making the most of it

Stuy alum Allon urges changes to school's admissions, grading

Tom Allon speaks about his education policy platform at the New School in May.

The sudden and surprising leadership change at Stuyvesant High School is an opportunity to make the school more diverse and less cutthroat, according to a graduate who is running for mayor.

Tom Allon, a long-shot mayoral candidate who graduated from the elite city high school in 1980 and later briefly taught there, made the case in a press release sent this morning in response to Friday’s resignation of Stanley Teitel, the school’s principal since 1999. Teitel announced his retirement amid a cheating scandal and an investigation into how he handled it.

“I’m afraid Stuyvesant has become a place where education and knowledge have taken a backseat to testing and grades and hyper-vigilance about college admissions — not unlike the testing and data-driven grading that is crushing the life out of public education throughout America,” Allon said in his press release.

Allon suggests that the school switch to an A-F grading system, instead of awarding numerical grades on a scale of 100, which he said encourages students to worry about small swings in their grade-point averages.

He also offers a slate of recommendations geared at shaking up the ultra-competitive admissions process, which for decades has been based solely on scores on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

Allon suggests offering automatic admission to the top eighth-grader at each city middle school, making the admissions exam harder to game, and adding an essay to the multiple-choice test — changes that Stuyvesant’s principal wouldn’t be able to enact.

Stuyvesant is the largest and least racially diverse of the city’s specialized high schools. Amid a push by Stuyvesant graduates to increase diversity, the number of black and Hispanic students offered seats doubled this year, from 25 students last year to 51. The school enrolls about 800 new students each year.

Allon isn’t the first to propose tweaks to yield a student body that more closely represents the city’s student population. A former CUNY official suggested in the GothamSchools Community section in 2010 that the school use “proportional representation” to admit at least some of its students. The strategy would ensure that students from every district could enroll.

But revising the admissions process isn’t up to Stuyvesant’s new principal or easy to do. Instead, it would require legislators to change a 1971 law, the Hecht-Calandra Act, which mandates that admission to specialized high schools be determined by exam.

Allon’s complete press release is below.

NYC Mayoral Candidate Tom Allon Calls for Stuyvesant Reforms

In the wake of the recent cheating scandal and subsequent resignation of the Principal at New York’s Stuyvesant High School, NYC Mayoral candidate Tom Allon today called for reforms that would constructively address some of the issues at the heart of the troubled school’s problems of late.

“My alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, one of America’s premiere public high schools, is at a very interesting and precarious crossroads,” Allon said. “I care deeply about this school but am concerned that it has lost its way, despite turning out some of the brightest high school graduates in America every year.”

“I’m afraid Stuyvesant has become a place where education and knowledge have taken a backseat to testing and grades and hyper-vigilance about college admissions – not unlike the testing and data-driven grading that is crushing the life out of public education throughout America.”

“Stuyvesant is also a school that has become homogeneous: the school population is now only 1.2 percent African-American and 2.4 percent Latino. This is a problematical demographic mix because it is so radically different from the population of New York City,” said Allon.

“As Stuyvesant now searches for a new Principal, I’d like to offer the following suggestions to improve what has always been thought of as one of the shining lights of public education in New York City:

  • Every middle school valedictorian in the City should be offered admission to Stuyvesant. This would incentivize teens to work hard in middle school and help alleviate the diversity problem.
  • The entrance exam should be radically altered from year to year, so that students who have prepped for it for a long time do not have a huge advantage.
  • The exam, like the SATs, must include an essay. Students must exhibit their ability to write and think critically.
  • Change the school’s grading system to letter grades so students will not focus so heavily on a one or two point swing on a test and instead focus on mastering the subject matter while developing their critical thinking faculties.

“Stuyvesant is a wonderful institution that has produced four Nobel Laureates, countless American political leaders, doctors, lawyers, academics and business leaders. We must help it find its way again so that it can continue to be the place that new generations see as a way to hoist their children up the ladder of upward mobility,” said Allon.

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.