'Dramatic Intervention'

Facing state scrutiny, six new ‘out-of-time’ schools must make major changes

Herbert Lehman High School in the Bronx shares its campus with other schools in the building.

The state has labeled six more city schools as “out of time,” its term for long-struggling schools that must make major changes, a group officials have said could face closure if they fail to make rapid improvements.

The schools join two others that the state singled out last year and ordered to make drastic changes, such as having their principals and entire staffs reapply for their jobs and attend extra summer training. City education officials said Tuesday they would treat the steps taken at those schools as a model for how to approach the six newly designated schools, whose status was first reported by Capital New York.

The latest out-of-time schools are: Herbert H. Lehman High School, Banana Kelly High School, Mosholu Parkway Junior High School, and Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx; and August Martin High School and John Adams High School in Queens. They join two Brooklyn high schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive, that earned the label last spring. All the schools have ranked among the lowest in the state for at least three years, are not part of any federal improvement program, and have not made academic gains.

By July 31, the city must submit a framework of an improvement plan for the six schools to the state, along with an agreement from the principals and teachers unions to help craft the plan. The schools must enact the plan next academic year.

The state had identified the six schools and a few others as out of time by last fall, but the city appealed some of the designations, state officials have said. In November, Chancellor Carmen Fariña requested permission from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board to hire retired principals as leadership coaches for those schools. In her request, she laid out the stakes for the out-of-time schools, according to the board’s response to Fariña.

“You also advise that NYSED is requiring these schools be subject to dramatic intervention, including potential for school closure,” the board wrote on Nov. 21, referring to the state education department, “if improved student achievement is not demonstrated by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.”

Lehman High School Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013 that constant changes caused by city interventions at the school had been disruptive.
Lehman High School Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013 that constant changes caused by city interventions at the school had been disruptive.

The state gives districts a short menu of options for out-of-time schools that includes closing them, converting them into charter schools, or putting them under an “alternate governance structure,” which is what the city chose last year. The state said schools in such a structure must receive special oversight, extra resources and training, and more learning time. The city’s “Renewal” turnaround program for struggling schools, which all eight out-of-time schools are part of, adheres to those requirements.

The state also told the city last year that it must screen all the administrators and staff members at its out-of-time schools, replacing those deemed “unwilling or ineffective.” And it ordered the city not to send any new students to the schools mid-year, an effort to relieve the schools of latecomer students who often pose extra challenges.

In response, the city has not sent any of those “over-the-counter” students to Boys and Girls or Automotive this year. And it forged an agreement with the teachers and principals unions to form joint rehiring committees to which the staffs at both schools must apply. City officials said Tuesday that they would seek a similar deal for the six newly targeted schools.

After the deal was announced last November, a top state education official said the state would not be satisfied unless the restaffing plan led to major shakeups.

“If at the end of the day, all we get from this is two teachers who were going to retire anyhow retiring, we’re not going to have much change in that school building,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, on their ability to retool their workforce by the spring, we will move to close them,” she added.

The city has already taken some steps to revamp those schools, sending them coaches, adding extra learning time, and keeping them under close tabs. In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held press conferences at Automotive and Boys and Girls High School to highlight early signs of progress, such as improved attendance and new course offerings.

City education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the agency is offering “aggressive supports” to all the Renewal program schools, including the out-of-time schools.

“This year, interventions will be targeted to each school and a comprehensive plan will be put in place to turn around these historically struggling schools and set a better course of action to drive student achievement,” she said in a statement.

Many of the six schools have undergone previous city interventions, including leadership changes and an attempt by the Bloomberg administration to replace many teachers at the schools, which a labor arbitrator ultimately blocked. Lehman High School, for instance, was threatened with closure several times within a few years, had its enrollment slashed, and lost many teachers who left amid the turmoil.

“If our community had not experienced all of these constant changes,” Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013, “our growth could have been even more dramatic.”

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