The co-location situation

Looking to 2013, city pitches space plans for Success schools

The school year is only a few weeks underway, but the Department of Education is already hard at work figuring out where to put its new schools in 2013.

Today, the department announced that it had published “Educational Impact Statements” about changes it wants to make at 17 school buildings next year. The statements, which appeared on the department’s website on Thursday, are the first component of a public comment process that legally must precede any major changes to how school buildings are used.

Eight of the proposals are for new charter school co-locations, including seven in the Success Academies network. The network, which has opened 14 schools since it was founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz in 2006, was one of two charter management organizations that Mayor Bloomberg said during his State of the City address in January that he would like to see grow.

All of the Success schools, which employ non-unionized teachers, operate in public school buildings and its co-locations proposals tend to attract the most pubic outrage from union officials and school community members. Last year, two separate lawsuits were filed against the Department of Education and Moskowitz for Brooklyn co-location plans. A judge dismissed both suits.

SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute approved the network’s request to launch seven more schools next year, but until now exactly where the schools would open has been a question mark. Two were approved to open in Manhattan’s District 2, which has many high-performing and overcrowded elementary schools. Parents argued that the district did not need another elementary school option and could not accommodate one in any case.

But the city has proposed carving out space in two high school buildings that are located in the district but historically have enrolled few students from the area. One of the buildings, in Union Square, is the home of Washington Irving High School, which is being phased out for poor performance, and several small schools that have already opened to replace Irving. The other building houses the High School of Graphics Communications Arts, which the city unsuccessfully tried to close and reopen using an overhaul strategy called “turnaround” this past summer. Both buildings currently have fewer students than they were built to accommodate.

Already, at least one of the the Success proposals has stirred controversy. District 13 community members said they oppose the city’s plan to open Brooklyn Success Academy 5 at M.S. 265 Susan S. McKinney, a Fort Greene secondary school. The building also houses a District 75 school.

The building currently enrolls 470 students, less than 50 percent of its 1,035-student capacity, according to the city’s utilization estimate. But City Councilwoman Letitia James said she had safety concerns with placing elementary school-aged students in the same building as high school students. She also took issue with the lack of feedback sought by city officials before they proposed the plan.

“There’s really not much of a process,” said James, who attended an information meeting hosted by the department’s Division of Portfolio Planning on Wednesday night. “There has been no deliberation, no consideration, no transparency.”

The eighth new charter school co-location would add a new school in the Achievement First network, Aspire Elementary School, to the P.S. 202 building in Brooklyn’s District 19.

Most of the rest of the proposals the department announced today are grade truncations or expansions meant to bring schools’ grade structure in line with citywide norms. For example, the city wants to lop two grades off of Brooklyn College Academy so that it is a standard high school, rather than serving students in grades seven through 12, as it does now.

The city school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, is set to consider the proposals at its Nov. 8 meeting. The date is months earlier than last year, when the panel didn’t vote to approve the Williamsburg Success co-location until March. The panel, whose members are mostly appointed by Bloomberg, has never rejected a city proposal.

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.