rap around session

Debate continues about how to offer services to needy students

Poor students and their families should get the health care, counseling, and other services they need.

That idea sparked little dissent at a panel discussion Tuesday about students’ non-academic needs. But exactly how to deliver those services was up for debate.

Advocates of the “Broader, Bolder Approach” — a coalition that formed in 2008 to counter the “no excuses” message of former chancellor Joel Klein’s Education Equality Project — said responsibility for providing and paying for the services should fall to the city. But a top city official said it should be up to individual schools to assess their students’ needs and find ways to meet them.

The panel discussion took place at the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez Campus, a Washington Heights campus that works with the Children’s Aid Society, the social services provider that is launching its own school this fall to model a setting with “wraparound” services, and it was moderated by the CAS president, Rich Buery. It was hosted by the Campaign for Educational Equity, a think tank aimed at influencing policy, whose director, Michael Rebell, was one of four panelists.

Rebell stuck to an argument he has outlined before in policy papers and court documents as part of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that resulted in new funds for city schools. Students have a constitutional right to receive access to more resources in schools, and it is the state and city’s responsibilities to provide them, he said.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and New York University professor Pedro Noguera, a co-chair of the Broader, Bolder coalition, said the city should be able to deliver services relatively easily. One of the theoretical blessings of mayoral control would be collaboration among city agencies to bring health care, social workers, counseling, support for the homeless, and other wraparound services to city schools, they said.

But that collaboration hasn’t always happened under the Bloomberg administration, said Stringer, who is eyeing a 2013 mayoral run.

“I think we can do this in a cost-effective way, and despite the current political and economic environment, it is a constitutional right one way or the other,” he said.

Some schools have managed to find ways to provide social services on their own, Noguera said, pointing to P.S. 28, which has partnerships with the local hospital and a job training agency, and charter schools that use their flexibility to spend funds on social services. But he said school leaders should be expected to go it alone.

“We can’t just think you wave a wand and suddenly coordinated services are happening. It takes time,” Noguera said. “But right now what’s happening is we have enterprising principals with vision who can raise money, and they are making it happen. We know the communities in the city that are the most disadvantaged. Let’s start there with some careful planning.”

In response, Shael Polakow-Suransky, a Department of Education deputy chancellor, cautioned that advocates might be asking city officials to do too much, too quickly, in a process that requires time and local support to be successful.

“This is not a fell-swoop process. It’s a step-by-step process, a school-by-school process,” he said. “I don’t totally agree that the city could engineer what you’re seeing at P.S. 28. There is something very powerful that happens when a leader who is situated in a local community and knows the needs of that local community, who has relationships across the network and the fabric of that community, thinks about how to pull things in.”

There are ways to help communities bring service providers together, Polakow-Suransky said, but New York City’s size means any centralized efforts would have limited impact.

“It’s just really really hard to do that in a city of this scale in a way that’s nuanced enough and thoughtful enough to make it work,” Polakow-Suransky said. “You kind of need to create the space for those leaders to do that work, and then get out of their way.”

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.