Colorado

DPS SchoolChoice plan set to go

The Denver Public Schools’ new streamlined “one form, one timeline, all schools” enrollment system now has the participation of every charter school in the district.

The system, which the district is branding as SchoolChoice, will replace what DPS said was a welter of more than 60 different enrollment and wait-list processes and is designed to eliminate confusion and ensure equity in district-wide enrollment.

“For too long, this process has been a cumbersome one for families,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg stated in his current newsletter. “We needed to do a better job of making the process of selecting a school simple, user-friendly and fair; SchoolChoice does just that by condensing the process down to one piece of paper and one timeline.”

DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn added, “A family’s first choice should always be the school in their neighborhood, but if that’s not the right fit, we want to create a simple and equitable support system to help those families find and enroll in the school that’s best for their child.”

Until recently it was uncertain whether all of the 35 charter schools in the DPS system would take part in SchoolChoice. The district now has a commitment from every charter to participate.

SchoolChoice is being implemented with outreach support led by the nonprofit Get Smart Schools, which is coordinating a coalition of community organizations that will assist in efforts to publicize the new enrollment program.

Under SchoolChoice, families of children in the transitional years – those entering kindergarten and those in fifth and eighth grades – will be asked to complete a form no later than Jan. 31, listing five schools in exact order of preference. The district will endeavor to place each student in his or her highest-listed preferred school, and every child will be guaranteed a seat at their neighborhood school.

DPS has revised its enrollment guides to include detailed profiles of every school and has translated them into Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic. They are being distributed to every transition-grade student, with extra copies available at every school.

The outreach effort is seen as critical to introducing the new enrollment process to district parents, as there are 137 languages and dialects spoken in the district. The top seven are English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Karen, Burmese and Somali.

The district is hosting five SchoolChoice informational expos in the first two weeks of December. Here’s the schedule:

  • Far Northeast Denver Regional School Expo – Dec. 3, 10 a.m. – noon; Evie Dennis Campus
  • Southeast Denver Regional School Expo – Dec. 3, 10 a.m. – noon; Merrill Middle School
  • Southwest Denver Regional School Expo – Dec. 3, 9 – 11 a.m.; Lincoln High School
  • Near Northeast Denver Regional School Expo – Dec. 6, 6-8 p.m.; Bruce Randolph Middle/High School
  • Northwest Denver Regional School Expo – Dec 10, 9-11 a.m.; North High School

SchoolChoice forms will be available on Dec. 1 at any DPS school or online. They can be turned in at any school or at the DPS administration building, 900 Grant St.

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.