community schools

Fariña offers advice to leaders of city’s future community schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told principals, superintendents, and nonprofit leaders on Wednesday that the stakes are high as they work to grow the city’s number of community schools.

“We have an opportunity in New York City, and there is no pressure, but guys, I only succeed if you succeed, and I am damned if I am going to fail, so you have no choice,” Fariña said. “This is an unbelievable opportunity for us.”

Fariña was speaking at a day-long symposium for school leaders and community organizations involved in the city’s effort to overhaul 128 schools by making them into community hubs offering a mix of health and social services, tutoring, and other services for students and local residents. At the event, the chancellor offered a few new details about how the partnerships should work and made clear that a lot was riding on the schools’ efforts — namely, how her philosophy for improving the school system without school closures will be received.

The city plans to spend $52 million in state money to put new community services into 40 schools, and to using the community-school model to help turn around 94 struggling schools in its “Renewal Schools” program.

Integrating those services into a schools is a complicated task, and the schools in the Renewal program will need to do it while also facing deadlines for boosting student academic performance. (Even many supporters of the city’s plans have said officials have so far been less clear about plans to improve instruction.)

It will be up to the principals to make it all happen, Chancellor Fariña said at the event, which took place at the city teachers union headquarters. That will require school leaders to make smart choices about which organizations they partner with, how they work with those organizations, and how they direct their staff members, she added.

When making choices about partnerships, Fariña said principals should look for organizations eager to meet the needs of the school and the community and work closely with teachers — not community-based organizations with staff members who only say, “This is what I have done.”

“The best work I have done with a CBO — and some of you are those people — [is] put a guidance or a support worker or a social worker in a school during the school day so you actually see the kids in the classroom, not after school,” she said. “It needs to be seamless. This is not an add-on.”

To that end, the chancellor promised the school leaders some level of autonomy in how they choose to implement the community-school model.

“It’s not a top-down discussion,” Fariña said.

The department is accepting proposals from those organizations looking to partner with schools in the Renewal program until Feb. 24, and officials said they will screen those applications before principals interview the organizations they’re interested in. Organizations with existing relationships with schools in the Renewal program will have to apply if they wish to continue working with their respective schools, an issue one educator asked department officials about before Fariña’s remarks.

The chancellor also called on principals to share leadership responsibilities, especially with their assistant principals. She suggested that assistant principals create their own informal cabinets composed of two or three teachers.

“How do we use resources in our building that we might not have used effectively in the past? What I want to see is our pipeline for our next leaders being assistant principals who are taking an active role in this work,” Fariña said.

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.