New York

Teaching Fellows fear they will lose their jobs

Many of the United Federation of Teachers’ recent grievances against the Department of Education have centered on the way it treats senior teachers. Now, brand-new teachers are demanding the union support them, too. The main agitators come from a group of more than 150 new teachers who are slated to lose their jobs at the beginning of December if a school doesn’t hire them.

The teachers are mainly new hires for the Teaching Fellows program, an alternative certification program that is like a New York City version of Teach For America. The DOE says it’s typical for some brand-new teachers not to have placements at this point in the year. But some unplaced Fellows said they worry that this year, with budgets tight, they could be left out to dry.

Even worse, they they worry that not only will the DOE not support them, but neither will the union.

The teaching fellows are in a similar boat to the pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, experienced teachers whose jobs have been eliminated and who have not been hired by another school. The difference is that if the inexperienced fellows can’t find permanent positions, they will be let go completely. The reserve teachers will sit on the city payroll.

The union has been working hard to help ATR members — even filing an age discrimination lawsuit on their behalf this spring — but the teaching fellows cause has been left more untouched. So about a dozen or so of them protested Wednesday outside the UFT’s delegate assembly meeting, trying to get support. In doing so, they stood side by side with the ATR teachers.

The UFT made some gestures of support. A top union official, Michael Mendel, said the UFT is supporting the new teachers in addition to the ATR’s. “Vacancies open up every day,” Mendel said, and certified teachers, both ATRs and teachers who have never taught in the system, should get the first crack at them. (Teaching fellows are considered certified once they complete a summer training program.)

The union also included a clause about teaching fellows to a resolution vowing to support ATRs. The resolution vows that the union will “pursue all contractual and legal options to stop the DOE from laying off” new teaching fellows. New fellows signed a commitment form when they accepted their job offers agreeing to Dec. 5 as a deadline by which to land a position or be fired.

But some fellows told me they still aren’t convinced that the union will stand up for them. “We won’t believe it until we see the action,” said one fellow who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “This could get lost in the shuffle.”

Melody Meyer, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said she doesn’t remember unplaced teachers ever taking to the streets before. But she said the number of unplaced new hires is actually fairly typical compared to the same time during previous years when “fewer than five” teachers were terminated at the deadline. “The vast, vast majority of those teachers get hired by principals,” Meyer said.

The number of newly hired teachers needing jobs has in fact been on the decline since the start of school. Four weeks ago, on Sept. 21, the DOE told the Daily News that 229 new recruits hadn’t yet been placed; at the same time during the 2007-2008 school year, 211 teachers needed jobs, according to Meyer. As of yesterday, 157 centrally hired teachers hadn’t been offered a position in a school, Meyer said; of those, 139 are Teaching Fellows, 18 are traditional recruits, and one is a Teach for America recruit.

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.