reshuffling the deck

New mayoral appointees join the Panel for Educational Policy

Three mayoral appointees of the Panel for Educational Policy said their goodbyes on Wednesday at an otherwise uneventful monthly meeting. Tino Hernandez, the panel chair, briefly thanked Jeff Kay, Eduardo Martí and Joan Correale for serving on the PEP at a meeting that lasted just an hour.

Milton Williams, Rosemarie Maldonado, and Jeanette Moy are replacing them on the panel, which is tasked with approving school closures, co-locations, contracts, and other school initiatives. Moy and Maldonado have worked in City Hall, but none of them appear to have close ties to the K through 12 education sector—save Maldonado, who sent her children to public school.

Since the PEP was established in 2002 with the advent of mayoral control, it has voted to approve every one of the city’s policies, even when borough president appointees to the panel, who are in the minority, oppose them. The mayoral appointees have faced criticism from educators and advocates for consistently favoring city plans, even though they seem to have little choice. In 2004 Bloomberg removed panel appointees who were planning to vote against a proposal requiring students to pass the state exams before being promoted.

City officials did not respond to questions about the reasons for the changes. One clue might be the results of a March meeting, during which contracts related to the City University of New York could not be voted on because too many mayoral appointees with ties to CUNY had to recuse themselves from voting. Martí and Correale both work for CUNY.

Jeanette Moy is the vice president of strategic planning for the Brooklyn Library, a position she has held since December 2011, according to her Linkedin profile, after years of working for City Hall. She has served as a deputy chief of staff to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a senior policy advisor with the city’s Office of Operations Customer Service Group. She has at least one direct connection to city schools: she’s an alumna of Stuyvesant High School. Moy declined to comment on her appointment.

Milton Williams, Jr. is a city attorney with the firm of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard who specializes in employment, entertainment and sports law. He has also worked for Time, Inc. and served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and an Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Williams was not available to comment this afternoon. He is an appointee to the city’s Board of Correction.

Rosemarie Maldonado is the counsel to Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and she also serves on the Board of Correction. She worked with Bloomberg as the deputy executive director of the mayor’s Commissioner on Hispanic Concerns, and with former Mayor Edward Koch, when she was a deputy to Travis and he was an advisor to Koch.

In an announcement posted on John Jay’s website, Maldonado said she considers the appointment “a distinct honor.”

“I know as a New York City parent that some of the most difficult decisions we make are those that affect the education of our children,” she said in the statement.

Travis said she will draw on her experience at John Jay, “observing the connections between higher education and the K-12 system.”

“The Panel for Educational Policy will benefit from her wisdom, her clear thinking, and her concern for student success as well as her experiences as a parent of children who have attended the City’s public schools,” he said in the statement.

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.