tough spot

In a twist, UFT gets attacked over its charter school co-location

J.H.S. 272 social studies teacher Michael Maiglow testifies at a co-location hearing for the UFT Charter School.
J.H.S. 272 social studies teacher Michael Maiglow testifies at a co-location hearing for the UFT Charter School on Wednesday evening.

The strength of the United Federation of Teachers’ opposition to contested co-locations is being tested.

The union has been so hostile to the city’s controversial space-sharing arrangements within school buildings — particularly those involving charter schools — that it sued the Department of Education to put a stop to them. And union organizers have regularly rallied around unpopular co-locations as a potent weapon to discredit Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies.

But in a twist of fate, the union’s own embattled UFT Charter middle school is now set to move into public space where it’s not welcome. Students, teachers and the administration at J.H.S. 292, a 750-student district middle school with a gifted and talented program and robust performing arts offerings, are vehemently against the plan and organizing to reverse it.

According to the city’s planning documents, J.H.S. 292 is using twice as much space as it needs and would give up 21 of its 50 full-size classrooms to the incoming charter school. The UFT Charter School’s elementary grades already operate in the building.

All together, the UFT Charter School would have 40 classrooms next year, 11 more than J.H.S. 292, even though the two schools would have around the same number of students, according to Gloria Williams Nandan, J.H.S. 292’s principal.

At a public hearing about the space-sharing plan Wednesday evening, Williams Nandan said the disparity struck her as not just unfair, but a little ironic as well.

“Come September, our teachers will lose their classrooms and there begins their dilemma, for when our teachers are kicked out of their classrooms, to whom will they turn?” she testified. “Their union? Oops, sorry, it’s their school that would have taken over their classrooms.”

Supporters for J.H.S. 292 packed the school’s auditorium for the hearing. Eighty people, most of whom opposed to the plan, signed up to speak. In between, there were performances from a marching band, African drummers, karate students, and pairs of dancers doing the waltz.

Students have even written business letters to Chancellor Dennis Walcott aligned to Common Core literacy standards.

“The assignment was to express our opinions about the recent proposal,” said Isabel Lewis, an eighth-grader, explaining her work. She wrote that she opposed the plan because she was concerned about overcrowding and student safety. “Due to the fact that we had already learned persuasive writing recently, they wanted us to use the techniques they taught us.”

Allowing charter schools to share space with district schools at no cost has been a signature education policy of the Bloomberg administration. The policy has allowed the city’s charter sector to expand quickly in a city with a tight — and pricey — real estate market. It also let the Department of Education fill space vacated as the Bloomberg administration phased out more than 150 low-performing schools, in a school closure push that the UFT has resolutely opposed.

Usually, the union would get behind a school with so much community support in pushing back against a co-location plan.

“Our objections have been to co-locations where there isn’t enough room and/or community opposition,” UFT spokesman Dick Riley emailed GothamSchools in response to a question about UFT Charter School’s proposed co-location plans.

But in this case, it was the UFT that asked for the city make the move. As part of a plan to improve the academic performance of its middle grades, the union sought to move the school under the same roof as its elementary school, which has been coexisted peacefully with J.H.S. 292 since 2005. In fact, the move was an important condition on which state education officials renewed the struggling charter school’s right to operate this week.

“It’s like you have this house where you use up every square inch of space and then you have to give up half that space to a school that really doesn’t deserve it,” said Jennifer Barrett, who coordinates J.H.S. 292’s performing arts programs, which she believes could be most affected.

Barrett was among several people at the hearing who questioned whether the UFT Charter middle school should even be allowed to stay open because its students have struggled academically for years.

Supporters of the co-location plan said that since city had already pegged J.H.S. 292’s building as underused, it would just fill the space with students from another school if the UFT Charter’s middle grades did not move in. It would be better, they said, to build on an existing relationship.

“All of the same things they’re concerned about, we’re concerned about,” said Craig Taylor, a music teacher in the UFT’s charter elementary school. “We just hope that we can make this work.”

Above, watch a video of Michael Maiglow’s testimony at Wednesday’s public hearing. Maiglow, a social studies teacher at J.H.S. 292, was among 80 speakers who signed up to testify at the heated hearing about the city’s plans to place a union-run charter school in a district school building.

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