above water

Schools reopen with low attendance, but officials are optimistic

Flanked by city officials, Mayor Bloomberg updated reporters on the hurricane relief effort from P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a South Brooklyn school that was damaged in the hurricane.

Today marked the first day back to school for most city students, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed their attendance rate. But the figure he cited — 85 percent — didn’t count the 75,000 students who weren’t in attendance because their schools were temporarily closed, or hundreds of schools that did not report their attendance in time for his press conference.

Despite lingering complications from Hurricane Sandy, including power and transit woes, the majority of students and teachers invited to return to school today for the first time in a week made it. And several buildings reopened this morning despite sustaining massive damages a week ago.

For the site of his daily update on the city’s hurricane relief effort, Bloomberg picked one of those schools — P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a southern Brooklyn school that flooded and originally seemed unlikely to reopen to students today.

Flanked by other city officials, Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the number of closed schools is shrinking as more schools that were damaged or lost power slowly receive the repairs they need.

On Sunday, buildings too damaged to reopen contained 57 schools; Bloomberg said that number is 48 today. And just 19 schools remain without power, he said, down from more than 100 over the weekend.

One of the schools to which teachers will return on Tuesday is John Dewey High School, which Walcott cited last week as one of the most severely damaged in the city after an electrical fire during the storm. Department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey’s boiler to work, obviating a planned three-building co-location.

Six of the other eight schools that will reopen to teachers on Tuesday and students on Wednesday are in Brooklyn, and two are on Staten Island. A full list of them is here.

But attendance was predictably lower than usual for the schools that did reopen. At the 62 percent of schools that had reported attendance by 1 p.m. — which likely did not include schools in the most disrupted parts of the city — about 85 percent of students were in class, city officials said. And 94 percent of teachers made it.

The city is also still grappling with other thorny problems as officials prepare to get the rest of the schools up and running by Wednesday. Among them is the question of how to craft new bus routes for thousands of students whose schools will open in different school buildings on Wednesday, and the question of how teachers will establish classroom routines again with students who may have lost electricity and other essentials last week. As of this afternoon, Bloomberg said about 174 public housing buildings around the city were still without power.

“Those kids are going to have to get special help, and teachers should be cognizant of that,” he said.

He said city workers are also racing to prepare the eight school buildings that are operating as shelters to reopen to students on Wednesday—a feat that will likely involve a massive cleaning effort and a plan for consolidating the remaining shelter residents to one or two school buildings.

Sources in Brooklyn say Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School is likely to be one of the schools that remain open to both students and shelter residents on Wednesday. Bloomberg said that if this happens, the students and residents will be kept on separate floors.

“We will make an accommodation if we have to,” he told reporters when asked whether the schools will be ready by then. Bloomberg credits the city’s school custodians and electrical engineers for making headway.

“The custodians did a phenomenal job,” he said. “The fact that we could open schools today is a testament to them,” he said, with a nod to Hector Figueroa, leader of the school custodians’ union.

P.S. 195 Principal Bernadette Toomey said the day had been a success, from her perspective, despite the challenges. P.S. 195 held two assemblies and lined up guidance counselors and a school psychologist to talk to students whose families experienced the brunt of the storm. The school also arranged small-group counseling for students to “express loss and [discuss] the relocation,” Toomey said in an interview. “It’s a lot on a big plate for small children.”

“They were able to meet with the students on an indvididual basis, and they just got right into the swing of things,” she added. “I know they’re missing a lot, a lot of them were heavily impacted, but I think they wanted to return to some normalcy and things that look familiar and comfortable, and warm. ”

She said some students had to relocate to other parts of Brooklyn or outside the borough with their families last week, and it put a strain on her youngest students. Students seemed cheerful as they spilled out of the school’s Irwin Avenue entrances shortly after 3 p.m.

“We wrote about what happened on the day of hurricane and drew pictures,” said third-grader Victoria Kutcher, whose family has been living with relatives since the hurricane, which knocked out power to her neighborhood.

Another Southern Brooklyn school where many students have homes that still lack power or heat, or experienced flooding last week is Sheepshead Bay High School. It opened to students who could make it to school this morning, and counselors surveyed students about their needs during the first period, which was extended to 90 minutes.

“We sent our staff to give students assessments of their immediate needs,” said Robin Schlenger, a site coordinator for Counseling in Schools, a community-based organization that partners with Sheepshead Bay High School to offer regular counseling to students. “The guidance counselors, CBO counselors and social workers spent a lot of time looking for students and talking to them,” throughout  the day.

Like many Southern Brooklyn families, the students’ needs were predictable, but important, she explained; many said they still lack electricity, water, heat, and Internet, which will make it harder for them to get school work done.

Schools whose buildings have been newly cleared to reopen

P.S. 276 Louis Marshall, Brooklyn
P.S. 277 Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn
John Dewey High School, Brooklyn
Liberation Diploma Plus, Brooklyn
P.S. 126 Jacob August Riis, Brooklyn
I.S. 024 Myra S. Barnes, Staten Island
The Richard Hungerford School, Staten Island
I.S. 98 Bay Academy, Brooklyn
P.S. 771, 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.