Alcy Elementary uses holiday fun to boost reading

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier

At Alcy Elementary, a school up for closure as recently as last year, and where only 24 percent of the students are reading on grade level, hosting an event where 300 people show up to read to students was enough to bring the principal to tears.

“This is the largest turnout we’ve had so far and I’m so grateful to all of you,” Principal Sunya Payne told the group earlier this month. “I always wanted one adult to be assigned to one student.”

The 7th annual Read Around the Christmas Tree event was held Dec. 12 in the school’s cafeteria. The purpose of the event was twofold: to reinforce the importance of literacy, and to give students books to take home.

Volunteers came from all walks of life: a former Alcy student, now grown, and his mother, a teacher at the Lichterman Nature Center, and representatives from sororities, fraternities and various civic groups and businesses.

Alcy was one of 13 Shelby County Schools officials considered for closure last year, not just for academic deficiencies, but also because the district hoped to cut from its budget the $1.2 million cost of maintaining the building.

A focus on improving literacy is how the school managed an almost 10 percentage point jump on state reading tests earlier this year.

But there’s still a long way to go: even with those gains, just over 75 percent of Alcy’s students are reading at a below basic or basic level.

Alcy students are fairing better in math with 35.3 percent of students proficient and advanced on the 2014 TCAP, which is an 11.2 percentage point improvement over 2013. Still, that leaves almost two out of three Alcy students performing at below basic and basic level in math.

“Literacy was the area where we declined (in 2012-13), but during 2013-14 we came out of the bottom 5 percent and with the help of community support, the school stayed open,” Payne said.  “We were all in this effort together.”

The pressure is on to continue the momentum and move the struggling readers to higher ground.

“The pressure is intense,” Payne said.  “When the district was considering us for closure, we had a talk, as a team, and decided how we were going to work together. Each of my teachers build each other strength.  They work after hours with students and on Saturdays without pay. We use a variety of strategies to meet students where they are and take them to the next level.”

In one example of the school’s teaching strategies, Alcy teachers model the expectation of a lesson, practice it with students and check for their understanding. The school also is part of the district’s blended learning pilot to use laptops in classroom instruction. Students will use the technology in math and reading beginning in January.

Alcy offers students before and after-school tutoring and started Saturday school a month ago. Many Shelby County Schools that are working their way off, of trying to stay off, the state’s priority list are using similar strategies, hoping it will have a positive impact on student achievement. The Tennessee Department of Education updates its priority list every three years. The list consists of the lowest 5 percent of schools as measured by standardized test scores. Alcy was on the state’s priority list in 2012-13, but the school earned its way off the latest priority list released in August.

Another feature of Alcy’s work to improve student achievement is the involvement of parents and the business community.

“We realized that some of our parents couldn’t help their children with their work because they needed help themselves,” Payne said.  “So we started a GED program for parents.”

Alcy receives help from two local businesses: Barnheart and Crane and Supply Chain Solutions. Barnheart and Crane supplies instructional materials, Smartboards, school supplies, cd players and the company rented the chairs that were used during the Read Around the Christmas Tree event. Supply Chain Solutions pays its employees to come and tutor our students in reading and math during the school day. Payne said.

During the reading event, Dory Lerner, a teacher at the Lichterman Nature Center, read to third-grader Andria Nunnally. Lerner brought two books, “If You Take a Mouse to the Movies” and “Big Tracks, Little Tracks” as presents for Nunnally. Ursula Fullilove and her son Joshua Erby, volunteered as well, providing books from the Olivia adventure series.

“Reading wasn’t my favorite subject, but I know it’s important to know how to read well,” said Erby, who was a student at Alcy 10 years ago.

Fullilove, who was part of the community effort to save the school from closure. supports the school and its teaching staff.

“There is a lot of support for this school,” Fullilove said.  “Whenever they call or need anything, volunteers show up.”

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

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.