Growing pains

Eyeing national expansion, School of One founder leaves Tweed

Joel Rose, founder of the School of One, is leaving the New York City Department of Education

The founder of the School of One, one of the city’s most touted educational innovations, will expand that model nationally — by leaving the city Department of Education that helped him create it. The founder, Joel Rose, announced his move in an email to colleagues this morning.

The School of One is part of a national effort to re-imagine how teaching and learning happen at schools by taking advantage of technology. At the three schools that work with the School of One model in New York City, teachers still lead instruction, but they do so with the aid of a “learning algorithm” that creates a personalized program of study for every student.

The idea is to free educators from the more rote elements of school and let them, as Rose put it to us in 2009, “focus on is the hardest part of the equation, which is delivering great lessons.” In the first pilot of the program, a summer math program launched in 2009, School of One reported that its students learned significantly faster, citing externally commissioned research.

The three schools will continue to operate under the guidance of the Innovation Zone, or iZone, team inside Tweed Courthouse. But with Rose’s departure, the national apparatus around School of One — from press attention to large foundation grants — will leave the Department of Education and follow him to a new nonprofit he plans to create.

The move raises questions about New York City’s capacity to act as an incubator for educational innovation. For one, will programs incubated by the iZone stay in New York City for the long haul? Or will they follow the School of One’s path: attracting national attention for a few years and then seeking another home?

Students at the School of One's summer pilot program in 2009.

Those interested in innovating K-12 education often complain that local school districts erect only barriers to change. Outside contractors must navigate behemoth bureaucracies, waiting several years until they can get permission to do business with the school district. And the political nature of school districts, whose management is often constantly shifting, creates worrisome instability. Under a new mayor, who would appoint a new schools chancellor, would the innovation survive?

The School of One was seen in some quarters as a counter-argument; it showed that a school district was not only embracing change, but incubating it. With Rose’s departure from New York, School of One could reverse into a case study.

Figuring out how the new national organization Rose creates can continue to work with New York City may prove to be complicated. City conflict of interest rules prohibit previous city employees from contracting with the city until a substantial period of time has passed.

Rose’s email says that he made the decision to leave New York “with mixed emotions.” But he argues that the innovations that have won School of One national attention are best expanded outside the framework of the city government. Spreading the model to other cities, Rose writes, is “something that I believe can best be accomplished through the sustained efforts of an independent organization with a national scope.”

Rose’s next step, he writes, will be to create a national nonprofit to do that work.

Here is Rose’s full e-mail.

Dear Friends,

It is with mixed emotions and a profound sense of gratitude that I am announcing today my transition from the New York City Department of Education to lead a new non-profit organization that will develop and scale innovative school models for students across the country.

Arriving at this decision was not easy as NYCDOE has been a wonderful place for building and implementing School of One. Indeed I can’t think of another place where School of One could have emerged than in NYC schools over the last two years. I depart with only fond wishes and respect for the team I worked with and for the leadership that made this work possible.

But now is the time to create the foundation for broader impact. Innovation is part of our nation’s strategy to address the moral and economic imperative of improving our schools. New school models that both personalize learning and leverage the time and talents of teachers hold great promise, particularly given the budgetary challenges our schools are experiencing. Delivering on that promise will require the development and scale of these kinds of innovations, something that I believe can best be accomplished through the sustained efforts of an independent organization with a national scope.

The School of One team will continue to support the NYC program in my absence and will be transitioning to fall under the leadership of the NYC iZone. Jonathan Werle, who currently serves as School of One’s Director of Administration, will serve as the project manager. I’m confident that under their leadership, School of One is well positioned to be sustained into the future.

Thank you again for all of your support over the last two years. If you’d like to stay in touch, please drop me an email at [REDACTED] and I’ll keep you updated on my efforts.

Joel

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.