bailed out

City plans to fast-track school repairs with emergency funds

Chancellor Walcott talks to parents at P.S. 207, which will remain closed until at least 2013 and could be much longer. Red trailers parked outside the school contain 35,000 gallons of water and oil that leaked into the school during Sandy, Walcott said.

Six city schools that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy won’t reopen until 2013, according to the Department of Education’s latest update on its recovery from the storm.

But the rest of the schools displaced by the storm, which on Tuesday will number 37, will likely be able to move back to their buildings by the end of November.

To keep pace with the timeline, Mayor Bloomberg today announced an emergency plan to add $500 million in capital funds, $200 million of which will go directly toward paying for repairs at the remaining schools. The other $300 million will help repair damages sustained to hospital buildings. Bloomberg made the announcement at P.S. 207, a school in Queens that was damaged so severely that officials aren’t able to pinpoint a reopening date.

“To our knowledge, New York City government has never before made such an emergency provision for additional capital spending because of a natural disaster and certainly not one of this size,” he said.

The budget modification is expected to be approved by the City Council tomorrow.

So far the city has spent $134 million in emergency spending, and Bloomberg said he expects that number to eventually “run into billions of dollars” as the city picks up more responsibilities that federal authorities and volunteers are handling right now.

At the education department, a breakneck pace of repairs continued over the weekend, leaving five schools ready to return to their home buildings on Tuesday. They join 10 others that were set for a Tuesday homecoming last week. All of the new additions, which will affect 6,000 students, are on the hard-hit Rockaway Peninsula, where many families are displaced from their homes as well.

Low attendance numbers last week suggest that thousands of students have not been to school for as many as two full weeks. Reopening schools, or at least getting students back into school buildings, has been at the forefront of the city’s recovery efforts.

Seventeen schools are expected to move home a week from today, and 14 more are set for a Nov. 30 homecoming. That leaves half a dozen schools that will continue to operate in relocated space until the end of the year.

Five of the schools will reopen on Jan. 2, the day schools resume after the winter vacation. They are P.S. 256’s annex in Queens; P.S. 288 in Brooklyn; P.S. 105 in Queens; and Millennium High School and an outpost of P226, which share a building on Broad Street in Manhattan.

The sixth school, P.S. 207 in Howard Beach, does not yet have a firm date for move-in. The department says only that it will happen “later in 2013,” and oil is still being pumped out of the building’s basement now, according to a spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.

Large red trailers outside of the school this afternoon contained 35,000 gallons of a mixture of flood water and leaked oil that has so far been pumped from the school’s basement, officials said.

Speaking in P.S. 207’s lobby this afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg said the school faces additional repairs because of damage to the school’s electrical system.

“It’s likely the building’s electrical wiring will have to be substantially or completely replaced,” Bloomberg said.

In the meantime, P.S. 207 students have been shuttled to two different host schools since last week and parents outside of the school said today that they’re still getting used to the new transportation plans that the department has drawn up. Fifth grade students and older have attended school in Long Island City, a 45-minute bus drive.

Until now, the department had also been unable to provide transportation for all students from the peninsula to their relocated schools, but as of Tuesday, the city will run 7 a.m. shuttle buses from each of the closed schools to their new sites. The department will also transport students who attend high schools in the Far Rockaway Campus from the subway if they arrive from elsewhere in the city. The improved transportation services are likely to boost attendance figures at the relocated schools, which last week were abysmal, though increased mobility and major challenges at home make attendance unlikely to equal its pre-storm rates.

Despite P.S. 207 being the only school without a firm timeline for reopening, the parents said they were pleased to hear that the school might have a chance of opening at all this school year.

“We were under the impression that they might condemn the school for the rest of the year,” said Marlene Casillo.

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.