the chopping block

Ten more struggling schools proposed for closure or truncation

The Department of Education has named seven more schools it intends to close and three more schools where it aims to lop off middle school grades.

The 10 schools named today join 15 whose proposed closures or truncations were announced yesterday. The new additions to the closure list include three long-troubled high schools; two middle schools started under the Bloomberg administration; and the middle school grades of Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts, where scholar Cornel West last week pledged to fight any closure plans.

Under the proposals, Manhattan’s century-old Washington Irving High School, which the DOE had shrunk in recent years, will stop accepting new students and will close its doors in 2015. So will Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School, where students recently complained that they had been left without teachers in some classes. And Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, where students had been sounding the alarm about the school’s status for years, will also close.

Both Washington Irving and Grace Dodge are in their first year of federally funded “transformation,” an improvement strategy reserved for the most struggling schools. Department officials said that the schools chosen to replace Washington Irving and Grace Dodge would get their federal funds in an arrangement that the city used to support 16 new schools this year.

Altogether, 11 middle schools are closing in a year that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised to focus on improving weak middle schools and opening new ones.

The final tally affects 25 of the 47 schools that the DOE shortlisted this fall for possible closure. Sixteen schools will stay open but will receive a “Targeted Action Plan,” a new addition to the department’s efforts to address struggling schools.

The plans will list steps the schools should take to improve and goals they must meet to stay off the chopping block, department officials said. The schools could also get extra resources, either from the city or through federal funds designated for overhauling low-performing schools.

Schools that escaped closure include Herbert Lehman High School, where leadership change followed a grade-changing investigation; a middle school in the same the building as an elementary school slated for closure yesterday; a secondary school that shares Wadleigh’s building; and Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory School, where students pointed out that their school was on par with other schools on its campus that weren’t on the closure shortlist.

At Brooklyn’s Juan Morel Campos Secondary School, which will remain open, students had been prepared to “occupy the building” if closure had been proposed, according to an organizer from the Coalition for Educational Justice, Fiorella Guevara.

Over the next two months, the department must hold public hearings at each of the schools on the chopping block. The Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the closure plans at its February meeting. The panel has never rejected a city proposal.

The seven schools added to the closure list today:

P.S. 22, Brooklyn
P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott, Queens
Washington Irving High School, Manhattan
Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School, Bronx
Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School, Bronx
Aspire Preparatory Middle School, Bronx
Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII, Brooklyn

And the three additional schools that will lose their middle grades:

P.S. 298 Betty Shabazz, Brooklyn
Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts, Manhattan
Frederick Douglass Academy VI, Brooklyn

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.