breaking

Judge rejects UFT-NAACP claims, allows co-locations, closures

A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that the city can move forward with its plans for 22 school closure and 15 co-locations.

In May, the UFT and NAACP filed a suit charging that the city had not adhered to the law and its own promises when planning the closures and charter school co-locations.

In a decision released late tonight, Judge Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the city from moving forward with its closure and co-location plans while those charges are considered. A temporary restraining order preventing the plans from advancing had been in place since early June.

Feinman’s decision came just hours after State Education Commissioner John King approved 12 of the closures, of schools on the state’s list of “persistently low-achieving” schools. The UFT and NAACP suit had argued that the city could not close schools on that list without state approval.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration’s approach to fixing low-performing schools.

“I am incredibly heartened by the court’s decision tonight,” Walcott said in a statement. “I know this decision will come as great comfort and relief to the thousands of children who have been in limbo, wondering what the outcome of this case would be, and for that I am very happy.”

Feinman ruled that the UFT and NAACP had not proven that schools facing closure would have performed significantly better if the city had fulfilled all of the promises set out in an agreement that followed a similar lawsuit last year. That suit resulted in 19 school closures being halted. He also ruled that the Department of Education’s co-location plans — all of which were revised after the lawsuit was filed — contained enough detail to suggest that they were crafted in accordance with the law.

But the ruling did not address the lawsuit’s substantive claims, particularly that the school closures and charter school co-locations would introduce inequities.

“The court notes that the question of where the equities lie is not clear-cut, and the facts do not lean inexorably in the direction of either party,” Feinman wrote.

The United Federation of Teachers said it did not plan to drop its suit, particularly because of the equity claims that Feinman did not assess.

“While Judge Feinman has declined our request for an injunction, his decision does not affect the underlying issues of fairness and due process in the school co-locations and closings that are part of this lawsuit,” a UFT spokesman said in a statement. “These issues remain to be resolved, and the  UFT intends to continue to litigate this matter.”

Charter school advocates lined up to call on the UFT and NAACP to drop the suit.

“Let’s hope the UFT and NAACP drop their opposition and allow schools to open as planned in a few weeks,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

“With classes beginning in just a few short weeks, it’s long past time for the UFT and the NAACP to put their lawyers away, drop their claims and not put families through any more needless uncertainty,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

The ruling frees Feinman up to start his summer vacation. At a June 30 hearing where he allowed construction to start at one co-location site, the judge said he was nervous that the case would not be resolved before his summer vacation. The vacation was set to start July 22 — tomorrow.

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.