Tuesday Churn: DPS may go to voters

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Another large metro-area school district is weighing whether to ask voters for more money in November.

Monday, members of a citizens group studying the need for additional dollars in Denver Public Schools urged board members to consider a $457 million bond issue to build schools and repair aging buildings plus a $49 million annual increase in operating dollars, partly to boost art and music in grades 6-12 and increase preschool seats.

DPS board members aren’t expected to vote on placing those tax increases on the ballot until later this summer. According to DPS calculations, approval of the recommended ballot initiatives would cost another $12 per month – or $143 a year – for the owner of a “typical” Denver home valued at $225,000.

School boards for Jefferson County Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District already have approved ballot measures for their voters to consider this fall. Presidential-year elections tend to produce more crowded ballots since they typically produce higher numbers of voters willing to approve tax increases, according to past research by the Colorado Association of School Executives.

Cherry Creek is seeking voter approval for a $125 million bond issue and a $25 million increase in operating expenses. Jefferson County is asking for a $99 million bond issue and a $39 million increase in operating expenses. Several other districts are mulling ballot plans.

DPS last went to voters in 2008, when they responded by approving what was then the largest school district bond issue ever sought in Colorado – $454 million. The big number didn’t deter Denver voters, who approved the request by a 2-1 ratio.

The $457 million bond issue recommended Monday calls for five new schools, most in the city’s growing Far Northeast, plus renovations and expansions at existing buildings such as the renovation of the former Byers Middle School.

DPS officials, in a press release issued Monday evening, say state funding has dropped $800 per student since 2009-10, from $7,672 per student that year to $6,872 in 2012-13. Meanwhile, the district’s enrollment by more than 8,400 students in four years and is projected to grow another 5,000 to 6,000 students by 2016.

“Our work to prioritize these investments has been difficult, yet we have collectively developed a bond and mill-levy override package that will provide desperately needed resources to support every DPS student,” said Terrance Carroll, the former Speaker of the state House of Representatives who served as a committee co-chair.

See the DPS press release containing a link to the 35-slide presentation to board members, which includes details about the proposed ballot questions and lists committee members. DPS also has a website listing information about the 2012 community process and the 2008 bond program.

What’s on tap:

The Boulder Valley board today has a 4:30 p.m. special executive session scheduled to discuss personnel matters. The meeting’s at district offices at 6500 Arapahoe in Boulder.

The Douglas County board meets at 5 p.m. today at 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. The agenda lists a resolution in support of permanent open contract negotiations with the district teachers’ union but the resolution itself was not available late Monday.

The budget is on the agenda for the 6 p.m. Aurora board meeting at the Professional Learning and 
Conference Center,
 15771 E. 1st Ave. Agenda.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Turnaround in NYC: More than 3,500 staffers in New York City’s 24 “turnaround” schools received pink slips Monday, their official notification that they’re not assured of their positions next year. has the story.

Teaching online: In case you missed it, the non-profit Hechinger Report and Time magazine collaborated on a June 13 story about the challenges facing online educators, focusing on a teacher who works for the 21st Century Learning Academy in Jefferson County and who previously worked for the Colorado Online Virtual Academy.

The EdNews’ Churn is a roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education, published during the summer as news warrants. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at [email protected]

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.