hurricane days

City raids February vacation week to make up time lost to Sandy

This year’s midwinter vacation will shrink from five days to two to make up for school days cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy, city and union officials announced today.

The city closed schools for five days because of the storm, and some particularly hard-hit schools were closed even longer. In addition to interrupting students’ schooling, the lost time dropped the city below the 180 instructional days required to receive state school aid.

Now, according to a city-union deal, students will attend school on four days they were supposed to have off: Feb. 20-22 and June 4. The February days had been part of a weeklong break that has been part of the calendar since 1990, and the June date had been scheduled as a “clerical day” for teachers and school staff.

With four days added back to the calendar, the school year is now set to be 181 or 182 days, depending on what grade students are in. That leaves a slight cushion for snow days, but if more than one day is cancelled, additional makeup days will have to be identified.

UFT Secretary Michael Mendel said union officials had their fingers crossed that weather conditions won’t merit closing schools this winter, as they have in each of the last two years, because there simply aren’t many more days to choose from when rescheduling.

“We’re going to get shovels out and we’re going to make sure it doesn’t snow,” he said.

State officials are allowed to waive the 180-day requirement for districts that have had to cancel many days of school, but that can happen only after the districts have already turned all available vacation days into makeup days.

Walcott, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, and CSA President Ernest Logan announced the agreement in a joint statement Monday afternoon.

“Teachers, principals, and the school community made an extraordinary effort to get our schools back online after the storm, and by working together, we were able to open most schools with minimal disruption,” they said. “It is just as important that we recover the time lost, and this agreement will provide students with additional class instruction.”

In a separate message to teachers, Mulgrew sounded a slightly different note, noting that teachers had asked why the city did not ask the state to forgive the days and signaling that he thought many would not want to make up the missed time. “It’s not easy, but we have to make up these days,” he wrote. “It is required under the law.”

Mulgrew said the UFT had convinced the city to make special allowances for members who can show that they have already paid for “airline tickets or cruises” for the February break. Those teachers will be allowed to use sick days instead of vacation days or take the days off without pay, he wrote in the message to teachers, and their absences cannot count against them in their end-of-year ratings.

About 20 schools will have to make up one or more additional day because they served as a shelter site or did not have power when most schools resumed classes, according to a department spokeswoman, Connie Pankratz. She said the principal and union chapter leader in each of the schools would have to work together to decide how to make up the missed time.

Walcott was mum about the impending agreement on Monday morning, when he joined State Education Commissioner John King to visit several schools that were damaged by the storm.

“Hopefully we’ll be announcing something soon, but our goal is to make sure our students are in school, getting the maximum amount of learning time,” Walcott said.

“We’ve got to find the time,” King said. “That will be challenging. It might require sacrificing some vacation days, but I know that chancellor and the bargaining units will get to a resolution fairly soon.”

The announcement about the plan to restore the days came about eight hours later.

Some families are sure to share teachers’ quandary about whether to miss school days or forgo planned vacations. But the shortened vacation is likely to come as a relief to other families because they will not have to find as many days of child care.

Lindsay Manley, a mother at Brooklyn’s P.S. 8, said the news came as a relief to her family for a different reason. Manley said that when she told her husband about the schedule change, he said, “Solves that problem!” What problem? she asked. Her husband answered, “The one where we couldn’t figure out where to go!”

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.