that was fast

City picks parent, principal, network leader to head Stuyvesant

In a picture the Department of Education distributed on Twitter, Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks to Jie Zhang, Stuyvesant High School's interim principal, today.

A longtime educator who began her career teaching girls in jail has been named acting principal at the city’s most selective high school.

Jie Zhang, who led a different elite high school for five years, will be interim acting principal at Stuyvesant High School, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. She replaces Stanley Teitel, the school’s 11-year principal, who announced his retirement last week amid an investigation into a cheating scandal at the school.

“We are fortunate to have tremendous leaders and talented teachers like Jie Zhang in New York City public schools, and we are thrilled to have her join the Stuyvesant High School community,” Walcott said in a statement.

Zhang is not actually new to Stuyvesant: She has been a parent there since 2005, when her older child enrolled, and last year she headed the Department of Education “network” that Teitel selected to support the school. Her daughter is a junior.

The cheating scandal that erupted in June implicated more than 70 students, giving rise to criticism that Stuyvesant’s cutthroat environment encourages students to take shortcuts to success. But in a phone call with reporters today, Zhang said she did not learn about widespread cheating at Stuyvesant as either a parent or an administrator. Still, she said, improving the school’s “culture” so that cheating does not take place is her first goal.

“I have not been made aware … or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there,” Zhang said. “However, my top priority is to create a positive school culture that ensures integrity and zero tolerance for cheating.”

An investigation is ongoing into whether administrators at Stuyvesant followed the proper procedures after learning about the cheating. Department officials declined to say whether network officials had been interviewed by investigators, saying that the department never comments on open investigations.

And explaining that she has not been offered the slot permanently, Zhang declined to outline any specific plans for the school. But she said its “academic offerings could be looked into to be able to meet the needs of individual students.” She also pointed to the expansion of advanced courses and research programs under her leadership at the Queens High School for Sciences at York College as some ideas she might consider for Stuyvesant.

She also said she would work to foster racial diversity at Stuyvesant, which has been criticized for not serving students of all races equitably. Citywide, 72 percent of students are black and Latino, but at Stuyvesant, it’s Asian students who make up 72 percent of enrollment. Just 4 percent of Stuyvesant students are black and Latino, although those numbers could edge up this year.

“I’m for the idea of diversity,” said Zhang, who would be Stuyvesant’s first Asian principal. “We live in New York City where diversity is the key. I’m definitely going to promote the idea of diversity.”

Zhang was born in China and moved to New York to get a master’s degree in applied mathematics. She began working in city schools in 1988 as a teacher at a girls’ school on Riker’s Island. She became a math teacher at Forest Hills High School, a large and high-performing school in Queens, in 1993, then spent two years as its assistant principal for mathematics.

After a stint helping middle and high schools with math instruction, she took over Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, one of several specialized high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration. Last year, she left to work as a network leader to more than 30 schools, including Stuyvesant.

Zhang’s resume makes her an ideal pick to lead Stuyvesant, principals union president Ernest Logan said in a statement.

“Jie has exactly the right combination of outstanding academic and administrative experience to allow her to maintain the stability and standard of achievement for which Stuyvesant High School has always been famous,” Logan said.

Zhang said she hopes to become the school’s permanent principal after the city’s required appointment process is completed this fall. That process, known as C-30, requires sign-off from a committee that includes parents and teachers, some of whom are already familiar with Zhang.

“I know that she is a math person and I know that there are math teachers at Stuy who know her well and who think very highly of her,” said Mike Zamansky, the school’s longtime computer science teacher. “My experiences with her have been very good.”

And Zhang’s experiences with the school have been good, too. After leaving Stuyvesant, her son graduated in three years from Harvard University, where he studied physics, math, and computer science, she said. This fall, he is set to begin graduate work in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

How much does Zhang credit Stuyvesant for her son’s success? “Ninety-nine percent!” she said. “I get the 1 percent.”

This story has been corrected to characterize correctly the statement issued by principals union president Ernest Logan.

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.