reverse creaming

Vigorous effort yields high-need students for new charter school

When leaders of the Children’s Aid Society set out to develop a charter school with wraparound social services for the Bronx’s neediest elementary school students, they understood the challenges before them.

Putting the social services in place would be complicated but in reach for the nonprofit group, which has connected service providers and offered its own programs for more than 150 years. And Drema Brown, the CAS official leading the project, would draw on her experience as a school principal to develop the school’s academic program.

But making sure that the Children’s Aid Society Community Charter School enrolled the highest-needs students would be a taller order — even though the school promised after-school programming, a longer school year, and a wealth of counselors that would be particularly helpful for them. A major reason is that charter schools’ admissions rules favor families with the stability and savvy to enter a lottery that takes place more than five months before the start of school.

“It is no secret that charter schools are having to deal with the idea that there is a selection process which would seem to prevent the kids who need it most from getting into the schools,” Gregory Morris, the assistant to CAS’s president, said earlier this year. “We’re going to use the foundations we’ve already laid to be certain that we’re going to increase the odds of kids who would be least likely to normally get into a school like this.”

So the group placed ads in bilingual publications and deployed staff who work with families around the Bronx to spread the word about the new school. Bilingual CAS social workers, canvassers, and caseworkers worked together to reach families who otherwise might have missed the chance to try for the charter school option.

Now, with less than a week to go until the school’s application deadline, it looks like CAS has gotten what it set out for. Of just over 300 applications the school has already received, 70 percent are from English language learners, nearly 70 percent are from single-parent households, and more than 20 percent are in the child welfare system, according to Brown.

“We have a lot of relationships out in the community with the families beause of all the work that CAS does in the Bronx,” Brown said. “I have been working with a lot of staff internally around this very notion, saying to them you’re going to be the best recruiters because you’ll actually know the families who might benefit from this school.”

Next year, Brown said, the school will aim for more applications, and more from inside the district where the school is located — two key measures that charter schools frequently cite to prove demand. This year, about a third of the applications have come from District 12, and Brown said the school hoped to amend its charter to reserve a majority of spots for District 12 students.

In the meantime, Brown is checking two more important tasks off her new school to-do list: Finding a location, and hiring a principal.

In January, the Panel for Educational Policy approved a plan to co-locate the charter school with P.S. 211 and I.S. 318 in Morrisania. CAS already partners with P.S. 211, and as a result, Brown said, “as co-locations go, this was a much more pleasant process.” The co-location was approved for the next three years, and Brown said CAS is searching for a more permanent home for 2015 and beyond.

And just three weeks ago, the CAS hired Ife Lenard to serve as principal of the school. Lenard, who holds degrees in education and social work, served as assistant principal at the high-performing Bronx Charter School for Excellence.

“We thought it was important that whoever went into the school could hold both ends of the vision, rigorous academics and an understanding of the family and child support—the importance of after-school and family support services,” Brown said. “Some traditional educators just see after school, and they dont see all the additional supports and the the full range of outcomes for kids beyond academic support. But Ife really represented all of that for us.”

Lenard said she is hoping to bring the academic “best practices” of her former school to CAS. She said the classes would emphasize small, flexible groups, hands on activities, inquiry-based learning, math literacy, and field trips related to what students are learning. She also said the school would make sure that it creates an environment that goes beyond academics.

“You want to have an environment that celebrates achievement, and it coud be achievement in all facets, social, emotional and academic,” she said. For example, “A pep rally means a lot. It’s going to be a norm for our school community.”

Lenard’s main duties so far have included recruiting families and teachers for the school. She recently drew about 40 parents and students to the CAS’s Next Generation Center on Southern Boulevard for an information session held on one of this month’s unseasonably warm mornings.

“They’re the same anxious kindergarten parents as any have been,” Lenard said. “We talked about the school day, the uniforms, the curriculum, what my philosophy is. I talked about planting seeds in children at the earliest age, to groom students to become scholars.”


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.