the freshman

New Brooklyn lawmaker wants first crack at school closure ban

Walter T. Mosley
Walter Mosley, with Hakeem Jeffries, speaking to supporters on Election Day last year. (Credit: The Local: Fort Greene / Clinton Hill)

Brand new Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley  wants to pick up where his high-profile predecessor left off: trying to block Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to close schools.

Before he was elected to Congress last year, Hakeem Jeffries was the lead sponsor on a bill that called on a two-year moratorium for closures in New York City. It passed overwhelmingly in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but then lost momentum. First, it died in the Republican-controlled Senate and then lost its sponsor when Jeffries headed to Washington, D.C.

Now, union officials and other advocates who oppose the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies are looking for a new lawmaker to carry the torch for this year’s session.

“There’s quite a few people who are looking at doing it,” teachers union president Michael Mulgrew told GothamSchools this week.

Despite his long-shot chances as a freshman lawmaker, Mosley said he stands ready to take the reigns.

“Other lawmakers might want to take it as their own, but right now we’re proposing it as our own,” said Mosley, who said he campaigned in part on the promise that he’d breathe life into Jeffries’s old bill.

“To me, it’s only right that we press the pause button and reevaluate what we’re doing from a government standpoint to make sure that every child is treated fairly,” Mosley added.

The bill seeks to immediately halt school closures in New York City and would last through the 2015-2016 school year. During the moratorium period a state-controlled committee of education experts would be convened to review the impact that closures have the school system.

Union officials familiar with the bill said that they doubted the bill could be passed and signed into law before March, when the city’s school board is scheduled to vote on — and likely approve — 26 school closures.

Closures are a hallmark policy of the Bloomberg’s brand of education reform in New York City and 140 schools have been shuttered on his watch.  Many of the schools were large, low-performing high schools, which the city has replaced with hundreds of smaller schools that have, on average, yielded higher graduation rates while serving less needy students.

But to close a school is a contentious process that brings fierce and organized opposition from the school community and the teachers union. Recently, criticism has come from new places as well. Three of four Democratic mayoral candidates recently called for a moratorium and top-ranking state education officials have expressedconcern  that the closures disproportionately affect students with the highest need.

Bloomberg has also replaced them with 163 charter schools, many of which share space in district school buildings in an arrangement called co-locations.

Another bill, introduced last week for the second year in a row by Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, would give communities the power to approve co-location proposals for their local schools.

Sources say that it’ll be difficult for Mosley to end up as the bill’s lone sponsor since those decisions are made by Assembly leaders.

Mosley, a former district leader, won with both Jeffries’s and Mulgrew’s endorsement. Despite his opposition to school closures, Jeffries also supported charter school co-locations and drew praise from education reform groups during his Congressional race. The UFT chose not to endorse him in his primary race against Councilman Charles Barron.

Mosley wrote on his campaign web site that he wants to “ensure that parents have a choice about where to send their child to school,” but he said in an interview that charter schools “are not an option for everyone.”

“They are an exception, an alternative way of educating our children,” Mosley said.

Whoever ends up the Assembly sponsor, Avella thinks the bill has legs this year in the Senate, where legislation that threatens Bloomberg’s education agenda has historically gone to die.

Avella told GothamSchools yesterday that he is hoping to tap into the Senate’s new power-sharing dynamic, which includes a coalition of five Democrats who are voting as an independent conference.

The leader of that coalition, Jeff Klein, has in the past battled with the teachers union for voting to raise the charter cap and do away with seniority layoffs. But he sided with the union on school closures. 

Klein’s Bronx district includes Lehman High School, which has been the chopping block for years. A year ago, Klein joined with the school community to oppose a closure proposal.

“The community, teachers and administration have been working tirelessly on their own ‘turnaround’ policy for the high school which is showing positive results in just the few months it has been implemented,” Klein wrote in a letter to the department last year, according to the Bronx Times. “I would ask that phase-out be stalled for at least another year to give the new principal and administration more time to implement their programs.”

As a co-leader of the Senate — alongside Republican Dean Skelos — Klein now wields far greater power over what bills get voted on and could decide to back the bill. Avella said he hoped to win Klein and the other four Democrats in the independent coalition over.

Klein’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

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.