Seeking approval

11 city charter hopefuls move to next round of application process

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

A single-sex school, a school that offers the International Baccalaureate diploma, and a Staten Island high school for students at risk of dropping out are among 11 prospective New York City charter schools that the State Education Department invited this month to submit full applications to open in 2015.

Thirty-four schools across the state submitted letters of intent, and 17 were chosen to continue to this next round of the application process. The Board of Regents will make a final decision on the schools in November. Schools given the green light will get support finding space from New York City, in keeping with recent legislation.

None of the city schools angling for approval from the State Education Department are part of national charter networks. Many are locally-based, such as the proposed New Ventures Charter School, which would target overage students in Staten Island who are not on track to graduate. The application notes that while there are thousands of such students in the borough, Staten Island has only one transfer school to serve them.

Some charter applicants represent small-scale expansions. Steve Perry, the principal of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., has applied to open a version of the school here. Perry, whose personal website calls him “America’s most trusted educator,” has assembled high-profile board members such as sports media personality Stephen A. Smith.

Other proposed school models include the single-sex school, the Sankofa School for Boys in Harlem, and the Sofara International Charter School, which would be one of the few charters in the city to offer an IB program.

In their letters of intent, schools outlined their missions, enrollment plans, and initial board members. In accordance with new state regulations that require charters to serve the same demographics as district schools, the letters also broadly described how the schools would recruit high-need students.

Hi-Tech Healthcare Charter School, for example, wrote that it would distribute recruitment materials in Spanish to target English language learners and would work with organizations that support students with disabilities.

The schools that the State Education Department is ushering toward operation are only some of the charter schools that hope to open in the city. SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute can also sign off on new schools, and this month, 17 of the 18 schools that submitted letters of intent filed full proposals.

While SUNY invited all 18 proposed charters to apply, one school opted out. This applicant was the Washington Heights Leadership Academy School, which aimed to “carry forward some of the legacy” of Mother Cabrini High School after it closed in June, according to Democracy Prep founder Seth Andrew, who grew up in the neighborhood and submitted the letter.

Andrew said he nixed plans to apply after losing Cabrini’s former facility, which was leased to Success Academy in a deal with the city after Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled one of the network’s schools from a public school site.

Fourteen Success Academies hoping to open over the next two years are among SUNY’s current batch of charter school proposals, along with three Achievement First schools.

These schools, and the 11 being considered by the State Education Department, would serve over 16,800 students at full capacity.

Last month, SUNY picked six charter schools to start up in 2015, and the Board of Regents approved one.

By the end of the five-year charter period, enrollment at these seven schools is expected to top 3,100.

This article has been clarified to reflect the status of SUNY’s charter school applicants.

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