Teachers coalition to hold first rally this week

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
A. Maceo Walker Middle School parent Myra Anderson tells Yes Prep, "This is not a partnership, we don't want any part of this," during Wednesday's community meeting regarding the school takeover process.

Update: This story was updated to reflect the changes to the time and location of the rally.  The rally will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Glenview Community Center.  

A coalition of teachers organizing against the expansion of the state-run Achievement School District will hold its first public meeting this Wednesday.

The Shelby County Teachers Coalition meeting will take place at Glenview Community Center at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the Memphis community. The coalition bills itself as an effort to inform parents about the process in which the state takes over low-performing schools and hands them over to charter schools or directly runs them.

In a flashy, inflammatory flyer the teachers have been passing around this week, the coalition accuses the Achievement School District of “hijacking our schools,” “stealing public education funds,” “giving their friends our buildings” for “private” charter schools that “select the students that they want to attend their schools.” They also accuse the charter schools of “firing and replacing our teachers.”

The ASD has pointed out that it, too is a governmental organization using public funds in an effort to improve public schools. Only non-profit charter schools can run charter schools in Tennessee. ASD schools cannot under the law select the students that attend its schools. And while teachers in schools that have been taken over by charters do have to reapply to stay at the schools, several of the charter networks guarantee teachers interviews, though not positions.

Coalition leaders also point out that some of the schools’ test scores have dropped since being taken over by the ASD.

This flyer was placed under attendees' cars at a school fair this past weekend.
This flyer was placed under attendees’ cars at a school fair this past weekend.

“People need to be aware of that,” said one of the coalition’s leaders who didn’t want her name used out of fear of retaliation.  “They need to do something with the schools they have first.  Then if you’re helping our students, then possibly.  But you’re still gobbling up schools. Do something with what you have.”

The ASD has said that it picked schools to take over based on their recent test scores, their feeder patterns and a slew of other factors agreed upon by the district and the Shelby County Schools officials. They also point to increases in some of their schools’ test scores and acknowledge that their model is not perfect.

Teachers formed the coalition earlier this month after two charter organizations pulled out of the matching process because of capacity concerns. Since the start of the matching process, several politicians and community leaders have spoken out against the ASD’s expansion citing the district’s inability to reach its own stated goal of moving the bottom 5 percent schools to the top 25 percent in five years.

This past weekend, the ASD held a fair for parents and teachers to learn more about the matching process and the charter schools involved but only a few dozen people showed up.

Two of those people were the members of the Shelby County Teachers Coalition who placed the flyers advertising this Thursday’s rally under attendees’ windshield wipers. After entering the fair, they were immediately greeted by ASD superintendent Chris Barbic.

“Chris and I we have a friendly relationship in terms of expressing our view points,” one of the members told Chalkbeat later on. “We’re on opposite ends. but he’s open and available. He didn’t tell me nothing we didn’t know. I respect him but he didn’t change my mind. We know what his agenda is: to take over the schools.”

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.