Colorado

Tuesday Churn: One of each

Updated 2:40 p.m. – Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper today reached back into the Owens administration for his new budget director – and he put the current budget chief into a new role.

Henry Sobanet will be director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, a role he held from 1999 to 2004 under Republican Bill Owens. In recent years, Sobanet has run a private consulting firm and he was a legislative staff economist before joining the Owens team.

Todd Saliman, a former legislator who has been Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s OSPB director, is becoming a “senior advisor” to Hickenlooper. According to a news release, “He will serve in his new role part time for several months and advise the Hickenlooper-Garcia administration on budget, policy, legislative, efficiency and operational issues.”

The key takeaway from the appointments is that the incoming administration will have two members intimately familiar with the state budget and its problems, including the financial challenges facing both K-12 schools and higher education.

Hickenlooper has made a flurry of cabinet appointments this week, but there’s no word yet on the executive director of the Department of Higher Education, currently lawyer Rico Munn. The governor, of course, doesn’t appoint the commissioner of education. The State Board of Education has hired a search firm to help in its hunt for a Dwight Jones replacement.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

U.S. Department of Education officials have invited district and union leaders from 2,000 school districts to participate in a “conference on labor-management collaboration” set for Denver on Feb. 15 and 16.

“We have seen how good labor-management relations can create the conditions that drive student success so we want to bring together leaders in labor and management who are committed to collaboration around bold reforms,” federal schools chief Arne Duncan said in Monday’s press release.

To participate, a district’s school board president, superintendent and teacher union leader must all agree to attend. And all three must “further pledge to collaboratively develop and implement policies in such areas as: setting strategic direction to advance student achievement and aligning all labor-management work with this overarching focus … ” the release states.

You can read the full release here. Denver Public Schools spokesman Mike Vaughn said Douglas County is co-hosting the event, perhaps because the Denver teachers’ union is an NEA affiliate and Dougco’s union is an affiliate of the AFT.

In August, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel chose Denver as the first city in a weeklong national tour highlighting reform initiatives in which teachers’ unions are playing a key role. In Denver, that includes the teacher-led Math and Science Leadership Academy and work around a major Gates grant on teacher effectiveness. But the Denver Classroom Teachers Association is no pushover in district-union matters and its president, Henry Roman, has yet to confirm he’s attending the February conference.

“I think it’s always a good idea to have conversations about how we can improve the work we’re currently doing in DPS, because the working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students,” he said late Monday. “We’re definitely willing to be a part.”

But the union and district are beginning some tough conversations about contract changes to article 13, which governs teacher assignments and transfers. Roman said there’s disagreement about the implementation of the educator effectiveness law, particularly in its changes for teachers unable to find jobs without district placement help.

The new law limits how long teachers with more than three years of experience can remain on a district’s payroll if something happens at their current school – such as an enrollment decline – and they can’t secure a position elsewhere. Denver union and district leaders disagree on when that clock is supposed to start, Roman said.

“The law is very open to interpretation,” he said. “We have to know the bottom line about this issue by Jan. 15,” in time for the spring staffing cycle for 2011-12.

The outcome of the talks will determine whether he attends the labor-management conference, Roman said, or begins preparing for court to seek a declaratory judgment on the “mutual consent” portion of the educator effectiveness law.

What’s on tap:

Tonight, Aurora Public Schools board members continue their conversation about changing graduation requirements, including adding a year of math and allowing students more freedom in choosing their electives. Changes would likely be effective with the Class of 2015. Board action on the issue is slated at their next meeting, Jan. 18. We’re still waiting for that handy link to the proposed changes and we’ll post it as soon as we get it. Meanwhile, here’s the full agenda for tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting, which includes minutes from the last board discussion about the issue. The meeting is at the usual place, 1085 Peoria St.

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.