tough spot

In a twist, UFT gets attacked over its charter school co-location

J.H.S. 272 social studies teacher Michael Maiglow testifies at a co-location hearing for the UFT Charter School.
J.H.S. 272 social studies teacher Michael Maiglow testifies at a co-location hearing for the UFT Charter School on Wednesday evening.

The strength of the United Federation of Teachers’ opposition to contested co-locations is being tested.

The union has been so hostile to the city’s controversial space-sharing arrangements within school buildings — particularly those involving charter schools — that it sued the Department of Education to put a stop to them. And union organizers have regularly rallied around unpopular co-locations as a potent weapon to discredit Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies.

But in a twist of fate, the union’s own embattled UFT Charter middle school is now set to move into public space where it’s not welcome. Students, teachers and the administration at J.H.S. 292, a 750-student district middle school with a gifted and talented program and robust performing arts offerings, are vehemently against the plan and organizing to reverse it.

According to the city’s planning documents, J.H.S. 292 is using twice as much space as it needs and would give up 21 of its 50 full-size classrooms to the incoming charter school. The UFT Charter School’s elementary grades already operate in the building.

All together, the UFT Charter School would have 40 classrooms next year, 11 more than J.H.S. 292, even though the two schools would have around the same number of students, according to Gloria Williams Nandan, J.H.S. 292’s principal.

At a public hearing about the space-sharing plan Wednesday evening, Williams Nandan said the disparity struck her as not just unfair, but a little ironic as well.

“Come September, our teachers will lose their classrooms and there begins their dilemma, for when our teachers are kicked out of their classrooms, to whom will they turn?” she testified. “Their union? Oops, sorry, it’s their school that would have taken over their classrooms.”

Supporters for J.H.S. 292 packed the school’s auditorium for the hearing. Eighty people, most of whom opposed to the plan, signed up to speak. In between, there were performances from a marching band, African drummers, karate students, and pairs of dancers doing the waltz.

Students have even written business letters to Chancellor Dennis Walcott aligned to Common Core literacy standards.

“The assignment was to express our opinions about the recent proposal,” said Isabel Lewis, an eighth-grader, explaining her work. She wrote that she opposed the plan because she was concerned about overcrowding and student safety. “Due to the fact that we had already learned persuasive writing recently, they wanted us to use the techniques they taught us.”

Allowing charter schools to share space with district schools at no cost has been a signature education policy of the Bloomberg administration. The policy has allowed the city’s charter sector to expand quickly in a city with a tight — and pricey — real estate market. It also let the Department of Education fill space vacated as the Bloomberg administration phased out more than 150 low-performing schools, in a school closure push that the UFT has resolutely opposed.

Usually, the union would get behind a school with so much community support in pushing back against a co-location plan.

“Our objections have been to co-locations where there isn’t enough room and/or community opposition,” UFT spokesman Dick Riley emailed GothamSchools in response to a question about UFT Charter School’s proposed co-location plans.

But in this case, it was the UFT that asked for the city make the move. As part of a plan to improve the academic performance of its middle grades, the union sought to move the school under the same roof as its elementary school, which has been coexisted peacefully with J.H.S. 292 since 2005. In fact, the move was an important condition on which state education officials renewed the struggling charter school’s right to operate this week.

“It’s like you have this house where you use up every square inch of space and then you have to give up half that space to a school that really doesn’t deserve it,” said Jennifer Barrett, who coordinates J.H.S. 292’s performing arts programs, which she believes could be most affected.

Barrett was among several people at the hearing who questioned whether the UFT Charter middle school should even be allowed to stay open because its students have struggled academically for years.

Supporters of the co-location plan said that since city had already pegged J.H.S. 292’s building as underused, it would just fill the space with students from another school if the UFT Charter’s middle grades did not move in. It would be better, they said, to build on an existing relationship.

“All of the same things they’re concerned about, we’re concerned about,” said Craig Taylor, a music teacher in the UFT’s charter elementary school. “We just hope that we can make this work.”

Above, watch a video of Michael Maiglow’s testimony at Wednesday’s public hearing. Maiglow, a social studies teacher at J.H.S. 292, was among 80 speakers who signed up to testify at the heated hearing about the city’s plans to place a union-run charter school in a district school building.

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.