Margin Notes

France to dub four school leaders Principal Knight

150px-ordre_des_palmes_academiquesIt’s never a dull day at Tweed Courthouse: This afternoon, the French ambassador will visit to knight four city principals.

The four principals — Gisele Gault McGee of PS 58 in Brooklyn, Jean-Victor Mirvil of PS 73 in the Bronx, Robin Sundick of PS 84 in Manhattan, and Shimon Waronker of IS 22 in the Bronx — all head schools that have French-English dual-language programs. They’re being inducted at 3 p.m. into the Order of Academic Palms, which Napoleon founded to honor educators. The official insignia of the order is at right.

A press release from the French Embassy is below the jump:

French Ambassador to Honor Four NYC Public School Principals
New York, October 5, 2009-On October 20, French Ambassador Pierre Vimont will confer upon NYC principals Giselle Gault McGee, Jean Mirvil, Robin Sundick and Shimon Waronker the insignia of knight of the Order of Academic Palms, in the presence of New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein. The four New York City public school principals will be honored for their tireless participation in the development of French-English dual language programs in their respective schools-PS58 in Brooklyn, PS73 in the Bronx, PS84 in Manhattan and CIS22 in the Bronx. They have offered New York’s 300,000-strong French-speaking community (representing more than 55 different nationalities) access to much needed French-language curricula that will help their children maintain strong ties to their heritage while becoming true global citizens.

According to Shimon Waronker, one of the honorees, “We were fighting to help our children in underserved communities, like the South Bronx. Some students came from French-speaking Africa and were treated terribly by the children in the community, because of the language barrier, their culture and their darker-colored skin. The French dual language programs made these outcasts into superstars and their ‘challenge’ (of being French speakers) became their ‘asset’.”

Giselle Gault McGee, director of PS58 (the Carroll School), is a Staten Island native who has devoted her career to the NYC public school system, both as a teacher and as an administrator. Her school was one of the three forerunners to launch a French-English dual-language program in 2007, paving the way for the program’s current success.

Born in Haiti, PS73 Principal Jean-Victor Mirvil has been a steadfast proponent of the French language all his life. He studied French and French literature at the Sorbonne, and taught the language of Molière in the Bronx, before heading Brooklyn’s department of foreign languages. He has directed several public schools since 1998, and is currently the principal of PS73 in the Bronx.

Robin Sundick, who heads PS84, the Lilian Weber School, has launched multiple initiatives to help underprivileged children, particularly recent immigrants who need increased attention as they learn to settle in a new country. A strong believer in the value of cultural diversity, her school was one of the first to implement the dual-language program.

After a brief stint in military intelligence, Shimon Waronker was well equipped to tackle one of New York’s most dangerous schools. Under his leadership, Bronx’s Jordan L. Mott school (CIS22) experienced a resurgence and was one of the first three to offer the dual-language program. He is currently serving as Chancellor’s Intern.

The Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of Academic Palms) was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808. A brilliant administrator, Napoleon appreciated the importance of education, and he established the honorary titles of titulaire, Officier de l’Université, and Officier d’Académies as awards for devotion and accomplishment in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and research. The award was then made a ministerial Order under the French Minister of Education and now has three ranks-Chevalier, Officier, and Commandeur.



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.