school choice

Harlem parents say they want their local schools shut down

A group of parents is sharply criticizing the Department of Education for backing away from its decision to shut down struggling neighborhood elementary schools, saying Mayor Bloomberg should “take a hard line” and turn over the buildings to be used as charter schools.

The parents, who are zoned to have their children attend two of the schools that would have been closed and replaced with charter schools, said that they want the mayor to shut the schools down because the schools are dirty, dangerous, and filled with teachers who are “just there for a paycheck.”

“I live across the street from 194,” one mother, Melissia Daley, wrote of P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school that would have been closed under the city’s original plan. “Although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me and my child, I wouldn’t even try to put my child in there because the children are well behind in grade.”

“If they are closing 241 to put a better school in its place, then they should do that,” one parent, Martinique Owens, said, of another Harlem school, P.S. 241, in a similar situation.

Their statements came in a press release issued this afternoon by a spokeswoman for the Harlem Success Academy network of charter schools, Jenny Sedlis. Two Harlem Success schools were planning to become the sole occupants of the P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 buildings after those schools closed. Those schools will have to continue sharing space with district elementary schools next year.

Representatives of the Harlem Success network called parents registered for next week’s admission lottery, told them that the charter schools were being threatened by government action, and asked them to attend a meeting today about the conflict, according to Cherokee Rivero, a mother who has entered her son in the lottery that determines who gets into Harlem Success.

Rivero estimated that about 40 parents turned out for the meeting, where they wrote short statements about why they didn’t want their children to attend their zoned school. “If it takes me to write this letter to get something better for my son, then I will,” Rivero, who attended PS 194 herself from 1994 to 2000, told me tonight.

The release attacks the teachers union for filing a lawsuit opposing the DOE’s plan to replace the two elementary schools with charter schools. The lawsuit was initiated by the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Its plaintiffs included several community members not otherwise associated with the union, as well as the union’s president, Randi Weingarten. The union and parents alleged that the DOE’s bid to replace the schools represented an illegal alteration of school zone lines.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” a mother named Melissa Anderson, whose child is zoned for P.S. 241, said in a statement.

Weingarten responded today in an interview with Elizabeth, accusing the founder of Harlem Success, the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, of devolving into personal attack. Moskowitz took on labor unions in council hearings, and then lost a run for Manhattan borough president after Weingarten’s union organized against her. “Let her run great schools and do great things for kids, and let me do great things for kids,” Weingarten said. “But this nonsense that the only way to elevate herself is to bring other people down: she should be above that.”

The entire press release is after the jump:

Harlem Parents to Mayor Bloomberg: Get Real, Close These Failing Schools!

NEW YORK, NY – April 2, 2009 – More than 175 parents of students in the attendance area of two failing Harlem schools demanded today that the schools be shut down by Mayor Bloomberg.

“My son attends P.S. 194. He comes home unhappy everyday. P.S. 194 has taken his joy,” said Janet Walker, mom of Nasir. “I want a new chance for him to get his joy back. He deserves a better education.”

The parents, whose children are zoned to attend P.S. 241 and P.S. 194 came to several meetings at Harlem Success Academy to talk about how to keep their kids from having to attend the two failing schools.

Both failing schools have been targeted by the Department of Education for closure, but the move has been opposed by the powerful United Federation of Teachers, which filed a lawsuit to protect employees at the unpopular public schools. In addition to demanding action from Mayor Bloomberg, the parents argued that the UFT does not represent their interests, calling it shameful that the union would so blatantly attempt to keep children in substandard academic environments just to save teacher jobs.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” said Melissa Anderson, mother of a child zoned for P.S. 241.

The parents took aim at attempts by the UFT to pretend it was speaking for parents in the name of “saving public education” when all the union was doing was driving families to have to pay for private schools for their children.

“I’m tired of these special interests claiming they represent me. Did the teachers union ask me if P.S. 241 should close? If they asked me, I would have said, yes, absolutely” said the mom of Emanuel Agbavitor, a first grader at P.S. 241. “I never get to see my child’s teacher, I don’t know how he’s doing in school and they don’t return my phone calls.”

Parents said if Mayor Bloomberg wants to be known as the education mayor, he can’t pander to the teachers union and must take a hard line against failure.

“The teachers union is trying to prevent a bad school from closing and me from sending my child to the school of my choice,” said Thiong Sall, mother of two children zoned for P.S. 241. “Mayor Bloomberg should not listen to the union and should instead listen to parents like me.”

“I live across the street from 194 and although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me, I wouldn’t put my child in there because the children are well behind,” said Melissa Haley. “I used to attend 194. I would prefer a school where it is not only clean which 194 isn’t, but also where there are teachers that are willing to see children get not 65% but 100%.”

“I feel good about them closing 194. Teachers are there just for a paycheck, not to help kids learn,” said Shamecca Davis, mother of Tytiana. “Children beat each other up and there are not enough supervisors.”

“If by closing P.S. 241 they can put something better in its place then it should definitely close,” said Martinique Owens, mother of a kindergartner zoned for P.S. 241.

“The school is not good. I had my oldest son in that school. The teachers yell at the students and don’t pay enough attention to the parents and students. I pulled my older son out and I will not send my younger one there” said Octavio Maldonado, parent of two children zoned for P.S. 241.

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.