meet the candidates

For some teachers, job hunt calculus includes possible buyout

Inside a Columbia University building, hundreds of teachers rubbed shoulders while chatting up recruiters from 80 schools.

A late-summer city teacher recruitment fair bustled with newly-trained Teaching Fellows and experienced teachers still looking for jobs yesterday.

But no one was lined up to talk to leaders from Food and Finance High School shortly after 4 p.m.

The school has top marks from the Department of Education and a graduation rate that far exceeds the city average. But the fair was less than fruitful, recruiters said, because they only have one position available: a social studies job that is subject to city hiring restrictions.

“All of these young candidates are coming in bright eyed, and yet there’s a freeze on history,” said Joseph Clausi, the high school’s recruiter and an assistant principal. “They come here with these great resumes, and we can’t even talk to them.”

His was among close to 80 schools attending the fair. Others, like Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement, a Bronx middle school the Bronx Theater High School, and representatives from the New Visions Network of schools had lines snaking around the rows of booths set up in an auditorium at Columbia University.

 The city has been slowly lifting its three-year-old hiring restrictions, which have limited the numbers of new teachers who can compete for jobs with teachers currently in the city’s system. But there is still a hiring freeze on some teaching areas and subjects, such as high school social studies and regular elementary school positions.

The event was open only to city teachers hunting for new positions, as well as Teaching Fellows, Teach for America recruits, and teachers from outside the school system who had registered with the Department of Education. City officials told principals not to advertise the time or location, which were once posted on the internet but later removed.

Of the 500-some teachers who attended the fair, just under 200 were members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions. The job fair holds high stakes for those teachers, because if they don’t find a job by the new school year they will be rotated to a new school each week as substitutes, sometimes performing office duties. Schools are required to interview those teachers, but they don’t have to hire them.

City officials said the ATR pool had grown “slightly” from the 830 teachers it held in June. But it is still far smaller than it was at this time last year, when there were 1,900 ATRs.

The city and teachers union have struggled to agree on how to treat ATR members, who stay on the city’s payroll even though they lack permanent teaching assignments. Last year, the solution was to eliminate the budget for substitute teachers and create the rotation system.

This year, the city may have another solution to reduce the cost of the ATR pool: the teachers union and the city are negotiating an ATR buyout option, which would allow teachers who have been in the ATR pool for a certain amount of time to leave the profession in exchange for a portion of their salaries. The option could take effect by September if negotiations succeed, but nothing is certain. Still, some teachers who have been in the ATR pool for several years now see it as a better option than staying in the job-hunting game.

“Everything I’ve taught [via the ATR pool] is outside of my license area. But the truth is, if I accept a new position, I’d be ineligible for the buyout,” One teacher who asked not to be identified and has spent the last five years in the ATR pool, said. “I might not take a position.”

She said she has been hounding union representatives for information on the status of the buyout negotiations, in hopes that they will be complete before she finds a new job. But she was pessimistic about her chances of finding a position anyway, because only a half-dozen elementary schools showed up and their recruiters gave her lukewarm responses.

“My resume says I started teaching in 1975,” she said. She believes those numbers have become a barrier to her job hunt because her salary is on the high-end of the spectrum. The way the city bills schools for salaries penalizes many senior teachers, who cost more than teachers with less experience.

“I brought everything with me today, my students’ scores, but they don’t want to see those,” she said, motioning to a thick file she carried in her tote bag. “They don’t value my experience here. The Fellows are invited, and they are cheaper than I am.”

A Manhattan high school math teacher who just lost her position because she was the least senior teacher on staff said she would not take a buyout offer if given the option.

“I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “I got into this profession because I wanted to teach in New York City schools.”

The teacher was looking for positions in Manhattan and Queens, and left the fair discouraged see that most of the high schools were from the Bronx. But she was able to schedule several follow-up interviews with recruiters.

Tom Miner, a Teaching Fellow seeking his first job as a high school physics teacher, said he felt hopeful about the job hunt because his license area is in high demand.

“Science is in need, and even within science, physics is more in need,” he said. “I dropped off two resumes, which was better than the last fair I was at.”

A minute later, a friend who is also a Teaching Fellow looking for high school physics jobs greeted Miner. “I guess we’re ‘frennemies’,” he joked.

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.