financial aid

Bill Thompson bid gets help from high-profile education figures

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Bill Thompson, center, is among four Democratic candidates jockeying for the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers.

Bill Thompson lags behind his Democratic rivals in fundraising, but he’s out in front in one area of interest: support from high-profile education officials.

As he has ramped up his fund-raising efforts in recent months, Thompson has raked in thousands of dollars in donations from notable public figures in education, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and, most recently, Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York, filings show.

Weingarten, who worked closely with Thompson when the pair overlapped during previous city education posts more than a decade ago, gave $2,000 to his campaign in two installments on Jan. 10 and Jan. 11. Tisch contributed $4,950 — the maximum allowed by the city’s campaign finance laws — to Thompson’s six-month haul ending in January, which totaled more than $1 million.

In his latest three-month filing, which totaled $322,000 and ended last week, Thompson took in $500 from Goldstein, records show. Goldstein, who along with Weingarten sits on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission, gave the maximum $4,950 to Republican candidate Joe Lhota, a member of CUNY’s Board of Trustees.

Like the other Democratic candidates, Thompson hopes to receive an endorsement from the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s local affiliate that Weingarten presided over from 1998 to 2009. The UFT snubbed Thompson in 2009 (shortly after Weingarten left) by not endorsing him in that year’s mayoral election, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg won narrowly despite spending more than 10 times what Thompson did.

Weingarten worked with Thompson when he was a member and president of the city’s Board of Education from 1994 to 2001. In an email, Weingarten highlighted that working relationship and said her support was personal.

“It’s not a union endorsement — it’s a personal contribution,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten noted that she has supported other mayoral candidates, though none  has received her money during the mayoral race. Weingarten gave $1,000 in two payments in 2007 to Christine Quinn, then an incumbent candidate for City Council. Weingarten also gave $500 to Bill de Blasio’s 2009 winning campaign for public advocate.

Tisch, who has helped steer state education policy since 2009 and herself flirted with running for mayor, did not respond to requests for comment. Tisch has poured over $65,000 into city campaigns since 1995, including $4,000 to Thompson’s 2009 mayoral run.

Thompson got money from another former colleague, Harold Levy, chancellor of the New York City school system from 2000 to 2002. In an interview, Levy was more effusive in his praise for Thompson, who helped force out his predecessor Rudy Crew at the request of Mayor Rudy Giuliani and install Levy in his place over Giuliani’s pick.

“He’s honest, he forthright, he’s principled, he knows education, and he’s a good manager, so I like him a lot,” said Levy, who has given $600 to Thompson since last summer.

A Thompson spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite the high-profile donations, Thompson has just over $2 million in his campaign chest, well behind Quinn’s $5.5 million. He also trails de Blasio, who has about $2.6 million in his campaign coffers, and is about even with Comptroller John Liu.

Thompson’s $322,000 fund raising this winter outpaced both de Blasio and Liu, but still lagged behind Quinn’s $487,000.

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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.