Colonial Middle parents receive homework tips, advice at expo

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Colonial MIddle language arts teacher Patricia Hervey talks to student Ayante Williams and her mother, Sharon Kuykendall, about creative arts high school options.
Colonial Middle teacher Patricia Hervey talks with student Ayante Williams and her mother, Sharon Kuykendall during Parent Expo on Thursday night.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/ Chalkbeat TN
Colonial Middle teacher Patricia Hervey talks with student Ayante Williams and her mother, Sharon Kuykendall during Parent Expo on Thursday night.

Yolanda Jones arrived at Colonial Middle School Thursday evening ready to gather all the information she could to help her son become a better student.

“We work on his homework every day,” Jones said.  “I have him explain it to me and show examples. I want him to take better notes and when it’s something that I don’t understand, there’s always textbooks or I can always call, text or email his teachers.”

Jones wasn’t alone.

Nearly 400 parents participated in the school’s first “Parent Expo”, where parents were given access to the school’s language arts, math, social studies and science teachers at the fine arts sixth through eighth grade school.

There were 15 educational booths for parents to visit on Thursday night.

At Patricia Hervey’s booth, students and parents received worksheets about”12 Powerful Words,” which are typically used on the annual state tests and during classroom instruction. Hervey encouraged parents and students to review the words and the definitions frequently.

Some of the words on the list were “trace”, “analyze”, “contrast” and “summarize” and are used in questions on the state test.

Other booths included demonstrations of science experiments, math games and assistance for parents of Spanish-speaking and English as a Second Language students.

Parents also had the opportunity to take a piano lesson and watch student performances in choir, piano, dance and orchestra.

Yolanda Jones and her son, Reginald, sign in at Thursday night's Parent Expo at Colonial Middle School.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Yolanda Jones and her son, Reginald, sign in at Thursday night’s Parent Expo at Colonial Middle School.

Attaining a high level of parental engagement is often the goal for classroom teachers and administrators. Research has shown that students with strong parental support at home, such as family reading and homework time – tend to perform better in school.

Colonial principal Marty Pettigrew advocates for what he calls the five areas of connectedness – students, staff, parents, community and programs.

“Our expo ties all of those things together,” he said.

It was a big undertaking to organize the event, but Pettigrew said he’d like to see it happen on an annual basis.

Parent Nevenia Hill said the most helpful information that she took away was from her daughter’s sixth grade language arts teacher and their discussion about Reading Plus, which is a computer-based program that monitors progress, teaches lessons and reviews with students.

“This was my first time meeting with her teachers and really getting an explanation about what they do in class and where she needed help,” Hill said. “Now I can go home and work with her in those areas. It’s better to meet with the teachers in person than it is to read a note.” 

Hill said her daughter, Mina, finds reading more challenging than math.

“I’m really pushing her in reading and getting her to do more of it at home,” she said. Hill met with her daughter’s math teacher, Terrica Conley, about exercises she can also do at home.

Colonial Middle sixth grade math teacher Terrica Conley gives Nevenia Hill tips on helping her daughter, Mina, who is in her class.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Colonial Middle sixth grade math teacher Terrica Conley gives Nevenia Hill tips on helping her daughter, Mina, who is in her class.

Pettigrew is counting on the work of students, teachers and Reading Plus to improve the school’s reading scores. According to the state’s report card, Colonial’s reading scores have been stagnant over the past three years.

“This year, we’ll have higher reading scores,” Pettigrew said.

Other parents at the event walked the halls of Colonial Middle hopeful that their child will receive a spot at the optional campus.

Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser, an eighth grader at Sherwood Middle, and Taylor Woods, a fifth grader at Sherwood Elementary, stopped at Hervey’s booth.

“We’re trying to get her (Taylor) into Colonial,” said Woods, adding that he is concerned about his daughters stressing over tests.

“I worry about them because sometimes if you’re too nervous, you can mess up,” he said. “We try to help them at home, their older sister helps out too.”

Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/ Chalkbeat TN
Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.


Many parents stayed until the two-hour event was over at 7 p.m. Thursday. Jones and her son, Reginald were among the remaining group of people still in the building.






“As a parent, you have to be involved,” Jones said. “Parental involvement varies from school to school. I want my son to do well, so I’m here.”

Yolanda  Jones and her son Reginald, a seventh grader at Colonial Middle, arrive at the Parent Expo Thursday night.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Yolanda Jones and her son Reginald, a seventh grader at Colonial Middle, arrive at the Parent Expo Thursday night.

a look back

The seven Chalkbeat stories from 2017 I’ll be re-reading this holiday season

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier

Holidays are about family, food — and best-of lists. As you step into your holiday, let me humbly suggest seven Chalkbeat reads from 2017 to make your break more delightful.

  1. Step into Olga Montellano’s child-optimized home — and get to know a neighborhood that is much more than the “child care desert” label it’s earned — with this excellent longform piece by Ann Schimke and Yesenia Robles.
  2. Get mad, but not in the I-just-spent-too-long-on-Twitter way. In that energized way, where you learn a lot at the end, with this lively and readable investigation by Shaina Cavazos, about a virtual charter school in Indiana. (Then read the sequel: the Republican governor’s response to Shaina in a one-on-one interview.)
  3. Look at Detroit’s school district through the eyes of a new superintendent who is both one of the district’s toughest critics and, at the same time, perhaps its most optimistic defender. A great profile by Erin Einhorn.
  4. Witness democracy in action, or maybe retreat?, with this story by Monica Disare — which helps you see why Monica finds the arcane-but-super-powerful governing board overseeing New York’s schools fascinating.
  5. Get inside the heads of some of the nation’s most powerful philanthropists, who are increasingly coalescing on a single idea for what public education should look like. Spoiler: it’s pretty different from what we see today, and — signature Matt Barnum — it’s a story told with scrupulous fairness and care.
  6. Follow educator Tami Sawyer on her journey from a buzzing cell phone as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville to Confederate monuments toppled this week in Memphis, a gripping, emotional story courtesy of our own Laura Kebede.
  7. We resurfaced this 2016 gem after Charlottesville, so I’m saying it counts for a 2017 list. It’s a roundup of advice from teachers about how to talk about race, and you should just bookmark it forever. Because in 2018, we all need to keep getting better at having this conversation.

Enjoy. And don’t forget to donate to Chalkbeat if you haven’t already. You know this, but I’ll say it anyway: Even tiny donations make a big difference to securing our independence. The more supporting readers we can point to and say, don’t mess with them, the better.

Thank you, and happy new year!


Coming soon (and hiring now): Chalkbeat in Chicago and Newark

Top: Chicago skyline via Flickr/Carroll. Bottom: Newark via Wikimedia Commons/Jamaalcobbs

Dear readers,

We have some exciting news: After hearing from community leaders across the country, we’ve selected the next two places where we’ll launch Chalkbeat coverage.

By early 2018 — just a year after launching in Detroit, our fifth city — we’ll have Chalkbeat coverage in Chicago and Newark, New Jersey.

The timing couldn’t be better. Both Chicago and Newark are in the midst of sweeping changes with far-reaching consequences for students and families, educators, and communities.

Chicago is living an education paradox: Poverty, violence, and deep segregation present steep challenges for students, their families, and their schools. After a last-minute budget deal, the city school district remains on the brink of financial disaster. At the same time, Chicago boasts one of the fastest-improving big city school systems in the nation, a conclusion so unexpected that a Stanford researcher double-checked his work before confirming it.

Amid these highs and lows, Chicago’s public schools face a slew of changes at every level of the school system. In the K-12 system, school closures and bureaucratic overhauls have made a complicated system more confusing for many families. City officials also want to lead the country by dramatically growing the number of children enrolled in public prekindergarten, and, controversially, by not allowing students to graduate unless they have a plan for what to do next.

In Newark, meanwhile, an effort to overhaul the local schools with performance pay for teachers and more charter schools — driven in part by Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation in 2010 — initially led to a three-year test score decline that has recently bounced back and turned positive in English, according to a new study.

Today, one third of Newark students are enrolled in charter schools, one of the highest percentages in the country. The school district, meanwhile, is returning to the control of a locally elected school board after years of being run by state-appointed managers. As we’re seeing in Detroit, where a similar transition is underway, the shift to local control comes with great optimism — and high stakes.

Both cities have important stories that the whole country can learn from. But while there are talented journalists producing great stories about education in both Chicago and Newark, both cities lack the depth of coverage they will need to navigate so much change.

Chicago recently lost a longtime news source dedicated to covering schools, Catalyst. And the two major Chicago newspapers have seen their reporting teams diminish significantly, in keeping with trends in newsrooms across the country. The local public radio station, WBEZ, has admirably stepped up to fill gaps, creating a dedicated education reporting team. But there is much more in-depth daily reporting to be done.

In Newark, the local newspaper, the Star-Ledger, has also seen its reporting resources diminish in recent years. And while a laudable nonprofit news organization, NJ Spotlight, has offered thoughtful and high-impact coverage of education across New Jersey, dedicated education coverage by and for Newark has been unsettlingly scarce, especially for a city that is so often in the national headlines.

Community leaders in Chicago and Newark asked us to launch Chalkbeat coverage in their cities because they want to change that. So do we. As we expand our coverage, our goal is to scrutinize and explain what’s changing, what’s working, and what’s at stake as the cities’ schools transform. Readers in Chicago and Newark also deserve to hear — and share — firsthand accounts of the parents, students, and teachers who are living through the changes.

For Chalkbeat’s readers in our five existing locations and across the country, the expansion means that we’ll be connecting even more local dots through our national coverage. Our new national newsletter — sign up now!— will be a great place to read the highlights from Chicago and Newark and learn how how they fit into the unfolding national story of efforts to improve education for poor children.

The growth also means that we’re hiring. We’re already looking to fill two new positions, story editor and Detroit reporter, and have some other roles open, too. Now, we’re opening searches for someone to lead our team in Chicago and a senior reporter in Newark, where we’re launching a one-year pilot as we explore more permanent coverage. If you or someone you know is a fit for any of these positions, let us know now. We are lucky to work with some of the most talented journalists in the country, and we can’t wait to expand our team.

And for our future readers in Chicago and Newark — we won’t be able to do this without you. If you have ideas for us, feel free to reach out now. You can also sign up here to to get updates about our launches in Chicago, Newark, or both.

This post has been updated to more accurately describe the findings of a recent study of Newark school reforms.