Round Two

City seeks next group of PROSE schools, as Fariña praises first round of changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks with Monique Campbell, the principal of The School of Integrated Learning, one of the city schools that will begin absorbing a struggling middle school next year.

Nearly 120 schools are vying to opt out of some city regulations and union rules to experiment with class sizes, school scheduling, and teacher evaluations, though some schools already in the program are still waiting to implement their plans.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have touted the program as an opportunity for innovation, and more than 100 schools pulled together proposals on a tight deadline last year after it was negotiated into the new teacher contract. And six months after the program’s launch, officials said applications were on the rise, as Fariña visited a school experimenting with class sizes Tuesday that she said far exceeded her expectations.

The experimentation program, Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, or PROSE, allowed 62 schools to start putting plans into place in September. (PROSE plans are approved by a panel of representatives from the education department, principals union, and teachers union, and 65 percent of each school’s unionized staff have to vote in favor, too.)

“You see something here that in some other schools would raise peoples’ eyebrows,” Fariña said at the School of Integrated Learning in Crown Heights, a PROSE school. “You have one teacher with almost 40 kids in a class and you have another teacher with eight kids in a class … This is something that was part of what we were hoping PROSE would do.”

As the Department of Education works to decide within the next month which schools will be approved for the upcoming school year, though, some of the schools already in the program are waiting to implement the plans that were given preliminary approval last summer.

Jackie Bennett, United Federation of Teachers assistant to the president, said that “almost all have made significant changes” to their teaching methods and have implemented basic scheduling changes. Slightly less than half of the schools are already using an alternate teacher evaluation system that often involves teachers visiting each other’s classrooms, she added.

But many of the existing 62 schools’ plans require more complicated changes to the teachers union contract, including schools’ plans to end the school day at 7 p.m., extend school hours for students five days per week with teachers working four days, increase Saturday instruction, or change state-level graduation requirements. Those are subject to another review by the PROSE panel and another teacher vote at the end of this school year.

This year, 118 additional schools turned in applications by the Feb. 27 deadline – an increase from last year’s 107 applications – and morale among teachers was high as Fariña visited the School of Integrated Learning.

Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan speaks with students at The School of Integrated Learning, during a visit to the PROSE school in Brooklyn Tuesday.
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan speaks with students at The School of Integrated Learning, during a visit to the PROSE school in Brooklyn Tuesday.

Principal Monique Campbell led Fariña through several classrooms, where teachers had collaborated across subjects to divide classes into unequal sizes by pulling certain students into groups for specialized instruction – who can be students performing at a high level that need a challenge or those who need more time with a lesson.

Teachers “saw this as a way of integrating the students and really allowing the students to engage in conversation across grades,” Campbell said. “It really allows us, as teachers, to learn from each other.”

But, Campbell added, “it really does take a lot of time to get it right.”

More than six of 10 schools that applied for the PROSE program for the 2015-16 school year are in Brooklyn and the Bronx, but schools from all boroughs applied. The city has said it plans to include 200 schools in the program over five years, with the next round of schools expected to receive panel approval by mid-April.

“I want models for the rest of the city,” Fariña said. “In the beginning people were not sure of our intentions with PROSE, and now that they see we really are supporting them and asking them to do things differently.”

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.