Colorado

Barry says departure “very difficult”

John Barry, the retired Air Force major general who took over Aurora Public Schools in 2006, has announced he will leave the metro district’s top job at the end of June.

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry addressed the media at a press conference in August. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

“When I started in APS in 2006, I gave my word to the board of education that I would serve as superintendent for at least five years,” he said in an email sent late Monday to staff and community members. “This year, I will complete my seventh year.”

Barry said his decision is based partly on the fact that a majority of seats on the district’s seven-member governing board will be up election next November. Three of the people serving in those four seats are term-limited.

“There will be at least three and maybe four new BOE members elected next year,” Barry said. “Even though my contract was out to 2014, I would like the current experienced board to have the opportunity to select my successor.”

Barry became head of Colorado’s sixth-largest district, enrolling nearly 40,000 students, as part of a national trend to seek school system leaders from outside education circles. Many were popular, perhaps exemplified by retired U.S. Army Major General John Stanford of Seattle Public Schools, but others were less successful.

Barry’s tenure would seem to place him in the former group. Though he fought at times with union leadership and the district’s state test scores remain stubbornly low, more students are graduating from APS and fewer are dropping out.

In his email, Barry cites a number of accomplishments, including:

  • Aurora students have surpassed state increases in achievement rates for reading, writing, math and science every year since 2006
  • Aurora students have met or exceeded the state’s Median Growth Percentile in all subjects since 2006
  • District voters approved ballot measures for more money for schools in 2008 and earlier this month

In addition, Barry won accolades from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the district’s reaction to the Aurora theater shooting in July. By the district’s estimate, 150 former and current Aurora students, parents and staff were in the Century Aurora 16 theater when a heavily-armed lone gunman opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58 others.

Barry’s military background, which included service as a fighter pilot, leading the independent investigation into the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy and being in the Pentagon on 9/11, undoubtedly helped in formulating the district’s quick and detailed response plan.

“You may recall that I encourage staff to leave APS better than they found it,” Barry wrote to staff. “Although my decision has been a very difficult one to make, I want you to know I am proud of what our team has accomplished over these many years. I have been honored to serve as your superintendent … ”

The email doesn’t indicate Barry’s future plans, though he notes that he and his family will continue to live in Aurora – “after 26 moves in 30 years in the USAF, my goal is to never pack another box again” – and attend APS events, games and performances.

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.