Inside Chalkbeat

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.

Inside Chalkbeat

Meet the talented people who will help us push Chalkbeat into the future

As the new school year kicks off, we’re both looking forward and looking back.

This has been a significant year for us. We covered important stories, broke big news, and launched coverage in two new cities, Newark and Chicago. We also expanded our team. We’re now one of the country’s largest nonprofit newsrooms, and certainly one of the largest telling local stories — at a time when local coverage is shrinking across the country.

In the year ahead, we will continue to tell the story of education in America by investigating both local realities and the national trends that shape them. We kicked things off this summer with a listening tour (stay tuned for more of what we heard at those events). We’re also taking some big steps toward strengthening the other parts of our work. We’re going to further diversify our revenue so we can guarantee the very best and always entirely independent coverage of public schools for a long time to come. We’re going to invest in technology and design, to help us reach and engage more readers. And we’re going to chart a clear path for the significant growth we need to take on to step up to the challenges of the times.

To do that, we’ve brought on a new cohort of leaders in the news business. I am so thrilled to introduce Maria Archangelo, our new senior director of partnerships, who will lead the charge in diversifying and growing our revenue; Becca Aaronson, our new director of product, who will guide strategic investment in our core technology and internal capabilities; and Alison Go, who is working with us to design Chalkbeat’s growth plan.

We are also expanding our national team with the addition of Francisco Vara-Orta as a national reporter and data specialist for Chalkbeat. Francisco’s skills will give Chalkbeat the ability to more closely cover several organizations working to influence schools nationwide and enable us to better use data to find and tell stories in all of Chalkbeat’s bureaus.

 

Maria Archangelo

Photo: Alan Petersime

Maria comes to Chalkbeat after working as publisher and executive director of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a 24-year-old nonprofit education news organization. Most of her 30-year career has been spent in traditional media. She worked as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun and an editor at the Sun’s community newspapers, and was editor of the daily newspaper in the capital of Vermont. Dismayed by the changes in the industry, Maria decided to devote herself to growing revenue for journalism and joined the business side. From 2006 to 2012 she served as publisher of the award-winning Stowe Reporter in Stowe, VT. She also helped lead an innovative international community magazine project and took a (brief) side trip into communications and marketing. She graduated from Temple University with bachelor of arts in journalism.

Becca Aaronson

Photo Alan Petersime

Before Chalkbeat, Becca spent nearly eight years at fellow nonprofit news organization The Texas Tribune, where she was their first-ever product manager. She was responsible for creating and managing the Tribune’s product roadmap, leading their website redesign, conducting user research, and ensuring that technology products aligned with audience and brand strategy. Over the course of her Tribune tenure, she wore many hats, including softball coach of The Runoffs. She co-founded the Tribune’s data visuals team, where she designed, built, and managed several award-winning investigative projects. And while covering health care from 2012 to 2014, she gained 5,000 Twitter followers on the day she live-tweeted the Wendy Davis abortion filibuster. Becca has a bachelor’s degree in cultural theory from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif.

Alison Go

Alison is working on growth initiatives across various teams at Chalkbeat. Previously, she was a product manager at Facebook, Amazon (Audible), and Rent the Runway, and in a former life, she was a journalist at U.S. News & World Report (covering higher ed!), the Boston Globe, and the San Jose Mercury News. Alison received her MBA from Wharton and undergrad degree from the University of Michigan.

Francisco Vara-Orta

Francisco joins Chalkbeat in September as a national reporter and data specialist. He was previously at Education Week, where he covered philanthropy and parent engagement and managed data projects, and an open records researcher at Investigative Reporters and Editors. Before that, he reported for the San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, and the Austin Business Journal, among other news organizations. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University in his hometown of San Antonio, and earned a master’s degree in data and investigative journalism from Mizzou as a Thurgood Marshall Fellow. Follow him @fvaraorta.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.