Thursday Churn: The end is near

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What’s churning

Lawyers in the Lobato case told Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport on Wednesday that they’ll be able to finish the trial as scheduled on Friday.

Things seemed to drag a bit in recent days but got back on schedule with a day of mostly routine testimony Wednesday by Department of Education staffers and one former legislator.

Today’s witness list for the state looks livelier – education Commissioner Robert Hammond; Matt Gianneschi, deputy director of the Department of Higher Education; Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, who has a long background in school finance; and John Andrews, the GOP former Senate president who now heads a conservative think tank. (Check Twitter today for EdNews updates on the testimony.)

Lawyers for the two sets of plaintiffs promised they’ll finish rebuttal witnesses by midday Friday, leaving the afternoon for closing arguments.

One witness who won’t be testifying is former GOP Sen. Norma Anderson of Jefferson County, who also has deep school finance knowledge. Anderson recently contacted the attorney general’s office, saying she wanted to testify to set the record straight about creation of the school finance law in 1994.

Rappaport on Wednesday denied the AG’s motion to let Anderson testify, essentially saying the deadlines for witness notification were long past and that Anderson’s potential testimony didn’t look important enough to waive those deadlines. (See the EdNews archive of Lobato stories.)

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Jan. 11 signed an executive order creating the Education Leadership Council to advise him on education issues. On Thursday, the 38 members of the panel were announced.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, as announced earlier, will chair the panel, which includes lots of familiar faces, including education Commissioner Robert Hammond, Colorado Commission on Higher Education chairman Hereford Percy, Jane Goff from the State Board of Education, legislative education committee chairs Bob Bacon and Tom Massey plus state Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, DPS board member Nate Easley, superintendents Mike Miles of Harrison and John Barry of Aurora, community college chief Nancy McCallin, CU President Bruce Benson, CSU Chancellor Joe Blake, former DU head Dan Ritchie and Metro President Steve Jordan.

We could go on, but you can read the full list here.

Some in the charter school world reportedly are unhappy with the list, which includes only one member with a charter background, David Greenberg of the Denver School of Science and Technology.

The council has been compared to the P-20 Education Coordinating Council that advised former Gov. Bill Ritter. The council’s work led in part to the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. Trying to remember who was on that panel? See the membership list here.

The Legislative Council, the group of House and Senate leaders that manages legislative business and has some other functions, met Wednesday to approve the language that will go in the 2011 blue book, the ballot-measure guide that will be sent to voters before the Nov. 1 election.

There’s only one ballot measure this year – Proposition 103. That plan would raise state income and sales taxes for five years to provide extra money for schools and colleges (get background here).

Tax hikes, of course, are a partisan flash point. While the panel approved the blue book language (see text), party leaders issued dueling news releases praising and blasting the measure.

In case you missed it, the DU Center for Colorado’s Economic Future on Wednesday issued the second installment of its study of state finances, and the projections are worse than those in the first installment. Get details and links in the Wednesday Churn.

What’s on tap:

Jefferson County school board members hold their first regular meeting of the new school year at 6 p.m., district headquarters, 1829 Denver West Drive in Golden. Agenda

Good reads from elsewhere:

Confessions of a bad teacher – John Owens left a successful publishing career to teach in a New York City public school. “I thought I could do some good. I am a middle-aged white guy from the suburbs, but I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy. I’m good with kids, and I love literature.” He didn’t last a year, and it wasn’t because of the kids.

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.