merit pay

Annual awards fete math, science teachers at array of schools

At a time when the Obama administration is rewarding efforts to improve math and science instruction, seven city math and science teachers are being lauded for the work they already do.

For the third straight year, the Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are giving city teachers awards for excellence in teaching science and mathematics. The teachers will receive their prizes — $5,000 each — at an award ceremony tonight and their schools will celebrate the awards, and the $2,500 that their math and science programs receive, at a series of assemblies tomorrow.

The teachers were nominated by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and then selected by a committee made up of representatives from local science museums and universities, based on their students’ achievement, their involvement in extracurricular activities, and their efforts to promote math and science inside and outside the classroom. The recipients’ high schools range from the city’s highest-performing to some of the weakest, including one that the city is trying to turn around using federal funding.

Here are this year’s recipients, along with a highlight about each that we pulled from longer biographies compiled by the Sloan Awards:

Teacher: Kate Belin
School: Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
Subject: Geometry, Functions
Why her school thinks she’s great: Belin makes math relevant and interesting for students at Fannie Lou Hamer, where 90 percent of entering freshman are below grade level in math or English, by connecting math to the world outside the classroom.


Teacher:
Marissa Bellino
School: High School for Environmental Studies
Subject: Environment Seminar, Global Environment, Environmental Science Research
Why her school thinks she’s great: Bellino has stretched the already strong science program at the High School for Environmental Studies by facilitating a revamp of her school’s science facility and arranging trips for her students to visit Japan to discuss cutting carbon emissions.


Teacher: Jim Cocoros
School: Stuyvesant High School
Subject: Honors Pre-Calculus, Calculus BC, Math Team
Why his school thinks he’s great: The sole male recipient this year, Cocoros is known as a dedicated teacher who makes every effort to tailor instruction to students’ needs and goals.


Teacher:
Margaret DeSimone
School: Midwood High School
Subject: Living Environment (and Lab), Anatomy and Physiology
Why her school thinks she’s great: DeSimone’s former students and colleagues say that she is a master at being able to reach all of her students and converting even the most uninterested students to engage with science.


Teacher:
Maria Cheryl Diangco
School: Sheepshead Bay High School
Subject: AP Biology, Science Research
Why her school thinks she’s great: Diangco has helped create a reinvigorated science program at Sheepshead Bay, which began undergoing federally funded “restart” this year, and she developed a science research program at the school.


Teacher:
Alia Jackson
School: Curtis High School
Subject:Physics (including IB Physics), Earth Science
Why her school thinks she’s great: Jackson has infused her physics course with fun trips (to Six Flags) and fun projects (rubber band-powered cars, water-powered rockets), and she’s gotten some fun outcomes: Her students have a near-perfect pass rate on the Physics Regents.

Teacher: Eliza Kuberska
School: Hunter College High School
Subject: Algebra II/Geometry, AP Statistics, Problem Solving
Why her school thinks she’s great: Even in a school with a 99 percent graduation rate, where many graduates go on to Ivy League colleges, Kuberska manages to challenge her students with complex problem sets and to pique their intellectual curiosity.

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.