senior leadership

Children's Aid taps charter booster to replace de Blasio aide

A longtime charter school backer will take over Children’s Aid Society as the social services provider’s next CEO and president, the organization announced Tuesday.

Children’s Aid picked Phoebe Boyer after a five-month search to replace Richard Buery, who was CEO from 2009 through 2014. In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio chose Buery to be one of the mayor’s top aides at City Hall.

Boyer comes to Children’s Aid at a time of change for the 160-year-old organization, which provides early education services, after-school programs, and works to turn schools into full-service community hubs. Under Buery, Children’s Aid began developing a new system to track the performance of its programs, putting an emphasis on measuring student outcomes. And in 2012, it opened its first charter school, College Prep Charter School, an elementary school in the South Bronx.

Boyer’s tenure, which starts Oct. 1, coincides with a period in which Children’s Aid is poised to play a big role in enacting two of de Blasio’s top education priorities: expanding both prekindergarten and the number of community schools. Children’s Aid is preparing to expand its pre-K offerings, and was also tapped by Buery to provide training and technical support for the city’s community schools initiative.

PHOTO: William Moree Photographs

Boyer is well-known in the New York City charter school community as both a fundraiser and as a leader of the movement to expand the sector under the Bloomberg administration.

In 2004, Boyer helped found the New York City Charter School Center, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been a vocal force during battles with the United Federation of Teachers over the charter school sector’s rapid expansion. She has been board chair since 2007.

Boyer has also spent the last 12 years heading two foundations started by former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, who has focused much of his philanthropy on charter schools. The Robertson Foundation, for instance, has given more than $22 million to the Charter Center, according to the foundation’s tax forms and figures provided by Children’s Aid. The foundation has given another $13 million to charter school operators.

The charter sector has a complicated relationship with de Blasio, who promised to curtail their growth during his mayoral campaign. But Boyer’s appointment is a signal that Children’s Aid is unconcerned that its leaders ties to charter schools will be an issue with the administration.

“Phoebe has long embraced the kind of mission-driven, results-oriented thinking that is a cornerstone of what we’re doing at Children’s Aid,” board chair Mark Edmiston said in a statement.

The hire also received an endorsement from Buery, who tweeted that Boyer was a “great choice.”

In an interview, Boyer said that the charter school debate is often stoked by “rhetoric and divisiveness” and said her philanthropic work was always focused on improving academic results for students.

“My work at Tiger and at Robertson was driven by providing support to highly effective schools, regardless of its governance structure,” Boyer said.

She also noted that that she helped steer money toward Communities in Schools, a national organization that is working to establish more community schools. Since 2002, the foundation has given the group more than $14 million.

“K-12 education comes in all sorts of different forms,” she said.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the first name of the person who founded the Tiger and Robertson Foundations.

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.