Trust issues

Getting immigrant students to show up at Memphis schools was already hard. Ending DACA makes it harder.

PHOTO: Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Third-grader Juan de la Cruz is welcomed back to class on Aug. 7 at Belle Forest Community School in Memphis. The back-to-school reception was organized by a neighborhood church as a show of support for students as the city's Hispanic community dealt with recent immigration arrests.

Even before President Donald Trump announced plans to draw down protections for the nation’s young undocumented immigrants, fear of deportation has been a problem within Memphis schools.

In session for more than a month, Shelby County Schools has seen a precipitous drop in attendance by students from the city’s growing Hispanic community.

“You can really feel that void,” said Terrence Brittenum, principal at A. Maceo Walker Middle School. “The lack of Hispanic students is impacting us as it relates to attendance, academics and our overall school community.”

That void started over the summer when federal agents raided several Hispanic neighborhoods as part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants. Now it’s expected to grow with Tuesday’s announcement that the Trump administration will end the federal DACA program that stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Unless Congress steps in, some 800,000 young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as children — and 8,000 in Tennessee — could be eligible for deportation.

“Today is a difficult day for Latinos in Memphis and the Memphis community,” said Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis, in the hours after Trump’s announcement.

Brittenum and Calvo were among school and advocacy leaders who gathered Tuesday night to discuss how to work together in behalf of the city’s Latino community. The meeting, planned for weeks, was fortuitous in its timing. The gathering offered a space for education stakeholders to get their heads around changes to come with the exit of DACA.

The district has declined to say how much its Hispanic enrollment has dropped this school year, but administrators say the decrease is noticeable across many schools.

Principal Tanisha Heaston recalls a question posed by one parent who was considering enrolling her child in Treadwell Elementary School: “How will I know my child will make it home from school?”

“Fear is there,” said Heaston, whose school is home to the city’s only Spanish dual-language immersion program.

The drop in enrollment arrived at a bad time for the mostly black district, which has lost students annually to state-run and suburban school systems that have sprung up across Shelby County in the last five years.

Principals say building trust with the Hispanic community is key to getting students back in their seats. Shelby County Schools has sought to assure families that their students are safe at school, regardless of their immigration status — and that the district doesn’t share private student information with law enforcement agencies. Now, it’s trying to spread the word by partnering with Latino Memphis, an advocacy group that works with Hispanic families.

The seriousness of the problem was underscored by the presence of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and most of the school board’s members at Tuesday’s gathering at W.H. Brewster Elementary School.

PHOTO: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson

“It breaks my heart that we have families that are literally afraid to show up at school, to participate,” Hopson told the crowd.

Just last week, the school board went on the record in declaring its support of the district’s Hispanic students and families. And immigrant families who showed up on the first day of school on Aug. 7 were welcomed back like rock stars by church and community leaders.

Now the district is talking about training school personnel specifically to work with immigrant families and to provide tools so that they understand their rights. High school counselors also need specialized training on how to help undocumented students figure out their post-DACA options after graduation, leaders say.

Perhaps most important, leaders say, is advocating for federal legislation to replace DACA.

“It’s going to be important to hear from leaders like you that we need this,” Calvo said. “People elected to Congress need to hear what we have to say. It’s not a time to be in the back row.”

breaking

Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations around the specifics of the the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.