What's in a name?

Bronx school's bid to rebrand itself meets local resistance

A hard-charging principal’s efforts to rename a long-struggling school in the Bronx is meeting stiff resistance from a local community group.

District 9 Community Education Council last night voted against a proposal by M.S. 22 Jordan Mott to change its name to College Avenue Academy at Jordan Mott. The rejection comes after the council for two months delayed voting on the proposal, typically among a CEC’s least controversial duties.

When city officials told M.S. 22 last year that it would be among dozens of schools to undergo a federal school improvement strategy called “turnaround,” they promised that the school would get a pot of extra funds, many new teachers, and a new name.

A judge shut down the city’s plans over the summer. But high staff turnover at M.S. 22 meant the school could get new teachers and federal dollars anyway.

Now, the school is out to complete the trifecta. Principal Linda Rosenbury wants to change the school’s name to College Avenue Academy at Jordan Mott, a similar version of the name the city planned to use this year had the overhaul plan gone through. The school sits on College Avenue, where there is no college, although its official address is on 167th Street.

Rosenbury said that she sought the new name because it was a new direction create a new association for the school and accurately reflect the school’s new focus on academics.

“The school community believes that the college theme will give the school a fresh start and help create an academic tone by helping students identify as college-bound scholars planning for their future,” Rosenbury wrote in an email.

Mary Conway-Spiegel, an organizer who works in struggling schools, said that 106 of 134 of parents at the 650-student school favored the proposal in a vote taken by the school. Several parents have testified at the meetings to support of the proposal, Conway-Spiegel said.

Despite the support, four of the council’s six members in attendance voted against the proposal. One abstained and one voted in support.

“We keep presenting facts. We keep showing up with parents. The kids themselves chose the name,” said Conway-Spiegel.

Voting against name changes despite a showing of community support is unusual, according to members of parent councils in other districts.

“We generally want to do whatever the local school wants to do,” said District 15 CEC President Jim Devor. “It’s not for us to impede that.”

Members of the District 9 CEC did not respond to requests for comment. Conway-Spiegel reported that one member said he was concerned that changing the name would be disrespectful to Jordan Mott, a 19th century New York City industrialist, while another member worried that College Avenue’s history of crime would not be a positive association for the school.

But in a letter Conway-Spiegel prepared for supporters of the name change to send to the CEC, Conway-Spiegel suggested that the parent council might have an “alternative motive.”

One possibility is that Rosenbury’s vociferous support for the turnaround plans, which were controversial in large part because they required all teachers to reapply for their jobs, had made her enemies on the council. Some principals opposed turnaround, including many who would have to be removed as part of the process, and others supported some elements but not the required name changes. But Rosenbury publicly defended the plans from start to finish, and after an arbitrator halted the city’s turnaround planning, she spoke out against the UFT for stepping in, too.

Appearing on NY1 after the arbitrator’s decision, Rosenbury said, “As a principal, I think it’s the least effective teachers who are being protected that are giving the public that impression. And I actually think that the way that the UFT is defending all teachers regardless of their performance is hurting teachers.”

CEC feedback about name changes is required, but not binding. Department of Education regulations say that Chancellor Dennis Walcott gets the final say and Rosenbury said she is undecided about whether she plans to take it up with him next.

If there is ultimately a name change, it wouldn’t be in time to influence this year’s crop of fifth graders. All middle school applications are due on Friday.

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.