Briefs: A reprieve for Aspen Community

Updated Aug. 16, 4:30 p.m. – The State Board of Education Thursday voted unanimously to approve the 2013 list of major projects to receive funding from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program.

The board delayed action on the list at its Aug. 8 meeting after persuading members of the state Capital Construction Assistance Board to reconsider the amount of matching money the Aspen Community School had to provide in order to receive state funds. Earlier this week the construction board reversed an earlier decision and set a lower match for the charter school.

Text of original article follows

The board that recommends state grants for school construction projects has reversed an earlier decision and reduced the matching amount for a grant to Aspen Community School, a charter that hopes to replace a 42-year-old log building in rural Woody Creek.

The Capital Construction Assistance Board, which makes grants from the Building Excellent Schools Today program, voted 4-2 Tuesday to require the school to provide $4.8 million in matching funds for the $9 million project.

The school’s match had been set at about $7.3 million because of a change in state law that went into effect just weeks before the construction board awarded grants in late June. Aspen Community, which has prepared its application assuming a lower match, requested a waiver to keep the figure at $4.8 million, but the board deadlocked 4-4 twice on motions to grant the waiver.

BEST grants have to be approved by the State Board of Education. On Aug. 8 board members, clearly in favor of the school’s request, urged the construction board to reconsider (see story, including more information about 2013 BEST grants). The SBE is scheduled to meet by telephone Thursday afternoon and is expected to approve the full grant list, now that the construction board has changed its mind.

School director Skye Skinner said Wednesday, “I’ve just been pinching myself. I’m thrilled with the board’s decision. … The next challenge is before us, and that’s raising our match.”

She said the school has been talking to potential funders but doesn’t have firm commitments yet. “We’ve really needed this grant as a kick start. … I’m assuming we have to raise those funds by November like everyone else.” Most school districts selected for 2013 grants need to raise their matches through bond proposals on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The Aspen Community case marked the first time in the history of the BEST program that the State Board has suggested a change in the awards list.

→ The Colorado School Finance Project has released its annual summary of Colorado school statistics, this set for the 2010-11 school year.

Among other things, the report found that K-12 enrollment increased by 9,103 to 798,600 students while the number of teachers dropped by 500. The summary also says that average Colorado teacher pay has dropped 9.6 percent since 1992-93, adjusted for inflation.

Also adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending was down $247 from the 2009-10 figure. The percentage of students statewide eligible for free and reduced lunch – 35.5 percent – is the highest since 1992-93. The project and the research firm Augenblick, Palaich & Co. compiled the report from state Department of Education data. Get links to the report here.

The conservative Independence Institute, which has a different philosophy about education spending than does the project, argues that school spending has risen consistently during the early part of the decade. See this recent blog post for their take on things.

→ Opportunities for “blended learning” – a combination of online and in-person instruction – are uneven in Colorado, according to a new report, “Blended Learning in Rural Colorado.”

“In Colorado, educational options that blend online and face-to-face instruction—at the course, unit, or school level—are more widespread in urban and suburban areas along the Front Range than in rural districts on the plains and along the Western Slope. The reasons for this disparity are not yet well understood,” the report says. But the study does not that lack of broadband access, funding and professional development can hamper development of blended programs by rural districts. Read the full report here.

The report was done for the state Department of Education by Evergreen Education Group, a Durango-based research firm, and was funded by the Donnell-Kay and Colorado Legacy foundations.

→ The Donnell-Kay Foundation has announced the speakers for the first part of its 2012-13 Hot Lunch series.

The sessions will kick off Sept. 14 with a presentation by Dennis Parker, who helped Toyota develop its accredited Toyota Advance Manufacturing Technician Program. He will present with Cathy Lund of Project Lead the Way, who helped integrate STEM education into Toyota’s schools.

Other fall speakers include:

  • Oct. 12 – Michael Caudell-Feagan of the Pew Center on the States and Josh McGee of the Arnold Foundation on pension reform.
  • Nov. 9 – Marlene Seltzer, president of Jobs for the Future

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of the District of Columbia schools, will speak at a Jan. 11, 2013, session. Other speakers for the 2013 portion of the series will be announced later. Get more information on the program here.

→ The Colorado School of Mines raised more than $32.5 million in private contributions during 2011-12, the highest total in the school’s history, An $11.2 million contribution came from alumnus and Mines board member Hugh Harvey and his wife Michelle. Get more details here.

With state funding in decline, private fundraising has become increasingly important for state colleges a universities. The University of Colorado and Colorado State University recently reported raising a combined $340 million during the last school year (see story).

Larger institutions also are stepping up their efforts to snap research funding. The CU System reports that faculty raised some $815.3 million in sponsored research funding during the 2011-12 school year, an increased of $22 million over the prior year. The top year from research grants was 2009-10, when $884.1 million was raised. Part of that total was one-time federal stimulus funding. About half the 2011-12 total was raised for the Anschutz Medical Campus. Get more details in this news release.

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

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