Colorado

Transportation change coming to West campus

Ivonne Porras has two children attending different schools on Denver’s West High School campus. She is an involved parent who wants the best possible educational opportunities for her family.

westmeet
Rocio Salcedo speaks to Nicole Portee, director of transportation, left, about improving school transportation at the West High campus at a November meeting. <em>Photo courtesy of Padres & Jovenes Unidos</em>

But she says she can’t worry too much about academics until she is certain her children have safe access to their schools.

In some communities, safe rides in yellow buses or short walks on tree-lined sidewalks are a given. But that is not the case for all families at West.

Parents say buses are often late, which means students may not have time to eat breakfast at school, or over-crowded with students sitting in the aisles. They say fights break out and that the district doesn’t always communicate well about things like altered routes. The latter situation resulted in parents having no idea where their children were one day.

Now, Porras and other families are working with Padres & Jovenes Unidos to expand transportation options at West. Ideally they’d like to see a Success Express shuttle open for business in their community by 2014.

Everyone wants Success Express

The Success Express is a bus system in Far Northeast and Near Northeast Denver that uses a fleet of DPS buses to ensure that all students have a ride to and from school every day. The Success Express runs for three hours each morning and four hours every evening. The buses also have two adults on them, the driver and a paraprofessional, to make sure behavioral issues don’t get out of control.

“The main goal is to see the West campus succeed,” said Sheila Keller, an organizer with Padres Unidos who’s working with families at West. “We want these students to be prepared for college and have an equal shake at life. If you can’t get there, you can’t get what they’re offering.”

Keller said when she started meeting with parents as part of a bigger push to improve the academic preparation of low-income students and youth of color in their middle school years, one issue quickly bubbled to the top of parents’ list.

“Transportation came up immediately, and as a barrier to the success at the school,” Keller said.

For months, parents and representatives from Padres and the new West Generation Academy, which enrolled students in sixth, eighth and ninth grades this year, and West Leadership Academy, which has sixth- and ninth-graders this year, have been meeting with district transportation officials  to address parent concerns. Both schools will ultimately serve grades 6-12. The district has informally agreed to some of the parents’ suggestions to go into effect next year, but not others, Keller said.

Until agreements are formalized, district officials declined to discuss changes that are coming.

“We’re looking at different ways to increase services to students going to the West campus,” DPS spokesperson Dave Nachtweih said last week. “What that exactly looks like we don’t know yet.”

Final plans on hold due to changes at West

Nachtweih said plans can’t be finalized until choice numbers are in and the district knows exactly how many students will be attending the West campus next year and how many will need busing. Meanwhile, the Leadership Academy is making significant scheduling changes, which will also affect bus routes and schedules, he said.

The biggest change parents want? Use of yellow school buses for some high school students – especially freshman – instead of having students take RTD city buses.

Some high-schoolers now have to use three transfers to get to school and spend at least 45 minutes to an hour on a bus each way.

“The RTD system doesn’t string together in way that is time effective,” Keller said.

What this means is that younger siblings often get home before the older siblings who are charged with watching them, she added.

“That’s a lot of time and insecurity for the students,” Porras said through a translator. “A lot of the moms don’t want to put kids on RTD because of safety. Parents are saying it’s better not to come to West if you have to put them on RTD. They might send (their child) to another school even though it’s not a better school.”

Yellow buses for high school students?

Parents and school leaders are still working on opening up seats for at least ninth- and 10th –graders on the yellow buses. But it’s not clear that will happen.

However, it does look like larger buses may be used at West next year, providing seven to 10 more seats, giving students more space and – parent and organizers hope – resulting in fewer conflicts breaking out due to overcrowding.

Exhaust from diesel school buses poses a threat to millions of schoolchildren nationwide.
<em>EdNews</em> file photo

And, it looks like school leaders are open to changing the start times of the schools, so that the buses would make two morning rotations through the feeder neighborhoods. This would allow students to board buses earlier if they needed or wanted to get to school earlier, Keller said.

Ditto at the end of the school day. Two rotations of buses home would create a mini-shuttle system allowing students who stayed later for tutoring or activities to take a bus home. Again, nothing has been finalized.

But Keller also said work is underway to raise money to launch an after-school activities bus at West, which would guarantee transportation for students leaving school at a later hour.

Silvia Urbina’s son is a sixth-grader at West Leadership Academy. She too worries about her child taking public transportation.

“With everything happening with students we’ve seen in the news, I am worried our kids could get attacked or something on the bus,” Urbina said through a translator.

Urbina said she signed her son up for the Leadership Academy, a College Board school that give placement priority to students who live in the West shared boundary, to give him a shot at a successful life.

“I am very excited as a mother about these new schools here for my son… and the opportunity for him to get to university,” Urbina said. “But transportation has been a barrier to my son to get here and I even have friends who want to come here and that would be a barrier.”

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