Monday Churn: Big week for “Superman”

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

If you’re not already, by the end of this week you may be tired of hearing about “Waiting for Superman,” the school reform documentary opening Friday in Colorado. The film has received pre-release hype rivaling “Star Wars” or “Avatar,” thanks in large part not to the studio but a concerted push by advocacy groups. Advocates for Obama-Arne Duncan (the U.S. education secretary)-style reforms hail the film as a powerful catalytic agent that will fuel outrage and spur a grassroots movement to push meaningful change to our system of public schools. Critics of the film say it oversimplifies complex issues and scapegoats teachers’ unions and traditional public schools, while treating charter schools as a panacea.

Various groups are holding private screenings of “Superman” tomorrow in Boulder, Centennial, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Highlands Ranch. And to mark its 25th anniversary, the Colorado Children’s Campaign is bringing in director Davis Guggenheim – who won an Oscar for his previous film, “An Inconvenient Truth” – for a Q & A at its sold-out anniversary luncheon on Wednesday. According to a press release, Guggenheim “will show clips, discuss his personal motivation for making the film, the critical education issues highlighted in the film and his perspective on the crisis in education.”

What’s on tap:

Denver’s school board has scheduled a four-hour work session tonight – and it looks like they’re going to need it. Topics on the agenda include a presentation on how the district will transition to Colorado’s new academic standards, including a handy timeline on page. They’ll also tackle a transportation proposal to cut costs that calls for changes in busing for magnet programs, ending busing for highly gifted students and implementing a “shuttle bus” system in far northeast Denver.

And, finally, they’ll talk about the impact of the educator evaluator bill, also known as Senate Bill 191. The district and its teachers union have until Jan. 15 to implement the “mutual consent” provisions, meaning both the principal and the teacher agree they want to be at a particular school. This is more of an issue in Denver than in other Colorado districts, as we reported in the story “DPS leads pack in direct-placing teachers.” The work session is slated to run from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 900 Grant St. The full agenda is here.

Also, the Cherry Creek board meets at 7 p.m. at Pine Ridge Elementary School, 6525 S. Wheatlands Parkway in Aurora. That agenda is here.

The week ahead

WEDNESDAY – The Higher Education Strategic Planning Steering Committee holds a town hall meeting from 4-6 p.m. at the Aims Community College Theater in Greeley.

THURSDAY – The steering committee holds another town hall, again from 4-6 p.m., this time in the North Ballroom of the Western State College College Center in Gunnison. … The DPS board holds a regular meeting starting at 4 p.m. The agenda is here.

FRIDAYThe advisory committee that’s been developing requirements for a new state testing system holds its final meeting from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Denver Marriott West in Golden (more information here). The State Council on Educator Effectiveness meets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave.

Good reads from elsewhere

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.