The scoop

Shelby County to pull kids from schools shared with ASD

PHOTO: Mayor's Instagram account
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton speaks with students during a recent visit to Westwood Elementary School. Wharton is pressing for a compromise in a protracted dispute over school funding in Shelby County.

Shelby County Schools next fall will slam the brakes on its practice of sharing buildings with Achievement School District charter schools, pulling hundreds of students out of up to 10 schools that otherwise would be co-located with charters, Chalkbeat has learned.

District administrators say the move to end colocation is academically motivated. But it could also benefit the school district by slowing the steady exodus of students from SCS schools to the state-controlled ASD charters. It would also uproot several well-established school communities throughout Memphis and leave some school buildings with just a handful of charter school students in them.

Some ASD charter school operators take over low-performing schools a grade at a time. This practice, known as “phasing in,”allows charters to adjust their teaching model to local conditions as needed, and to share innovative strategies with traditional public school educators, according to charter leaders. Charter students at phase-in schools averaged 22 point gains in reading and 16 point gains in math, ASD officials said.

But colocation has led to morale, recruitment and retention problems among principals and teachers who work for traditional public schools, and who know their jobs will be phased out, said Brad Leon, the district’s chief innovation officer. This has hurt test scores in those schools, Leon said.

“We want our staff focused on student achievement,” Leon said. “We want them focused on the task at hand.”

Ending the colocation practice next year means a significant portion of students and teachers at Shannon, Westwood and Spring Hill elementary schools and Cory and Lester middle schools will be moved to other campuses.

If the ASD follows through with taking over Airways, A. Maceo Walker middle schools and Hawkins Mill, Brookmeade and Denver Elementary schools–all schools in which charter operators are considering phasing in at a grade at a time – students and teachers in the upper grades at those schools now will also be moved.

SCS administrators will present a proposal to board members at the next board meeting,  Nov. 18,detailing plans for those students.

ASD officials said they will not back away from its plans to phase-in charter schools, even if there will be no other students in the building.

“From the beginning, our goal has been to recruit, authorize, match, and hold accountable the best public charter operators locally and nationally,” said Elliot Smalley, the ASD’s chief of staff.  “They have different models, all of which are designed to get them to running whole schools—schools that serve all students—with success.”

The practice of colocation has  led to raucous debates across the country, where charter advocates have fought with traditional public school supporters over who pays the utility bills, how much space a school gets, and issues of overcrowding.

In Memphis, ASD charters and public schools sign a colocation agreement at the beginning of the year in which they decide which wings of the building belong to which school and who pays the school’s utility bills .

At Westwood Elementary, a building where Freedom Prep charter school took over kindergarten and first grades this fall, there have been a few colocation glitches. One occurred when SCS custodians turned off the air conditioner over the weekend while Freedom Prep teachers were working,  said Roblin Webb, the executive director and founder of Freedom Prep.

Overall,  though, the relationship has been cordial so far.

When Memphis Mayor A C Wharton came to the school this week to read to students at Westwood Elementary, their teachers invited Freedom Prep students to join the gathering.

“I told the principal at the beginning of the year, we’re both here for the same reason,” Webb said.  “We want to offer these kids the best education possible.”

Even with Shelby County administrators’ decision this week to end colocation, Webb said Freedom Prep doesn’t anticipate losing too many students.

YES Prep, a charter school based in Houston that hopes to take over the sixth grade classes at A. Maceo Walker, Airways and American Way middle schools next year, sees colocation as an opportunity for public and charter schools to work together, said Bill Durbin, who is leading Yes Prep’s expansion to Memphis.

In Texas, the charter has gained national attention for its collaboration with public schools. Yes Prep students and traditional public school students play for the same sports teams ,and teachers share best practices and sit through professional development training together.

“There are things public schools can learn from charter schools and there are things we can learn from them,” Durbin said.

Correction: This story originally left out Airways Middle School as a school which YES Prep hopes to take over.

 For more information on the takeover process, visit our interactive page here.

Tajuana Cheshier contributed to this story.  

Contact Daarel Burnette II at [email protected] 901-260-3705.

Follow us on Twitter: @Daarel@chalkbeattn.

Like us on Facebook.

Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news.

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.