diversity push

New citywide campaign tries to attract minority educators to Denver

Santoya Baxter, visiting from Georgia, is in Denver this weekend considering becoming a teacher in DPS. Here, she talks to television news cameras after she and other teaching candidates met with Mayor Michael Hancock. (Photo by Melanie Asmar)

A joint effort introduced Friday involving Denver Public Schools, the mayor’s office, charter school operators and others aims to sell the city to minority educators, part of a push to build a more diverse workforce that better reflects the student population.

The two-year campaign is called Make Your Mark Denver. It pitches prospective teachers and principals on the opportunity to make a difference in narrowing the district’s race- and income-based achievement gaps while living in a growing city that’s become a magnet for millennials.

The collaborative effort has several pieces, including a recruitment showcase underway this weekend and a mentoring program, both building on DPS efforts begun last year. The goal is to recruit more than 70 “exceptional” teachers of color and 10 principals or school leaders of color, district officials said.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and DPS Acting Superintendent Susana Cordova, both products of DPS schools, spoke Friday to 15 top minority teaching candidates, with the media invited. The prospective hires are in town for DPS’s second Mile High Showcase, a three-day whirlwind including school visits, a job fair, a Nuggets basketball game and dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

Speaking from experience

Cordova told the candidates that as a city with an African-American mayor and a Latina superintendent of schools, Denver is “ready for change.” Cordova said that in all her time as a DPS student, she only knew three teachers of color and was only ever taught by one of them.

“Not only did that create for me some real dissonance in terms of what did it mean to grow up as Latina in the city and never see anyone who looked like me, it created a lot of work I needed to go through in terms of what is my pathway forward,” she said.

Hancock focused on selling Denver, calling it “the new hip city that people want to live in.” He highlighted the ways in which the city supports the schools, including the Denver Preschool Program, a tax approved by Denver voters that provides tuition assistance to 4-year-olds.

Last year, 18 candidates took part in the district’s minority recruitment showcase and 14 landed jobs in DPS, said Cindy Eisenberg, the district’s senior manager of teacher pipeline and recruitment.

Since the publication of this story, DPS has provided more information. Three of those teachers have resigned from the district, and one of the three took a job at a charter school, a district official said.

Denver still has a long way to go to diversify its teaching corps. In a district of 91,500 students, where the majority of kids are Latino, 74 percent of teachers this year are white. Seventeen percent are Latino, 4 percent are black, 3 percent are categorized as “multiple ethnicity” and 2 percent are Asian.

Those numbers don’t include teachers at charter schools, which hire their own staff.

By comparison, 56 percent of DPS students are Latino, 14 percent are black, 3 percent are Asian and 0.6 percent are American Indian. Twenty-three percent of students are white.

Challenges and selling points

Some barriers to recruiting teachers of color are not unique to Denver. Nationally, “we don’t have great diversity within teacher education programs,” said Debbie Hearty, DPS’s chief human resources officer. She said DPS’s commitment to native-language instruction in Spanish is one selling point for minority job applicants. DPS plans another, larger minority candidate showcase in May.

Cordova alluded to another potential hurdle to attracting candidates to Denver — the city’s spiraling housing costs.

“In addition to being an ‘it,’ hip city, Denver is becoming a much more expensive city,” she said.

A 2014 state-commissioned report on minority teacher representation in Colorado identified other challenges. Those included negative perceptions of the teaching profession among minorities, low salaries, barriers for minority students in attending and completing college, college costs and the challenges of relocation.

Job candidates in town for DPS’s latest recruitment push asked questions and shared a bit about why they came in their meeting Friday with Cordova and Hancock. One said she likes that DPS values bilingualism, which wasn’t her own experience growing up Spanish-speaking in Texas.

Jaleen Ross was visiting from Georgia, where he’ll graduate with a teaching degree next month. Ross, who is African-American, said he came to Denver after meeting a DPS recruiter at a job fair. Before then, he said he’d never heard of Denver Public Schools.

Ross believes it’s important for kids of color to be taught by people who look like them.

“You find inspiration and you see that success, like ‘if they can make it, I can too,’” he said.

Research bears that out. A 2004 study from Stanford showed that math and reading scores improved for Tennessee students whose race was the same as their teacher’s, particularly for poor black students. Two other studies published the following year showed black and Hispanic teachers could help black and Hispanic students make greater gains on tests than white teachers.

Charters join the effort

The participation in the campaign of a half-dozen charter school operators — part of Denver’s nationally recognized “portfolio” strategy that includes district-run, charter and innovation schools — is an additional wrinkle.

Chris Gibbons, founder and CEO of STRIVE Prep charter schools, said that not surprisingly, school operators often compete with each other to recruit teachers of color.

“This is an example where we can better market the city by working together and coming together to say, ‘This is the place to be to come and make an impact,'” he said.

This school year, STRIVE’s network staff is 76 percent white, about 15 percent Latino and 5 percent black, with the balance being people of multiple races and other races, Gibbons said. He said STRIVE — which primarily educates low-income Latino students — is building “its entire recruitment strategy” at local and national universities around attracting more Latino teachers.

The largest DPS-based charter network, DSST, did not provide as precise a breakdown. A network spokesman said 80 percent of the network’s staff is white; 41 percent of DSST’s hires this year identify as people of color, and 34 percent of staff hired last year did. That covers full-time employees including teachers and leadership.

A half-dozen local and national private foundations are contributing $150,000 to the Make Your Mark Denver campaign, with DPS committing $30,000, DPS said. The mayor’s office is the organizing entity, said Hearty, of DPS.

Hearty said the outcomes of the effort will play a role in whether it will continue beyond the initial two-year commitment.

Editor’s note: The private foundations involved in the Make Your Mark Denver campaign also have financially supported Chalkbeat. They are: The Carson Foundation, Denver Foundation, Donnell-Kay Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Rose Community Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. 

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.