Student Voice

Manual students consider pros and cons of sharing building with a middle school

Students in an A.P. Human Geography class at Manual High School ask Kurt Dennis questions about his interest in replicating McAuliffe International Middle School, where he is principal, in the Manual building.

On a Wednesday in April, students in Advanced Placement Human Geography at Manual High School were examining a question close to home: What would happen if a new middle school moved in with Manual?

“If you were to start a school in the Manual neighborhood, how would you adjust your way of doing a school to acculturate to this area?” Novaj Miles, a sophomore, asked Kurt Dennis, the principal of McAuliffe International, a middle school in more affluent Park Hill.

“Kids need to be safe, they need to be challenged,” Dennis said. “But beyond that, more than anything, I need to learn and listen. If we go through this process and the community says yes, step one will be a lot of listening.”

The question was not theoretical. Denver Public Schools released an updated Call for Quality Schools today requesting proposals for a new middle school that would likely be located in the Manual High School building. A new school would open in 2016-17.

McAuliffe International is one of several groups that expressed interest in opening a new middle school in the near northeast earlier this spring.

Christopher DeRemer, a Manual history and geography teacher, wanted to make sure students had a forum to develop and express their opinions about the change. So his class launched a research project focused on school policies, the demographics of their neighborhood, and the groups interested in opening schools.

“We wanted to look at how cities offer services like quality schools and quality transportation to all of their neighborhoods,” DeRemer said. “We’re trying to figure out, is DPS serving this neighborhood, and is a middle school the right thing?”

DeRemer said the project had been spurred by the students’ study of gentrification. Students worried that the district would create a school tailored to the needs of new community members rather than existing community members.

The class presented its findings Wednesday to a group of teachers, students, community members, and school district officials.

Manual has been the subject of a number of overhauls aimed at addressing low academic achievement, including a closure, in recent years. The school was identified last year as Denver’s lowest-performing high school. Manual will have a new principal and a new biotech program starting next year[Read Chalkbeat’s reporting on the history of school improvement efforts at Manual.]

After all those changes, some Manual students are wary of more interruptions to a school they love. “There are always threats of changing Manual into different things,” said senior Isreal Felan.

Chris Deremer's AP Human Geography class after their presentations.
Chris DeRemer’s AP Human Geography class after their presentations.

But Manual has just over 400 students in a building designed for well over a thousand. The district is looking for a middle school to use some of that empty space and to create a stronger feeder pattern that would funnel students into Manual.

During Wednesday’s presentation, sophomore Nancy Chavez said that her group was wary of sharing a building with middle-schoolers. But, she said, having another school in the building would help boost enrollment and bring in more funds and programs.

District Chief of Schools Susana Cordova, one of the audience members, asked the students how they thought the district should manage the increasing gentrification in their area.

“I think it’s extremely difficult,” Felan said. “We’ve done research on it happening. The white population is 49 percent, but many of them still don’t send their kids here.”

Felan said he preferred a proposal from the Denver School of History Speech and Debate, whose founder, Barbara Allen, also visited the class. That school is aiming to be placed in Manual only temporarily.

Jabari Lottie, a freshmen, suggested that the school might hold more public events to bring neighborhood residents together. He said he envisioned future for the school where classes were full and basketball games were crowded with students and neighbors cheering on Manual’s Thunderbolts.

Students were also interested in how much interaction would take place between middle and high schoolers. Many described Manual as a family. One group suggested that the district create a new Manual Middle School that would share the school’s logo.

“If a middle school’s going to be here, we want to make a connection with that,” said Lottie.

Today’s new Call for Quality Schools also includes a request for two new middle schools in southwest Denver, including one to replace Henry World Middle School.

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 [email protected]

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