2014 yearbook

What defined 2014 for Chalkbeat readers? Pre-K, a new contract, and some successful students

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Kids wait to go outside at the Saratoga Early Childhood Education Center.

As the year comes to a close, Chalkbeat New York asked readers to share their most memorable education-related moments of 2014 for our first digital yearbook.

Here is a sample of some of the responses we received:


Deputy Mayor Richard Buery
buery edit
“A mother who found a pre-K seat for her child near their Harlem homeless shelter, an Upper West Side parent so excited to enroll their child in the St. Gregory the Great program that they offered to volunteer to help spread the word about [community based organizations] and pre-K, a recent immigrant from Greece thrilled to place their child in pre-K close to home, and the father of a Bronx boy who said ‘I truly think it’s great what the Mayor is doing for the children of this city.’ These are the faces of pre-K in NYC and I was fortunate enough to hear their stories every night.

In addition to the thousands of calls, nail salons visits, enrollment fairs, and street-side conversations, our dedicated team of 40 enrollment specialists highlighted their incredible work by sharing stories of parent engagement every night with me. At the end of each day, in addition to the data and enrollment figures, I received a personal story from a parent and child about pre-K and these are some of my fondest memories of the school year.

These stories highlight what is so great about Pre-K for All and our City: parents of every race, religion, country and class, all searching for success for their children. And while we engage in the hard work to prepare for next year, I know that I have thousands of more stories to look forward to.”

Zalykha María Mokim, Founding ELL Dept. Leader and Writing Seminar Teacher at MESA Charter High School in Brooklyn

Zalykha María Mokim

“Having the privilege to be able to tell English Language Learner students – who came to us saying ‘No Inglés’ – that they not only showed dramatic gains in language acquisition, but they passed their Regents exams and then seeing them at the beginning of the new year to continue pushing them!”

Michael Mulgrew is negotiating his union's first teachers contract since taking over UFT.



Michael Mulgrew, United Federation of Teachers President, said his most memorable moment of the year was when the union approved the “long-awaited” new contract deal with the city in June.

“Teachers certainly deserved the raise, and making sure professional development became part of the school day was key,” Mulgrew said. “But one of my favorite parts of the new contract is the PROSE initiative – giving schools more room to come up with their own innovations. That’s something I would have loved when I was in the classroom.”

Noah Mackert

Noah Mackert, 7th Grade English Teacher at Democracy Prep Charter Middle School in Harlem

“We did a close reading of some Nietzsche during our unit on ‘The Giver.’ I had never before heard seventh graders say wise things about the purpose of suffering. Abdul asked to stand up so he could speak more emphatically. Now if they’re bored, I know it’s my fault.”

Karen Sprowal outside her son's middle school following a meeting with staff to discuss his disabilities. Sprowal says services that had been mandated for her son's attention deficit disorder went unmet for three years in elementary school.

Karen Sprowal was among the advocates who raised student privacy concerns over a data-sharing agreement between the State Education Department and InBloom, a national nonprofit data-storing organization funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Sprowal said, “hands down,” her most memorable moment of the year was when a panel advising the governor recommended severing ties with inBloom. By April, state lawmakers ended New York’s partnership with the organization, and inBloom shut down shortly afterwards.

“After spending millions, the pushback from New York ‘amateur parent advocates’ who lobbied to strengthen New York student privacy laws and lawsuit ended this potentially lucrative and powerful deal for Bill Gates,” Sprowal 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.