher are going to be the teachers my son thought he was going to be spending time with,” Witter said.

And that ambiguity is feeding fears that teachers who haven’t previously taught in the IB program will end up teaching IB students for multiple years, Witter said.

“My son has loved the school so far, he loves his friends and teachers,” Witter said. “But, we have very serious concerns about the direction the school is going. We may send his younger brother somewhere else.”

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