war of attrition

No teacher attrition in next year's city budget, insiders say

The executive budget Mayor Bloomberg will unveil tomorrow won’t call for any reduction in the size of the city’s teaching corps, according to sources at the City Council.

In each of the last two years, the city has narrowly avoided teacher layoffs but has still seen the number of teaching positions drop because of attrition, last year by 1,800 spots. For next year, a hotly debated line in the mayor’s preliminary budget called for the city to leave about many teaching spots unfilled. The city pegged the reduction at about 1,100 positions, but City Council members said the real shortfall would have cost 2,500 jobs.

Council members continued to be distressed about the proposal even after Chancellor Dennis Walcott assured them during a hearing in March that the final budget would find funds to close the gap and make attrition unnecessary.

“It’s my goal and our hope to make sure that the budget stay flat without having any cuts to our schools,” Walcott said at the time. “We’re going to work very hard within the system that any type of absorptions be done centrally.”

At a press conference this morning, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said concerns about attrition had persisted.

“In the council’s budget response, we articulated very significant concern about the level of proposed attrition within the department of education,” Quinn said. “I hope we get action in that area.”

The council sources could not say whether deep cuts slated for after-school programs would be rolled back. Advocates have been pressing the city to restore some of the proposed after-school cuts, including with a barrage of phone calls this week, and are planning a rally on the steps of City Hall for moments after the executive budget presentation on Thursday.

Next year would be the first without planned attrition since the Department of Education imposed sweeping hiring restrictions in 2009, and it suggests that conditions are right for some of those restrictions to be lifted as schools enter the thick of hiring season.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the budget news should augur new possibilities in class size reduction, a union priority.

“This is good news, Mulgrew said in a statement. “We’ve lost thousands of teachers over the last three years to attrition, and class size is higher than it has been for decades. As the city stabilizes its teacher losses — and ideally starts hiring more — we should be able to start bringing those class sizes down.”

But whether the city can continue to rebound is an open question. According to WNYC, Bloomberg is set to say that the city’s revenue is not growing as quickly as city analysts had predicted.

In the next two months, the mayor and council will joust over the budget’s details, and a final budget must be set before July 1.

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.