'Dramatic Intervention'

Facing state scrutiny, six new ‘out-of-time’ schools must make major changes

Herbert Lehman High School in the East Bronx, a struggling school that the state recently labeled as "out of time" to make drastic improvements.

The state has labeled six more city schools as “out of time,” its term for long-struggling schools that must make major changes, a group officials have said could face closure if they fail to make rapid improvements.

The schools join two others that the state singled out last year and ordered to make drastic changes, such as having their principals and entire staffs reapply for their jobs and attend extra summer training. City education officials said Tuesday they would treat the steps taken at those schools as a model for how to approach the six newly designated schools, whose status was first reported by Capital New York.

The latest out-of-time schools are: Herbert H. Lehman High School, Banana Kelly High School, Mosholu Parkway Junior High School, and Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx; and August Martin High School and John Adams High School in Queens. They join two Brooklyn high schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive, that earned the label last spring. All the schools have ranked among the lowest in the state for at least three years, are not part of any federal improvement program, and have not made academic gains.

By July 31, the city must submit a framework of an improvement plan for the six schools to the state, along with an agreement from the principals and teachers unions to help craft the plan. The schools must enact the plan next academic year.

The state had identified the six schools and a few others as out of time by last fall, but the city appealed some of the designations, state officials have said. In November, Chancellor Carmen Fariña requested permission from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board to hire retired principals as leadership coaches for those schools. In her request, she laid out the stakes for the out-of-time schools, according to the board’s response to Fariña.

“You also advise that NYSED is requiring these schools be subject to dramatic intervention, including potential for school closure,” the board wrote on Nov. 21, referring to the state education department, “if improved student achievement is not demonstrated by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.”

Lehman High School Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013 that constant changes caused by city interventions at the school had been disruptive.
Lehman High School Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013 that constant changes caused by city interventions at the school had been disruptive.

The state gives districts a short menu of options for out-of-time schools that includes closing them, converting them into charter schools, or putting them under an “alternate governance structure,” which is what the city chose last year. The state said schools in such a structure must receive special oversight, extra resources and training, and more learning time. The city’s “Renewal” turnaround program for struggling schools, which all eight out-of-time schools are part of, adheres to those requirements.

The state also told the city last year that it must screen all the administrators and staff members at its out-of-time schools, replacing those deemed “unwilling or ineffective.” And it ordered the city not to send any new students to the schools mid-year, an effort to relieve the schools of latecomer students who often pose extra challenges.

In response, the city has not sent any of those “over-the-counter” students to Boys and Girls or Automotive this year. And it forged an agreement with the teachers and principals unions to form joint rehiring committees to which the staffs at both schools must apply. City officials said Tuesday that they would seek a similar deal for the six newly targeted schools.

After the deal was announced last November, a top state education official said the state would not be satisfied unless the restaffing plan led to major shakeups.

“If at the end of the day, all we get from this is two teachers who were going to retire anyhow retiring, we’re not going to have much change in that school building,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, on their ability to retool their workforce by the spring, we will move to close them,” she added.

The city has already taken some steps to revamp those schools, sending them coaches, adding extra learning time, and keeping them under close tabs. In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held press conferences at Automotive and Boys and Girls High School to highlight early signs of progress, such as improved attendance and new course offerings.

City education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the agency is offering “aggressive supports” to all the Renewal program schools, including the out-of-time schools.

“This year, interventions will be targeted to each school and a comprehensive plan will be put in place to turn around these historically struggling schools and set a better course of action to drive student achievement,” she said in a statement.

Many of the six schools have undergone previous city interventions, including leadership changes and an attempt by the Bloomberg administration to replace many teachers at the schools, which a labor arbitrator ultimately blocked. Lehman High School, for instance, was threatened with closure several times within a few years, had its enrollment slashed, and lost many teachers who left amid the turmoil.

“If our community had not experienced all of these constant changes,” Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013, “our growth could have been even more dramatic.”

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.