mid-year adjustment

Principal of charter school housed at Tweed resigns abruptly

Innovate Manhattan Charter School students at recess outside Tweed Courthouse

The three-month-old charter school that ex-Chancellor Joel Klein invited into the Department of Education’s headquarters is without a principal after Eileen Coppola resigned abruptly last week.

“I was very surprised,” said Miles Merwin, the vice chair of the school’s board of trustees who accepted Coppola’s resignation.

In a letter sent home with students yesterday, Coppola is quoted as saying that the job had proved harder than she anticipated. “As the mother of two young children I found the job to be too demanding on my time and it began to interfere with my ability to take care of my children,” the letter quoted her as saying.

Peg Hoey, the director of the nonprofit that operates Innovate Manhattan, will serve as the school’s head until a replacement for Coppola is found, Merwin said. Before working to open Innovate Manhattan, Hoey was the special education director at New Heights Academy Charter School and was on the founding teams at Opportunity and Equality charter schools.

Coppola, who had traveled to Sweden earlier this year to receive training about the school’s student-directed curriculum, did not respond to requests for an interview today.

But Merwin said the school year had shaped up to be full of surprises — for board members, students, and Coppola. For one thing, he said, administrators rapidly became real estate prospectors when the DOE announced the school would have to move next year to make way for a new school, the Peck Slip School. Plus, 30 percent of the first crop of students came with Individualized Education Plans, meaning that administrators had to shift their staffing and instructional thinking to offer more special education support. And Coppola also had to take on unanticipated additional tasks, at least temporarily, Merwin said.

He said the board would seek an immediate replacement for Coppola and would likely involve parents in the search process. Members of the board are set to discuss the school’s twin challenges — leadership and location — at a meeting tonight, he said.

“We’re not looking for anything different,” he said. “I think Eileen is a very, very smart, dedicated woman and educator. … She was liked by the staff. She was liked by the students.”

It was the second resignation in just over a year for Coppola, who resigned as principal of the prestigious Hunter College High School in 2010 amid tensions over the school’s lack of racial diversity. Between leaving that position and beginning at Innovate Manhattan, she worked at the New Visions nonprofit, which supports dozens of city schools, according to her profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

Merwin, a self-proclaimed “neophyte” in the charter school world who works in human resources for a magazine publisher, said the board would also seek new members to help manage the monumental task of managing the school. Of the eight board members listed on the school’s website, one left after taking a position with an advocacy organization.

“I am amazed at the amount of time that teachers and the staff put into the school,” he said. “Being a schoolteacher for two years was one of the hardest jobs I ever had and in this charter school it is even harder.”

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.