after hours

Cuomo proposes an extra $35 million for after-school programs in high-need areas

PHOTO: The Children's Aid Society
Students participate in after-school activities at the community school at P.S. 61 Francisco Oller in the Bronx.

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a $35 million pilot program on Monday that would expand access to after-school programs in some of the state’s neediest areas, including the Bronx.

The plan is one of Cuomo’s legislative proposals, which requires approval by the state’s Senate and Assembly, but sets the tone for the 2017 session. It was the governor’s second education-focused proposal this year — the first was an ambitious plan to provide free tuition at state colleges — and his first specific to K-12 education.

If approved, the plan will provide an extra 22,000 after-school seats in cities that are part of the state’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The funds would be distributed through competitive grants.

Creating more after-school seats is in line with a shift in state educational priorities that started last year when Cuomo backed an investment in “community schools” that provide resources like health clinics and tutoring. This proposal is similar, in that it tackles a subset of needy schools and focuses on wraparound services.

“This pilot program will further level the playing field for children in underserved cities across the state by expanding their access to programs and community resources that will help them get ahead in school and later on in life,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Support for community schools and after-school programs marks a departure from Cuomo’s 2015 education agenda, which upended the state’s teacher evaluation system, a move that proved unpopular with the teachers unions and many families. The resulting backlash fueled the opt-out movement and a new direction in state education policy.

Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, principal of Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters in the South Bronx, hopes to receive extra funding to expand his school’s after-school program to high school students.

For the middle school students it currently serves, he said, the program has been a game-changer. It is a place for them to participate in clubs and athletics, get extra help with their school work, and have fun.

“Extending the school day allows us to make sure that our kids are safe and know where they are,” Cardet-Hernandez said. “But it also allows us to create opportunities for enrichment programs, sometimes programs that we don’t have the budget to offer during the day.”

 

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.