middle ground

What Fariña wants to keep from the Bloomberg era: tech, leadership focus

Chancellor Fariña speaks with moderator Jane Williams, right, and Jody Spiro, of the Wallace Foundation, left.

Though Chancellor Carmen Fariña has spent much of her first 10 months as head of the school system working to undo policies established by her predecessors, the Bloomberg administration should get credit for a couple of things, she said Wednesday.

“One of the things that I believe that the former chancellors did: the increases in technology in our schools,” Fariña said. “And, I think, looking for excellence in leadership. I think they felt that and I felt that. We just have different ways to getting to what we think is excellence in leadership.”

The answer came during a discussion hosted by the education nonprofit Teaching Matters and moderated by Jane Williams, an education reporter and radio host who asked Fariña what she wanted to keep around from the Bloomberg era. The question was interesting given Fariña’s clashes with former Chancellor Joel Klein, under whom she was the city’s top instructional administrator in the earlier portion of Bloomberg’s tenure. She retired from that post after just one year, a decision she said later was related to her disagreements with his ideology and focus on making aggressive changes.

Since taking over the school system, Fariña has rarely praised the previous administration or its policies. She has also increased the experience requirements for both principals and district superintendents, moves that stand in contrast to the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a fast-track principal training program that drew criticism for filling the city’s schools with inexperienced leaders.

Some hoped that Fariña would have publicly spoken in support of Bloomberg’s small schools initiative after researchers recently found that disadvantaged students who attended them were more likely to enroll in college. In an editorial, the New York Times urged the de Blasio administration to consider opening more of the schools to replace low-performing ones that aren’t improving.

In response to Williams, Fariña first offered a list of changes she has made since being chosen by Mayor Bill de Blasio to run the school system: eliminating letter grade-based progress reports, prompting schools to give more attention to parents, adding extra time in the school day for professional development, and adding a guidance counselors office at the department, for instance.

Morale is up among teachers, she said, because “people are more willing to take risks because the fear factor is gone to some degree.”

“I think the intent of what they wanted to do is absolutely what I want to do now,” Fariña said of her predecessors. “We want better teachers, better schools, better success.”‘


What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.