pushing back

Legacy HS supporters rally against closure, beg for more time

Parents, students, and staff gathered to show support for Legacy

Carolyn Blackette wasn’t thrilled when she first found out her daughter would be attending Legacy High School for Integrated Studies because of its reputation. Blackette’s daughter had been assigned to the school after not getting into any of her high school choices, so Blackette marched down to the Department of Education to protest. A DOE employee convinced her that it was a good school and moving in the right direction under new leadership. Still skeptical, Blackette went to orientation — and fell in love with Legacy.

Within the first four months of school, she has received a personal call from the principal to make sure her daughter was adjusting comfortably, had frequent correspondences with teachers about her daughter’s performance, and witnessed her daughter welcomed into a warm school environment.

“I’ve been through the system before,” Blackette said, having put several other children through public schools. “I’ve never seen them take such interest in a child.”

With such an overwhelmingly positive experience, Blackette was shocked – as were other Legacy parents and students – to hear the school was placed on the chopping block last week when the DOE proposed its phaseout.

On Wednesday night, Thomas Fox, a DOE official that works with a number of schools including Legacy, facilitated a public hearing on Legacy’s proposed phaseout. As soon as parents and students caught wind of the event, they mobilized to rally – painting black and red “Save Legacy” tees, posting fliers around the school, making phone calls to bring in the troops. Approximately 100 staff members, students, and parents filled the cafeteria to hear what Fox would say and to push back. 

Fox explained that data had been accumulated over the last ten years and that between low rates of graduation, credit accumulation, and enrollment in four-year colleges, Legacy has displayed “long-standing problems.” Last year, Legacy received an “F” on the Department of Education’s progress report.

Parents and students insisted that the data didn’t represent the current climate at Legacy. They questioned why data that reflects previous leadership is being used to penalize the present leadership. Joan Mosely took the post of principal last year, and students and parents gushed about the positive changes they have seen in the school since.

A handout organized by school supporters highlighted some of these changes, including strengthened ties with college preparatory and drop-out prevention programs, increased regents rates, and – in a push to help students who struggled to attain a diploma in the past – a twenty point increase in six-year graduation rates.

Four-year graduation rates, however, did drop.

“I don’t want any of you to take this personally because it’s not a reflection on you, it’s not a reflection on Ms. Mosely,” Fox responded.

But parents and students said they do take it personally.

“The students of Legacy who wake up every morning, who come here every day should have a say,” one young lady said. “Honestly, honestly – parents and students tell me if I’m wrong – but the turn around here has been dramatic.”

Blackette told me that the school has started using a “buddy system” to match up students to commute to and from school together. A senior spoke on the Pix 11 morning news about having a “graduation coach” who is helping her fulfill her vision.

Rosa Alejandro, the parent of a sophomore who transferred to Legacy this year, told me that her daughter has found a home in this school. “Transferring here helped her become more comfortable with who she is,” Alejandro said “She’s finally found a place where she felt she belonged and that’s why I fight.”

Alejandro said she is disheartened that the DOE won’t give the principal time to continue moving the school in the right direction. She said the closure dampens student morale and makes them feel “not worthy enough” and “not important enough.”

Fox assured families that the students currently enrolled would be able to continue attending Legacy until graduation, and he said that they would receive support as the school was phased out. This too, was of little comfort to families.

“They’re going to phase out the teachers, the budget’s going to keep getting shorter and shorter, and so they’re going to sit there like bumps on a log for the next three years and not really have a high school experience,” Blackette told me. She said instead of phasing in a new school as Legacy closes, the DOE should let the present students and administration benefit from a fresh start: “Why don’t we do that now? Just change the name of the school and start all over with all new data.”

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.