A welcomed reprieve?

President Trump appears to be backing off repealing protections for undocumented youth. But anxiety is still running high.

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Tania Chairez is not excited about President Donald Trump backing away from a campaign promise to end temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants — even as she benefits from the news.

“I think he’s just continuously playing with our lives,” said the 24-year-old parent organizer in Denver, who is able to work because of those protections. “There’s still a feeling of anxiety in our community.”

Comments made by Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, this weekend that the president wants to work with congressional leaders to find a long-term solution for young undocumented immigrants — hundreds of them teachers, and thousands of them students — was met with skepticism and in some cases hopefulness by undocumented immigrants, advocates and politicians alike.

More than 750,000 young undocumented immigrants got a reprieve from deportation under former President Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to repeal that executive order as part of his hard line on immigration.

Leading up to Trump’s inauguration last week, state lawmakers and education officials from Colorado and other states petitioned Trump to reverse his position.  

“While it’s a relief to hear that thousands of people may not be under immediate threat, my request to President Trump remains the same: declare once and for all that the thousands of young people who are able to pursue the American dream through the DACA program will be able to continue to do so while working towards a more permanent solution in Congress,” Colorado’s Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, said in an email.

Duran, the state’s first Latina speaker, and other Colorado Latino Democrats last week sent Trump a letter urging him to rethink his position.

Teach For America, a nonprofit that recruits college students to teach in schools that educate some of the nation’s poorest students, currently employs 146 teachers with deferred status. Leaders there have created a detailed plan in case DACA’s protections are repealed, but TFA spokesman Dan Griffin said on Monday the organization was hopeful.

“We believe that our ‘DACAmented’ teachers should be able to teach and lead in their communities while pursuing pathways to citizenship,” Griffin said.

School districts across the nation, including those in Denver and New York City, have also employed teachers who are only eligible to work because of DACA.

In May, the New York State Board of Regents made permanent regulations that allow people protected by DACA to apply for teacher certification and professional licenses from the state. Chancellor Carmen Fariña, head of the New York City’s schools, supported the move in a public letter. Though it’s not clear how many teachers have benefitted from DACA, at least 45,000 people statewide have been granted the protection.

Yatziri Tovar, who was born in Mexico City but now lives in New York City, hopes to be one of them. Her dream is to become a bilingual teacher at her old elementary school, P.S. 8 in the Bronx.

Just months away from finishing her degree, losing her status would change everything. For now, Tovar said she’s choosing to keep moving.

“A lot of my friends, they didn’t go to college because they thought, ‘Once I graduate, I can’t do anything with my degree,’” she said. “I plan to still graduate. And even if I can’t do anything with my degree, Trump can take away everything — but he can’t take away my degree.”

Tovar, who was first granted DACA status in 2012, just submitted the paperwork for her second renewal and is gearing up for her student-teaching assignment. But not all advocates agree that young undocumented immigrants should apply or renew now that Trump is in the White House.

“We’ve counseled families to not submit new applications for DACA,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and strategic growth for ‎Conexión Américas, a Nashville-based nonprofit serving Tennessee’s immigrant community. “As of today, we’re not changing our position, which is just don’t submit anything.”

On Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer also sidestepped a question about what young people now protected by DACA should know, saying that President Trump’s initial focus will be on undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.

While advocates remain anxious, a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers introduced legislation earlier this month in the U.S. Senate, known as the BRIDGE Act, that would provide DACA-like protections to young undocumented youth for up to three years.

Among the sponsors of the legislation is Congressman Mike Coffman, a Republican who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.

“I expect the new administration will look to Congress to help it address the DACA issue,” Coffman said in an email. “I believe my bill, the BRIDGE ACT, will start us on a path to meaningful immigration reform which will help us secure our borders, grow our economy, and keep families together while protecting these youths from the fear of deportation.”  

Chalkbeat reporters Christina Veiga and Grace Tatter contributed reporting from New York City and Nashville.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: