Thursday Churn: New start date?

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

A potential new start date for the Denver Public Schools will be under discussion today as a task force examining the feasibility of a later kickoff to the school year prepares its findings, which will be presented to school board members on Monday.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg has said he was open to a discussion about revising the calendar following an unusually hot August. This year some schools started Aug. 10 and the rest on Aug. 18. The hot spell, combined with the fact that many classrooms lack air conditioning, caused several students and staff to be treated for heat-related illnesses.

DPS launched the task force in October, and that group held a series of public meetings throughout the district in November. It also sponsored a public survey in English and Spanish.

Denver’s Get Smart Schools is celebrating after being recognized as one of the country’s six top charter incubators, according to a report released Wednesday by Public Impact. The report, Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector, was prepared by Public Impact for the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The report focuses on “incubation” as a key strategy in improving the nation’s charter schools, defining the term as “the strategic recruitment, selection, and training of promising leaders, and the support of those leaders as they launch or expand new charter schools in cities or specific geographic regions.” Get Smart Schools, founded in Denver in 2008, has goals of preparing 85 new school leaders by 2020 and creating more than 50 new autonomous schools in that same time.

“I think we’re really honored to be included in the company of organizations such as New Schools and the Mind Trust, which we think are really well-established, promising organizations,” said Amy Slothower, executive director of Get Smart Schools. “It’s exciting for us to be presented as peers.”

Read the full report here.

The Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System approved a $124.5 million bond package that includes upgrades to classroom and learning facilities for students in agriculture; a new, state-of-the-art undergraduate housing facility for more than 600 students, and renovation of the 50-year-old Lory Student Center.

Students have voted to increase their fees to pay for the majority of the Lory renovation, and students who live in the new housing development will pay for that facility. The total bond package approved Wednesday includes:

  • $7.5 million for a partial renovation of the Animal Sciences Building to prepare the building for future expansion and enhancement
  • $60 million for the student center renovation
  • $57 million for the new housing development and renovation of the existing Durrell Center

More detail is available on the CSU web site here.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Harrison Superintendent Mike Miles has been named Colorado Springs’ “Civic Innovator of the Year.” The Center for the Study of Government and the Individual each year honors community members who have made a difference in Colorado Springs. Story

“The Middle School Freak Out” is the annual hunt by parents looking for the best educational options for their children. Colorado Public Radio reporter Jenny Brundin visited the Denver Expo, where middle and high schools could showcase their education wares and hand out “schwag” meant to entice conversations and sell their programs. Story

The Colorado Association of School Boards annual convention at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs regularly raises questions about the appropriateness of such a plush setting in tight budget times. This year, the controversy is brewing in Greeley. Story

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.