One-Stop-Shops

City launches $52 million plan to turn 40 schools into service hubs

PHOTO: Facebook/New Settlement Community Center, Photo by Charles Chessler
M.S. 327 and P.S. 555 in the Bronx are housed in a state-of-the-art building where they provide support services and extra-curricular programs for students and their families. The city is planning to help 128 more schools offer similar services.

The city will spend $52 million in state funds over several years to convert 40 schools into community hubs with medical and dental services, nutrition and fitness programs, tutoring, job training, and other assistance for students and their families, officials announced Tuesday, roughly doubling the current number of such school-based hubs.

That first wave of schools will grow to 100 by 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised, as he joins policymakers around the country in seeking to boost student learning partly by attending to their needs beyond the classroom. The concept — which has been embraced by teachers unions, parent advocates, Governor Cuomo and President Obama — holds that when schools expand into service hubs, students become better prepared to learn, parents grow more invested in schools, and teachers can focus on teaching.

But even the plan’s proponents say it could pose some challenges for the city due to its ambitious scale and the fact that some schools can draw on limited space to host new services or nearby providers to offer them. Also, advocates insist that schools must pair these supports with excellent classroom instruction if they are to help students with the most needs catch up to their better-off peers.

“It’s a step forward to leveling the playing field,” said Emma Hulse, an organizer with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, a Bronx parent group that has called for extra services as one way to lift the borough’s lowest-performing schools. “But long term, they’re going to have to invest really seriously in teaching and learning to be able to close the achievement gap.”

Any school can apply to the program, though to be eligible schools must be struggling with student attendance, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said after a press conference Tuesday. The city will use a state education grant to supply each school with at least $300,000 annually for four years, depending on its size and needs, Buery said. Officials did not say how they will pay for 60 additional schools to become service hubs by 2018, as the mayor has pledged.

The United Way of New York City will help run the program, which will pay for a full-time coordinator at each school to determine what services are needed and which agencies can provide them on campus or nearby. Chancellor Carmen Fariña emphasized that parents will help choose the services, something that advocates have demanded. She noted that some community schools, as the hubs are known, stay open in the evening and on weekends, though she did not say if these schools will.

Some 40 schools currently act as community hubs, according to Buery, though some advocates count many more schools. Organizations such as the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Children’s Aid Society, which Buery previously headed, coordinate services at several of the schools, as does the city teachers union.

Governor Cuomo has set aside $15 million in competitive grants for schools to adopt community services, and the Obama administration has funded “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country where young people can access an array of services in and around their schools.

At the invitation of the United Federation of Teachers, de Blasio has visited a community school in Cincinnati, whose school district has embraced that model more completely than others. While the district has seen higher graduation and attendance rates since adopting the model, students that received support services last year made only modest test-score gains of between 1 and 3 percentage points.

De Blasio on Tuesday said he would gauge the impact of New York’s community schools by improvements in student health and attendance and parent engagement, not “a single set of test scores.”

“I think everyone knows I do not pray at the altar of high-stakes testing,” he said.

M.S. 327 Principal Manuel Ramirez said that extra supports have led to better student attendance and attitudes.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
M.S. 327 Principal Manuel Ramirez said that extra supports have led to better student attendance and attitudes.

The city’s community schools plan features some elements that advocates requested, such as the service coordinators and a role for parents. But it falls short of the $500,000 per school that the advocates had sought and leaves out some academic supports they recommended, such as extra special-education resources and master teachers.

The goal of launching the program in 40 schools by this fall is an ambitious one, said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, a national advocacy group that has advised the city on its plan. By contrast, Cincinnati has created 34 community schools after nearly a decade.

Some of the schools will have to search beyond their immediate surroundings to find service providers, Blank added.

“As New York’s demographics have shifted, the agencies aren’t always located where the need is,” he said.

What’s more, some of the schools with the most students who could benefit from extra supports have the least spare space to house on-site healthcare providers, counselors, and other specialists, experts said. Such schools may have to reconfigure their space to make room for the service providers.

M.S. 327 in the Bronx, the community school where Tuesday’s press conference was held, has not faced that challenge.

That school and an elementary, P.S. 555, are housed in a new $100 million complex that features a health clinic, dance studio, rooftop garden, and 75-foot swimming pool. The schools offer dance and swimming lessons, wellness workshops, college prep classes and more through the support of New Settlement Apartments, a nonprofit affordable-housing provider that helped pay for the complex and a service coordinator for the schools.

M.S. 327 Principal Manuel Ramirez said it is too soon to trace academic gains to the services, since the school has only been in the new building for two years, but student attendance and attitudes have already improved.

“And that makes it easier for us to teach the kids,” he said.

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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.