Growing Up

GALS plans for expansion in and out of Denver

The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will vote later this month on whether to open a brand-new GALS middle school in 2016, and GALS’ leadership in Denver is researching the possibility of opening an all-boys school in Denver.

GALS opened in Denver in 2010. The school currently enrolls 280 students — all girls — in grades 6 through 9, and plans to eventually enroll 600 students in middle and high school. GALS is in the midst of doubling the size of its school building.

Plans for an all-boys school in Denver are still in early stages, but a new task force assembled by the school’s leadership and board is studying the possibility.

Chalkbeat talked with GALS founder Liz Wolfson about why the school is considering expanding, the purpose of an all-boys school, and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why an all-boys school?

There are practical reasons and then there are philosophical reasons.

GALS was founded on an assumption that we can create a more civil society in the world by ensuring that as many young women as possible understand that they have access to all opportunities and that we can break the clear ceilings that exist in all industries for women.

Philosophically, you can’t change society by only working on women. The philosophy of GALS is based on healthy relationships.

There’s a clear, direct path from education to behavior and relationships that create a more dynamic, inclusive society. This is just our piece of adding our choice option to portfolio of schools that exist.

What boys deal with in schools is just as sensational as what’s going on for girls, in terms of achievement in schools but most importantly in terms of who they are in the world. The messages boys are receiving through public culture today are really disempowering. They need real attention in terms of knowing who they are and feeling that they matter just as they are.

Practically, now that GALS has developed this strong program around health, wellness, and gender, one could argue that a boy doesn’t have that choice, especially with Sims-Fayola [an all-boys public school in the district] closing.

Why does that learning for boys and girls have to take place in a single-gender environment? 

We’re honoring the journey of adolescence, so each gender has a chance to fully become themselves before they go into the natural organic stages of socialization, romance, interconnectedness.

It’s about honoring the reality that our public culture hypersexualizes boys and girls and hyperinflates issues of who you’re supposed to be based on a girl in a bikini and a guy watching football. The idea’s to slow that down and allow boys and girls to figure out who they are first…

All we’re saying is, we want healthy interaction, but most importantly we want kids to know who they are.

What’s most important for boys is not always the same as what’s important for girls. Empowerment isn’t the issue, it’s about finding your voice and recognizing that you don’t have to be Superman to be valued and impactful.

What are your plans for expansion outside of Denver? 

We’re in the process of putting together our strategic plan for national expansion. The vision from the get-go was to be in four or five distinct geographic regions across the country, with the idea that we want to put out a next generation of girls who have been through our schooling.

We’re not looking to expand like KIPP, or to dominate a single city. We’re looking to hit the discourse around equity around the country.

We’re not going to be a CMO [charter management organization] like DSST or STRIVE, where there’s a central office. It will be a series of place-based organizations, and the directors of each will be on the board of the national GALS.

There are a number of cities we’re interested in: Baton Rouge, Rhode Island, Indianapolis, Seattle Tacoma. We believe it’s not about whether we’re interested, it’s what’s going on locally and do we have the leadership to make it happen.

What does your staff look like? Are your teachers mostly female?

I think our staff looks like every staff. The research shows it’s important to put role models of every shape color and age in front of students.

One thing is that we want role models of different ages. The idea that you can continually fill staff with just 23-year-olds…the bottom line is, a 23-year old has a different perspective than a 45-year-old. We want both. We also look for diversity of staff to match the kids in the school.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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