a big day

Ballot count, "like watching paint dry," underway in UFT election

Julie Cavanagh, speaking to UFT members at Murry Bergtraum High School last week, is running against union President Michael Mulgrew in this spring's election.
P.S. 15 teacher Julie Cavanagh, seen during a campaign stop earlier this year, ran against UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this year’s union elections, whose winners will be announced today.

The United Federation of Teachers’ internal election season comes to a close today when a vote count decides who will be the union’s leader for the next three years.

Current President Michael Mulgrew is expected to win another term easily, after garnering 91 percent of the vote three years ago. But more than 90 other positions are also being filled, many with significant decision-making power. The vote also offers an opportunity to gauge dissent within the union at a potentially pivotal moment for education in the city.

The vote count is taking place at a Holiday Inn on 57th Street in Manhattan, where about 70 employees of the American Arbitration Association are processing ballots that have rolled in by mail from UFT members across the country.

The UFT’s elections committee decided that only union members can attend the public vote, according to Jeff Zaino, vice president of AAA, which handles elections for unions across the country. Representatives of each of the union’s internal parties are on hand to observe the process.

But there isn’t actually that much to see, Zaino said. The election workers are opening shrink-wrapped stacks of envelopes carted over from AAA’s headquarters, then pulling ballot sheets out individually to run them through a scanner. At some point, the workers will take a break to consume about $1,000 worth of pizza. Then they will return to scan more ballots.

“It’s like watching paint dry,” Zaino said. “It’s really boring.”

Only a fraction of union members vote in leadership elections, and a significant portion of them are retirees whose votes tend to fall heavily with Unity, Mulgrew’s part, which has never lost a leadership election. Still, by the end of the day, the union will know how big a bite the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a minority caucus, has taken out of Unity’s total.

“MORE had two goals in this election campaign: To build a grassroots movement of educators and school-based workers and to replace the current UFT leadership,” the group wrote in a statement released Wednesday night. “Whether or not we succeed in the latter goal, we are confident that we made important strides toward the former. … We have made a bigger splash in this election than we thought possible.”

The group is throwing a “victory party” tonight to celebrate its impact on the election, citing a growing social media following and interest in its campaign literature from schools in all five boroughs. And it has also vowed to maintain a collegial rivalry with Mulgrew and his deputies into the next union administration.

“If we do not win this vote, we will work with the elected UFT leadership when they stand up and fight for educators, students, and parents,” the caucus’s statement said. “We will also continue to challenge the UFT leadership when they don’t.”

A second minority group, New Action, opposes some of Mulgrew’s positions but has endorsed his candidacy.

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.