engagement party

City aims second set of parent involvement plans at academics

Chancellor Dennis Walcott today updated parent coordinators and parent leaders about new plans to engage families in helping children make academic progress.

A year after announcing new efforts to cultivate parents as “partners” in supporting students’ academic progress, Chancellor Dennis Walcott fleshed out some of the details in a speech today.

Speaking to parent coordinators and other parent leaders at Manhattan’s High School of Fashion Industries, Walcott announced that the city would open its Parent Academy next month with a training session in Brooklyn about how to make the most of parent-teacher conferences.

As we reported last week, work behind the scenes on the Parent Academy, modeled after a similar program in Charlotte, N.C., picked up this summer and fall. The city contracted Long Island University to run the academy and in August placed job ads for a “Parent Academy Project Director.” It also quietly launched a website inviting schools to be part of the “inaugural class,” and Walcott said today that 100 schools had already responded. A preliminary version of a website for the program has also gone live, though not at the URL advertised on the invitation.

Over the course of the year, Walcott said, the academy will include as many as 2,000 parents in 15 borough-wide workshops and also train smaller groups of parents on “partnership standards” that he said last year would be created.

He also reiterated a promise to improve the process by which district parent council members are elected. The councils have few statutory powers but are seen as one of few ways that parents can influence Department of Education policy decisions. Last year, elections to fill the councils went so badly that they had to be redone.

Walcott said the department would make the process more transparent by putting information about eligibility and elections on a single website set to launch next week. Last year, “with the lack of information, people weren’t even aware that voting was open,” Juan Rosales, the department official in charge of engaging the councils, said after the speech.

But for the second year in a row, Walcott made clear that his conception of family engagement stays close to the classroom.

“I cannot over-emphasize the important role you play,” he said, according to his prepared comments. “When you are involved and support the important work going on in the classroom, your children are more likely to succeed.”

This year, new curriculum standards are changing what happens in many city classrooms, and most of the new initiatives Walcott announced aim to inform parents about the standards, known as the Common Core.

Walcott said he would kick off a “webinar” series for parents with a training on the standards, and he also announced the creation of new “Expect Success” guides, publications that describe the city’s academic expectations and suggest ways that parents can help their children meet the standards.

He even gave the parents a script for generating Common Core-aligned conversations in the home.

“There are many ways to reinforce learning at home. Start by talking more. Get your child’s opinions about local, national, and international events,” Walcott said. “Check in every day and ask questions. Ask them: Do you feel like you’re struggling in any of your classes? Are you reading challenging non-fiction texts outside the classroom?”

Parents and educators said during a panel discussion that followed Walcott’s speech that parents are hungry for more information about what their children should be learning and how to help them get ahead.

“There is nothing worse than being in a situation where your child is in fifth grade and you say, ‘If I had only known last year, if I had only known at the end of eighth grade,'” said Maura McGovern, a guidance counselor who helped produce the Expect Success guides. “We wanted parents to know ahead of time so they don’t have those little shocks and surprises.”

Monique Lindsay, a Brooklyn mother who sits on the Citywide Council on High Schools, said the guides would be useful when communication between children and parents falls short.

“Sometimes it feels like the student thinks they know everything and the parents feel like they know nothing,” she said, adding that the guides are meant “to keep us as parents current.”

Walcott left some of last year’s promises hanging today. He signaled that family engagement standards had in fact been created, but he did not mention last year’s promise to assess schools based on how well they involve parents. He also did explain what guidance, if any, had come from a parent committee he said last year would be convened to help middle schools. Department officials said last week that the committee met three times last year and included a total of 15 parents, principals, parent coordinators, and representatives from local nonprofits.

The full text of Walcott’s prepared remarks are below.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.

summer mix tape

Ten stories you might have missed over the summer (and should read now as a new school year begins)

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Stand for Children received funding to support parent education.

There is no such thing as time off from covering education. While school doors were shuttered, plenty happened this summer on the Colorado education beat. Here, we’ve compiled stories that we hope prove useful as you ease back into your fall routines.

We’ve got your immunization data right here … 

For the second year, Chalkbeat tracked down immunization data for more than 1,200 schools in Colorado’s largest school districts. Our database revealed that Boulder remains a hotspot for the anti-vaccination movement, students in districts with racial and income diversity are more likely to get their shots and nearly half of schools in the database did a better job this year tracking students’ immunization records. Read our news story about the findings, check out these six charts that dig into the numbers and search for school-level data here.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg reflects on his sabbatical (a break not everyone appreciated)

In June, Denver Public Schools’ longtime schools chief returned from a six-month unpaid sabbatical in South America with his family. “It made us appreciate the extraordinary resources we have here,” he said in an interview about his experience.

A milestone for Colorado charter schools on diversity, but not so much on integration

For the first time, Colorado’s charter schools educated a larger proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than district-run schools, a state report showed. We took a closer look and found that does not mean charter schools are more integrated.

Race, policing and education during a summer on edge

This summer sadly provided no shortage of violence and heartache over issues that sometimes feel like they’re tearing America apart at the seams. We sought to bring some local perspective (and wisdom) to the debate by talking to an ambitious Manual High School student who took up a bullhorn at Denver street protests and to Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn.

A middle school’s last-ditch effort to save itself 

An Adams County middle school running out of time to improve has placed its bet on more challenging, more personal teaching — and zero test preparation. Watch Chalkbeat later this week for a report on whether these efforts paid off in the form of improved state test scores. (Hopefully … the data are set to be made public Thursday).

Guess which Colorado school district had a high proportion of teachers designated to lose tenure …

Compared with other large Colorado school districts, Denver Public Schools had a higher proportion of teachers set to lose tenure under a sweeping educator effectiveness law passed six years ago. We surveyed big districts about one of the consequences of Senate Bill 191.

Too darn hot to teach and learn 

As part of its big bond request of voters this fall, Denver Public Schools wants to try to cool off some of its hottest schools. We took a look at where the mercury soars the highest and found that in 12 of the 18 hottest buildings — some of which house more than one school — the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch exceeds the district average.

But the University Club has a lovely lunch menu (and squash courts, too)…  

What if the State Board of Education held a not-so-public meeting with the education commissioner at a private club downtown to prioritize goals, but didn’t get much of anything accomplished? That happened.

What we know — and don’t know — about Colorado remediation rates

Colorado’s college remediation rates inched upward after years of steady decline, a disheartening development. On top of that, we’re not getting the full picture, either, because of incomplete school-level numbers and non-existent district-level data.

Diet Coke: Coming soon to a high school vending machine near you? 

Despite opposition from advocacy groups, Colorado appears headed toward lifting a seven-year ban on diet soda in high schools. The rule change would clear the way for diet soda to be sold in high school vending machines and school stores, though districts could decide not to stock the drinks. We covered the issue before and after the State Board of Education’s initial vote.