who should rule the schools

For a broker of mayoral control, opposition from constituents

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

In the part of the city represented in Albany by the man who helped give control of the city schools to Mayor Bloomberg, both community boards are asking lawmakers to take some of that power away.

Community Board 1, one of two boards in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s downtown Manhattan district, passed a set of resolutions last Tuesday that advise lawmakers to alter mayoral control in the city dramatically. In addition to calling on lawmakers to empower district parent councils and place checks on the mayor’s authority, CB 1 endorsed the recommendations put forth in March by the Parent Commission on School Governance. The Parent Commission, which draws its members from across the city, is calling on state lawmakers to slash the number of mayoral appointees to the city school board and shift more power to parents.

CB1’s set of resolutions got a couple of press mentions last week, at the same time as another community board resolution against the current form of mayoral control slipped under the radar. Members of Community Board 3, which covers Chinatown and the Lower East Side, voted unanimously (with one abstention) to endorse the Parent Commission’s recommendations. 

Together, CB 1 and CB 3 make up the entirety of Silver’s 64th Assembly District. With just eight weeks until state lawmakers’ deadline to decide what to do about mayoral control, the resolutions place Silver in the difficult position of having brokered the deal that gave Bloomberg control over the schools but representing politically engaged constituents who wish he hadn’t. Silver has said he thinks mayoral control should be renewed, but with some changes to give more voice to parents.

Leonie Haimson, a founding member of the Parent Commission, said the group did not begin with a grand strategy of putting pressure on key lawmakers. Instead, members are seeking to have the commission’s recommendations considered by community boards and school district parent councils throughout the city. “We’re doing outreach as quickly and efficiently as possible given that we have only a short time,” Haimson said. 

But with parents on the commission who have ties to the downtown Manhattan community boards, the group was happy to have its first endorsements come from the Assembly district of one of the key decision-makers in the school governance debate.   

“We were not ignorant of the fact that these are in Shelly Silver’s district,” Haimson told me.  

Haimson said members of CB 1 have asked for a meeting with Silver to explain their objections to mayoral control as it currently exists. And the Parent Commission’s recommendations are already on the agendas of several district parent councils, with other community boards also considering putting the recommendations up for an advisory vote, she said. 

The complete resolutions from both community boards are below.

Community Board 3 Resolution:

Whereas mayoral control is sunsetting June 30, 2009

Whereas the Parent commission on School Governance and Mayoral Control has presented a comprehensive structure for parental input

Whereas under mayoral control there has been a lack of parental and educator input in the New York City education system

Be it resolved, that Manhattan Community Board 3 endorses the principles, goals, and proposals of the Parent Commission, to create a governance system distinguished by an educational partnership between the Mayor, parents and educators who together would endeaver strive toward consensus in the effort to improve our schools.

Community Board 1 Resolutions

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.