New York

A city charter schools exec will be state ed deputy

In a move that’s sure to raise the eyebrows of charter school skeptics, the state has named an executive from a city charter school organization as its number-two education official.

John King, currently the managing director of an Uncommon Schools network here in the city, will next month become the State Education Department’s deputy commissioner focusing on elementary and secondary schools, the state announced today. In that job, he’ll “lead the state’s school reform efforts,” according to the department’s press release. King will start his new job Oct. 5, four days after David Steiner takes over as state education commissioner. King is replacing Johanna Duncan-Poitier, who is heading off to SUNY, where she’ll lead an effort to develop a “pipeline” that serves students from early children through college and beyond.

Here’s the state’s press release about King’s appointment:

STATE BOARD OF REGENTS APPOINTS DEPUTY COMMISSIONER TO LEAD EDUCATION REFORM EFFORT

The State Board of Regents today announced the appointment of Dr. John B. King, Jr. as Senior Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education.  In his position, King will lead the State’s school reform efforts.  He will begin State service on October 5, 2009.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said, “John King is a nationally recognized education leader with a proven track record of lifting student achievement, particularly for low-income minority students in urban settings. His goal is always the same – ensuring that the students in his care are prepared for college-level work and productive careers.”

“New York’s children, teachers, and schools are fortunate to have John King assume this important leadership position,” said Education Commissioner-elect David M. Steiner, who will begin service as Commissioner on October 1, 2009.  Steiner added, “Students have thrived at the schools John King has overseen. And I know he will bring the same commitment to educational excellence to all of New York’s children in his new role at the Education Department.”   

King said, “I look forward to working with teachers, school leaders, parents, and all of those throughout the State who are interested in raising student achievement. The Regents have set an aggressive reform agenda and I am thrilled to work with them and Commissioner-elect Steiner to accelerate the progress already underway.”

John King has been recognized across the State and the nation for providing results-driven educational leadership. As co-founder and co-director of the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston, he developed an instructional program and school culture that provided not only the academic skills but also the self-discipline and character essential for success in high school and college.  Under John King’s leadership, Roxbury Prep’s students attained the highest state exam scores of any urban middle school in Massachusetts, closed the racial achievement gap, and outperformed students from not only the Boston district schools but the city’s affluent suburbs.  One hundred percent of the school’s students are Black or Latino, over 70% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and all of its graduates matriculate to college preparatory high schools; 80 percent of the school’s graduates who are now college-age are persisting in college. 

In his current role as Managing Director with Uncommon Schools, a non-profit charter management organization that operates schools in New York and New Jersey, Dr. King has continued to improve educational outcomes for low-income students in urban settings. In 2009, 98 percent of grade 3-8 students in the New York State Uncommon Schools network scored at Level 3 or 4 on the State math assessments, compared with 86 percent of all New York students and 82 percent of New York City students. In addition, 89 percent of the New York State Uncommon Schools grade 3-8 students scored at Level 3 or 4 on the State’s English Language Arts assessments, compared with 77 percent at the State level and 69 percent in New York City.   

A former high school history teacher from a family of New York City public school educators, John King is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College. Additionally, he holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and both an M.A. in the Teaching of Social Studies and an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University. He has served on the board of New Leaders for New Schools, the nationally recognized principal training program, and is an Aspen Institute-NewSchools Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Fellow.  

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.