decision 2012

Teachers and students use Election Day to aid with Sandy relief


At Leon Goldstein High School of Sciences in Manhattan Beach, today’s professional development day is personal.

Perched on the water’s edge at the Kingsborough Community College campus, the school narrowly avoided serious flooding when Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhood last week.

When students returned on Monday, the school surveyed them about their families’ needs in the wake of the storm. Today, instead of hosting Election Day teacher training sessions, the school has been transformed into a disaster relief center, according to Kit Wainer, a teacher there.

“Teachers are making runs directly to the homes of students who filled out a questionnaire saying that they need food,” Wainer said.

In other parts of the city, parent associations are converting their usual Election Day bake sales into fundraisers for hurricane relief. And teachers are swapping planned professional development sessions for volunteer service.

(What’s happening today at your school? Let us know in the comments.)

It’s a switch that the Department of Education is facilitating, though not outright encouraging.

“Many school staff members have expressed a desire to volunteer at a shelter or other organized relief effort for Hurricane Sandy instead of attending the professional development activities at their school,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told principals by email on Monday afternoon. “If you give permission, staff members who wish to volunteer may do so tomorrow rather than report to school.”

Wainer, who is active in the MORE Caucus, a minority faction within the union that called for schools to use today to do outreach to their students, said he had heard from one teacher whose principal had refused her request for permission. But many others were receiving it.

The UFT organized contingents of teachers were already planning to help clean homes and deliver food and water in Staten Island, Rockaway Beach in Queens, and Coney Island in Brooklyn. To avoid having their absence marked against them, teachers who volunteer have to get a form signed by a site supervisor saying that they really pitched in.

While teachers labored inside or out of their school buildings today, students and parents went to work for hurricane relief in the lobbies. At many of the hundreds of schools that serve as polling sites, parent associations regularly hold bake sales to take advantage of the throngs of voters who crowd into the buildings.

Four years ago, schools were hoping that record voter turnout would translate into record bake sale revenues. This year, with turnout again expected to be high, some schools decided to devote their proceeds to hurricane relief.

A trio of Williamsburg schools held a bake sale to raise funds for a damaged school in Rockaway Park, Queens.

In Williamsburg, P.S. 84 has “adopted” P.S. 317 in Rockaway Park, Queens, where a former administrator is now principal, and P.S. 110 and P.S. 34 nearby have joined the extended family. Today, families from all three of the Brooklyn schools contributed to a multi-site bake saleto raise funds for P.S. 317, whose students will resume classes tomorrow at August Martin High School.

“For all the work we grownups have been doing, there hasn’t been much opportunity to involve our kids, especially the younger ones,” parent leader Debby Koenig wrote on her blog. “I wanted to include [my son], to show him how important it is to help others, so I came up with this scheme and the response has been amazing.”

Bake sales can be a significant source of revenue for parent associations, and some balanced their own needs with the needs of Hurricane victims. At P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, bake sale proceeds went to a scholarship fund to help low-income students at the school, but there was also a jar for Sandy relief donations. At M.S. 88 in Park Slope, 25 percent of bake sale proceeds were being earmarked for hurricane relief.

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