Process of elimination

City says it has started letting schools know they risk closure

Some schools who pulled low grades on the progress reports handed out last week are already getting notice that the city is seriously worried about their performance.

Department of Education officials have identified 20 schools — 11 with middle school grades and 12 in Brooklyn alone — for “early engagement conversations” that could lead either to closure or another lease on life. This is the second year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year’s notice comes even earlier than last year, by a few weeks.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve. But in starting the early conversations, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the DOE deputy chancellor in charge of school closures.

So far, the DOE has sent letters to elected officials in the schools’ districts, the districts’ elected parent councils, and their superintendents. Next, principals and DOE officials will jointly begin holding a series of meetings with families and teachers to discuss each individual schools’ options.

“We’ll take the feedback into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success, and continue to work with all of our schools to ensure that students have access to high quality options,” Sternberg said in a statement.

One principal, whose school received an F on its progress report, said she was “shocked and humiliated” when she found out her school would be listed publicly.

“Even though the F grade implies that we’re failing, we’re certainly not a failing school and we’re not failing our children,” the principal said.Eleven of the schools are middle schools or include middle school grades, signaling where the department could start making room for some of the 50 new middle schools it plans to open in the next two years.

The schools represent only a small fraction of those with progress report scores low enough to put them on the chopping block. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or below — this year, 116 schools — can be closed, according to the DOE’s guidelines.

Some of those schools have little reason to worry. Schools that are at full enrollment or even over capacity, such as P.S. 148 in Queens, are rarely closed. And other schools have had good grades in the past, so the department is likely to put them on notice but not out of existence. P.S. 112 in the Bronx, for example, had A’s on the two progress reports before this year’s, when it got a D. And schools with brand new principals, such as P.S. 161 in Brooklyn, are also not likely to be shut down.

Other schools with low progress reports are charter schools authorized by the state, which the city legally cannot close.

But schools not on the list of 20 could still wind up fighting for their existence as the city makes decisions about which schools to replace with new schools. And the department has not yet turned its attention toward high schools, whose progress reports will come out next month.

The schools undergoing early conversations:

P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein, Manhattan
P.S. 277, Bronx
New Millennium Business Academy, Bronx
Ms 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
Aspire Preparatory Middle School, Bronx
Satellite Three, Brooklyn
P.S. 256 Benjamin Banneker, Brooklyn
Knowledge And Power Preparatory Academy, Brooklyn
P.S. 019 Roberto Clemente, Brooklyn
P.S. 022, Brooklyn
P.S. 161 The Crown, Brooklyn
Middle School For The Arts, Brooklyn
I.S. 171 Abraham Lincoln, Brooklyn
P.S. 298 Dr. Betty Shabazz, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Elementary School, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School, Brooklyn
P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott, Queens
P.S. 181 Brookfield, Queens
P.S. 014 Cornelius Vanderbilt, Staten Island
J.H.S. 296 The Halsey School, Brooklyn

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.