sharpening the image

Details emerging about turnaround schools' leadership, hiring

More details are emerging about how “turnaround” is proceeding at 26 schools still slated to undergo the controversial overhaul process.

For a month, the department has been informing principals of some of the schools that they would be removed at the end of the school year or even sooner. Now their replacements are making their first appearances at the schools, and teachers are starting to learn about the schedule for the rehiring process that could cost up to half of them their positions.

Teachers at Newtown High School found out this week that their longtime principal, John Ficalora, would be replaced by Marisol Bradbury. Bradbury has been working in school support at the Department of Education for the last several years but led a small high school in Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant Preparatory High School, before that.

A proposed principal for the school that would replace Long Island City High School toured the building yesterday with the superintendent, according to teachers there. The city’s choice to take over is Vivian Selenikas, Long Island City’s current network leader. Selenikas led the High School for Arts and Business in Queens from 2003 to 2007 and will replace Maria Mamo-Vacacela, who does not actually have to be removed under turnaround rules.

And at Flushing High School, teachers and families have been invited to a “meet and greet” with Magdalen Radovich on April 25, the day before the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the turnaround plans. Radovich is currently an assistant principal at Queens Vocational Career and Technical High School. The city decided not use turnaround at Queens Vocational, where a residency program has been training teachers to work in turnaround schools.

Teachers at Flushing have been told that they will have to start interviewing to keep their jobs the same day that the PEP is set to vote on — and presumably approve — the turnaround plans, according to a teacher there. The teacher said the leadership change is welcome but ill-timed and unlikely to yield optimal results.

“I’m optimistic the leadership will be better, but the whole turnaround plan is a mess in general and the timing of this announcement just makes things worse,” the teacher said. “It’s impossible to plan for next year this way and nearly impossible to program 3,000+ kids if we dont start until after July 1, not to mention the fate of all the programs and fall student activities in clubs is up in the air.”

The teacher added, “We are supposed to begin interviewing for our jobs starting [April] 26th which makes it hard for teachers to focus on prepping for Regents exams. Also, this whole thing makes it incredibly difficult for the new principal to succeed when she has to walk into such a mess with no time to plan.”

Nick Lung-Bugenski, a Long Island City teacher who is active in the United Federation of Teachers, said he thought the timing of his principal’s replacement was “despicable” because of its timing shortly before spring break and a public hearing about the turnaround plan scheduled for the following week.

“Doing this two school days before we have our meeting on the 17th — I see this as trying to undermine all the voices of our school community,” he said.

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.