from el diario

Advocates say they haven't heard from the DOE's "chief parent"

This story originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario, which supplied the translation.

The city’s school system has a new person in charge of helping the parents of the 1.1 million children in public schools. The problem is that many have not heard of him since he was appointed last July.

After three months in his role as “chief parent” of the New York City Department of Education, organizations that defend parents’ interests said they have not yet heard from Jesse Mojica and do not have knowledge of his plans to improve the troublesome relationship between the department and families throughout the city.

Mojica was recruited in July by new Chancellor Dennis Walcott to occupy the $138,000 a year position as executive director of the office of Family and Community Engagement.

Placida Rodriguez, from the parent action group Make the Road New York, an organization based in Queens and Brooklyn, expressed her dissatisfaction at the little attention Mojica has paid so far.

“Basically I have had no contact with Jesse Mojica,” said Rodriguez.“I think he at least should have communicated with different groups,” she added.

Marilu Rodriguez, community organizer for the organization Cypress Hills Advocates for Education in Brooklyn, has not heard from him either.

“The only thing I know is that he is not focusing on the needs of our schools and our children, he only follows the DOE’s orders. And at the same time, not only has the DOE not made unfair decisions, but they are also manipulated by Bloomberg,” Rodriguez said.

The emerging hostility from these leaders towards Mojica is an unexpected turn from the enthusiasm that followed his appointment, which was seen as an opportunity for Walcott — who became chancellor in April — to initiate a different approach towards parents, many of which are discontented with their limited participation in the design of school policies.

“I worked with Mojica for years when he was in the Bronx, and I know he is a strong advocate for parents, but since he gained this new position I have not spoken with him,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, one of the city’s main organizations advocating for parents education policy.

Jose Gonzalez, a member of the United Parents of Highbridge, in the Bronx, also expressed some dissatisfaction.

“I know how dedicated [Mojica] is and that he takes parent’s rights seriously,” said Gonzalez. “But I think that there has been no action yet, it’s a lot of talk. At the community level, the local level, we see inefficiency in parental involvement.”

“We still have not seen visible progress and no benefits,” added Gonzalez, who is bothered by what he calls violations of parental rights by some school principals.

Millie Bonilla, of the Coalition for Educational Justice, said she knew Mojica’s work in the Bronx and “his capacity to help parents” and that they are in talks to set up a meeting.

Repeated requests for interviews with Mojica, made beginning in July and until last week, have been ignored or rejected by the DOE.

Last Wednesday, however, Mojica accompanied Walcott to a meeting in a high school in Manhattan, to discuss how to improve communication between the DOE and parents, particularly in light of discontent stemming from the policy to close low-performing schools.

When asked during the meeting about his apparent disconnect with groups of parents, Mojica defended himself saying that although he was appointed in July, he officially began working on Aug. 23, and assured that he has met with various groups of parent leaders in schools in four boroughs and that he has plans to visit other in Staten Island, which he has yet to visit, he said.

El Diario is New York City’s oldest and largest Spanish-language newspaper. Read more education news from El Diario.

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.