Process of elimination

Dozens of elementary and middle schools told they might close

J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn is one of 36 elementary and middle schools that the Department of Education has put on notice because of poor performance.

Three dozen schools that received low grades from the Department of Education on Monday are already getting notice that the city is gravely worried about their performance.

Department of Education officials have identified 36 schools — including 15 middle schools and 25 schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx — for an “early engagement” process that could lead either to closure or another lease on life.

This is the third year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year’s closures will be the last of the Bloomberg administration.

The potential closure list is nearly twice as long as last year’s, when the city held early engagement meetings at 20 elementary and middle schools and ultimately moved to close 10 of them. It is culled from 217 schools whose progress report scores put them at risk of closure, according to the city’s rules.

This year’s list includes several schools that have already had closure scares. Two schools, M.S. 142 in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, went through early engagement last year. (Chappie’s sister elementary school is now in the process of closing.) M.S. 142 and another school, J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, were also slated to undergo a different closure process called “turnaround” last year until the city was forced to abandon those plans.

The list also includes two charter schools that the city allowed to open, Bronx Community Charter School and Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which serves students in the foster care system. Both of the schools are up for renewal this year.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve.

But in starting early engagement, which includes communication with parent leaders and public meetings at each school, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the department’s deputy chancellor in charge of school closures.

“These are difficult conversations, but it’s important to have this dialogue and hold our schools to the highest of standards,” Sternberg said in a statement. “We’ll take the feedback that we receive from the school and community into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success.”

Fifteen of the schools are middle schools, signaling where the department could start making room for some of the 25 new middle schools it has vowed to open next year.

The city has vowed to open at least 50 new schools next year, including 25 middle schools.

The schools represent only a small fraction of those with progress report scores low enough to put them on the chopping block. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or below — this year, 217 schools — can be closed, according to the department’s guidelines.

Seven of the schools landed on the list after drawing three straight C grades from the city. Five of the schools earned B’s two years ago, when many city schools saw their grades plummet because of changes to the way state tests were scored.

A teacher at J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, reached before the city announced that the school was on the early engagement list, said she thought she school was improving after a rocky year under the specter of turnaround.

“The students are working towards something this year. It’s a very positive tone,” said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak about the school. Principal Maria Ortega, who narrowly avoided losing her job under turnaround, declined to comment.

The teacher did warn that teachers started the year with very little time to plan after many had left for the summer expecting not to return, something the city could hold against the school when assessing its likeliness to improve.

The department has not yet turned its attention toward high schools, whose progress reports will come out later this month.

Officials from both the teachers and principals union decried the early engagement process as being too little, too late for the long-struggling schools.

“We are troubled by the DOE’s statement that it is beginning conversations with these schools now to gain a better understanding of what is happening,” said principals union president Ernest Logan in a statement. “These conversations should have occurred before these schools ever arrived at this point.”

“Tweed’s measurement system depends almost completely on standardized tests, and its ‘engagement’ process does little or nothing to help struggling schools improve,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, also in a statement. “Unfortunately, closing schools — rather than fixing them — remains the centerpiece of Mayor Bloomberg’s education strategy.”

The schools undergoing early engagement:

J.H.S. Jackie Robinson, Manhattan
M.S. 45/STARS Prep Academy, Manhattan
P.S. 133 Fred R Moore, Manhattan
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte, Manhattan
P.S. 154 Jonathan D Hyatt, Bronx
M.S. 203, Bronx
Young Leaders Elementary School, Bronx
Performance School, Bronx
J.H.S. 125 Henry Hudson, Bronx
Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School, Bronx
P.S. 64 Pura Belpre, Bronx
P.S. 132 Garret Morgan, Bronx
P.S. 230 Roland Patterson, Bronx
M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
Globe School for Environmental Research, Bronx
P.S. 6 West Farms, Bronx
P.S. 50, Bronx
The School of Science and Applied Learning, Bronx
P.S. 67 Charles Dorsey, Brooklyn
P.S. 167 The Parkway, Brooklyn
Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn
P.S. 174 Dumont, Brooklyn
P.S. 224 Hale Woodruff, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 291 Roland Hayes, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero, Brooklyn
I.S. 349 Math, Science, and Technology, Brooklyn
P.S. 73 Thomas Boyland, Brooklyn
P.S. 165 Ida Posner, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, Brooklyn
J.H.S. 8 Richard Grossley, Queens
P.S. 140 Edward Ellington, Queens
I.S. 59 Springfield Gardens, Queens
P.S. 156 Laurelton, Queens
Mott Haven Academy Charter School, Bronx
Bronx Community Charter School, Bronx

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.