The scoop

Charter parents to rally against NAACP's lawsuit involvement

Flyer outside Harlem Success Academy 1 on Tuesday. (Tony Richards)

Charter school parents and advocates are planning a massive rally tomorrow to demand that the NAACP withdraw from the city teachers union’s school closure lawsuit.

The UFT is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit to halt 22 school closures and prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. But the New York State Conference of the NAACP also signed on, as it did last year to a similar suit that ultimately blocked 19 school closures. Last year’s suit did not challenge the city’s charter school co-location plans.

Organizers expect the rally to draw thousands of attendees from dozens of charter schools, including all 17 named in the lawsuit, to 125 Street in Harlem at 8:45 a.m. Thursday. At least some schools are delaying classes to allow parents, teachers, and students to attend.

Critics of the lawsuit “can march and have rallies all day long,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the state NAACP chapter. “We will not respond.”

Dukes said she joined the lawsuit for the same reason that the NAACP brought the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended “separate but equal” schooling based on race. “Co-location is not the answer,” Dukes said. “We are setting up separate and unequal education.”

But city officials and charter school advocates say the civil rights group is working to stymie school options that would benefit mostly minority students. When the suit was filed last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was “perplexed and bothered and bewildered” by the NAACP’s involvement. Last year, he decried the organization for signing on to the union’s school closure lawsuit.

“The NAACP are the people who I think are perhaps misplaced here,” said Kathleen Kernivan, a charter school parent who plans to attend the rally. “I’m an African-American woman. Why would the NAACP get involved in something that would negatively impact me, its constituents, and its future constituents?”

Preparations for the rally were already underway at some city schools yesterday. Parents at Harlem Success Academy 1, one of six schools in the Success Charter Network affected by the lawsuit, were called to an emergency meeting before school Tuesday.

“The teachers union and NAACP sued to kick our children out. We need to fight to keep our schools open,” read a flyer handed out to parents who attended the meeting. “ALL parents, teachers, scholars and staff will attend a rally to fight to keep our schools open.”

Meeting attendees also received phone numbers of local NAACP leaders and the template for sending a letter to Dukes requesting a meeting and that the organization pull out of the lawsuit.

“Any parent that wants to meet with me, I will meet with them anywhere they want,” Dukes said. But about the rally, she said, “We’re not even going to dignify it with a response.”

HSA 1 will not open until 10 a.m. Thursday, allowing students to attend the rally with their parents, the flyer says. “Bring your scholar to the rally,” the flyer reads, later saying, “Parents need to take children back to school after the rally. We know it’s hard, but we want all children to be safe.”

“We never miss school,” said a teacher at Success Charter school who contacted GothamSchools about the rally. “It could almost be a blizzard outside and we still come to school so the fact that we are getting a delay on Thursday is a big deal here.”

Kernivan has a son in second grade at a Brooklyn charter school that’s not affected by the lawsuit and a daughter who just got off the wait list at Leadership Preparatory Ocean Hill Charter School, whose opening is in jeopardy. She said she began receiving text messages from other charter school parents about the rally yesterday and plans to attend, after dropping her daughter off at day care, even though it means she will have to work late.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Kernivan said.

defensor escolar

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.