Colorado

Forced placement of teachers is hot topic

A plan to limit the “forced placement” of veteran teachers in Denver’s lowest-performing and highest-poverty schools drew applause Thursday, and some opposition.

David Clayton, a parent at Montclair Elementary, echoed others when he said that he supported the plan “but only as a first step” toward extending the policy to all schools.

“Forced or direct placement is not good for our poorest-performing schools nor is it good for higher-performing schools,” said Clayton, a member of the group Stand for Children.

Because teachers with three years of experience are guaranteed jobs under state law, the district must place those unable to find their own positions by the end of the school year.

DPS placed 107 teachers in schools for the current year without the agreement of either the teachers or the principals.

Of the 107, 26 were being direct-placed for a second or third time. Five teachers have been direct-placed for three consecutive years.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced Feb. 5 that the district would not allow any direct teacher placements at schools on probation under the district’s school ratings system.

He also said he planned to limit direct teacher placements at Title 1 schools, meaning those schools with high poverty rates that receive federal grant dollars.

In past years, Title 1 schools have received a disproportionate number of unassigned veteran teachers.

“We’ve got to have the best trained people in our building,” said Antonio Esquibel, principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, where 91 percent of students are poor and 80 percent are English language learners.

“We need teachers that really understand what it means to be a second-language instructor and help get kids ready for college,” he said. “And that’s tough because there aren’t very many teachers out there in this country that have that background …

“I want to be able to select and be able to interview those candidates that possess those qualities.”

More than a dozen speakers, including a teacher and representatives of A+ Denver, Colorado Succeeds, the Denver Urban League and Padres Unidos, spoke in favor of the change.

One speaker, Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union is not in agreement with the plan.

He said the district needs to address broader issues, such as better mentoring of new teachers, if the idea is that direct-placed teachers are ineffective.

Otherwise, “When we make statements about ending forced placement, to me it’s an analogy like ‘Let’s end unemployment.’ I think all of us would agree that’s a lofty goal,” Roman said.

“Even in a well-functioning economic system, you’re always going to have a normal rate of unemployment. In a big system like DPS, we’re always going to have a normal rate of placements.”

But the most vocal opponent to the plan Thursday was school board member Andrea Mérida, who read aloud a resolution she said she’ll introduce at a later board meeting.

It states that any policy change regarding direct placements should wait until after improvements are made to the teacher evaluation system.

“…the Superintendent of Schools is directed to immediately produce … a plan for a teacher evaluation, mentorship and professional development system within 90 days of this resolution,” she read in part.

Read Merida’s resolution here.

Boasberg acknowledged the district and union do not agree on the issue but said they’ve been meeting for two years, without success, to address it.

“In the interim, do we continue to force place teachers disproportionately in our Title 1 Schools?” he asked. “I think that’s wrong.”

Merida shook her head and quietly said, “That’s not the issue.”

“The issue here is not the policy,” she later Tweeted from the meeting. “It’s the fact that we aren’t properly evaluating and keeping the RIGHT teachers in the 1st place.”

DPS and the Denver teachers’ union won a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness. Boasberg said they’re collaborating on a pilot program on teacher observation, coaching and evaluation to be launched next spring in several schools.

The schools receiving the most direct placements in the past three years are in far northeast Denver – Martin Luther King Early College has received 11 teachers via forced placement and 10 have gone to Montbello High School.

Another 11 teachers have been assigned to central administration and not a specific school.

Faye Alexander, a parent at Montbello, said her children came home one afternoon and said, “Mom, we have a teacher in our building today who said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ ”

“How does that make you feel as a parent that you have someone teaching your child that doesn’t want to be there?” she asked the board.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

Click here to read the letters supporting the policy from North High Principal Ed Salem and West High Principal Jorge Loera.

Click here to read the latest DPS staffing update outlining the new process under the changed policy.

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.