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Extra pay for principals who heard Walcott speech is questioned

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City principals who heard Chancellor Dennis Walcott deliver a stemwinding political speech on Saturday will get an extra day of summer vacation to make up for it.

This year, for the first time, the Department of Education told principals that they could take a day off during the summer to compensate for attending the citywide principals conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School.

“To encourage attendance, any principal who attends the conference will receive one compensation day that can be used between June 27 and August 30,” the department’s weekly bulletin to principals said for at least the last two weeks.

The tradeoff isn’t sitting right with some, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew, whose union frequently battles the department to ensure that teachers are paid for time they spend working outside of the regular school day. Mulgrew cited the prohibition on city workers participating in political activity on the job.

“You’re using taxpayer dollars to pay New York City workers to come in and listen to you do a political rant,” Mulgrew said. “It’s at least inappropriate, but it really borders on questionable ethics.”

The Department of Education’s top spokesman, Andrew Kirtzman, rejected Mulgrew’s criticism.

“Mr. Mulgrew needs a truth commission of his own,” Kirtzman said, referring to Mulgrew’s call last week for a commission to investigate the Bloomberg administration’s education achievement claims. “Contrary to his assertion, the purpose of the speech was to urge that politics — and specifically the competition for his endorsement — not interfere with the progress of the city’s schools.”

The principals conference, which 1,200 principals and department officials attended, was the third that the city has held. Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman, said attendance was about the same as last year, when principals were not compensated for attending and officials’ message focused on the nitty-gritty details of implementing new standards and teacher evaluations. The year before that, department officials brought in David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, to pump principals up about the new standards.

This year, department officials took a turn toward the political. Walcott’s speech took direct aim at mayoral candidates who have been calling for changes to the Bloomberg administration’s school policies — a call that the New York Times supported in an editorial today.

“To dismantle the reforms of the last decade would be a disaster for our children and this city,” Walcott said, before citing what he said had been improvements in the school system and student achievement. “We cannot turn back the clock on our students.”

The chancellor received only a tepid response from the audience, which spilled into the balcony of Brooklyn Tech’s cavernous auditorium. He drew a smattering of applause when pointing to powers that principals have now that they did not have before Bloomberg took office, such as the right to select teachers who want to work in their schools. But the audience sat quietly through much of the speech, and some members even laughed when he proclaimed that he proclaimed that he doesn’t “involve myself in politics.”

The largest applause of the morning came when Walcott promised to deliver school budgets on Friday, which he said would be the earliest time in recent memory that principals would know how much they can spend next year.

Walcott’s speech made up only a small portion of the day. Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky immediately followed the chancellor to remind principals that even as the city becomes wrapped up in politics, hard work remains to be done in schools every day. Students spoke about overcoming setbacks; Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston described his path from high school principal to politician influencing teacher evaluation, tenure, and training across his state; and every attendee took home a copy of Paul Tough’s 2012 book “How Children Succeed,” which looks at the “soft skills” that students must develop if they are to thrive in college and careers.

After the speeches, principals scattered among dozens of workshops that they had signed up in advance to attend. Workshops focused on teacher effectiveness, strategies for working with English language learners, and curriculum, among other topics.

The workshops were appropriate to compensate principals for participating in over the weekend, Mulgrew said. But he said the principals conference had fallen short of its purported goal.

“The chancellor is supposed to be discussing the educational strategies for next year,” Mulgrew said. “I guess he doesn’t have one.”

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.