principles of survival

City's Leadership Academy looks beyond the five boroughs

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Administrators from Greece Central School District this week during a training session facilitated by the NYC Leadership Academy. Since 2009, the academy has expanded nationally as opportunities in New York City shrank. (Credit: GCSD Twitter)

With its annual class of local principals-to-be shrinking, the New York City Leadership Academy is turning its services away from the five boroughs.

Just 28 students graduated from the Academy last year, down from 75 in the 2006-2007 school year, according to city records. Of those, just 19 were initially hired as principals, the records show.

The academy now works with other districts in New York and across the country , as well as with the state education department here, to help them design principal training programs of their own. In recent years, it has contracted with 24 states and annual revenue from national initiatives has tripled to nearly $1 million, according to the academy’s most recently available tax filings.

“We’ve developed into a national organization,” Irma Zardoya, the academy’s CEO since 2011, said in an interview last week.

The organization’s restructuring comes amid a slump in demand from the city’s Department of Education, which has developed its own program in house, and growth in demand outside of the city from districts without an infrastructure to develop leaders.

The academy launched in 2003 with $15 million in private start-up grants as a signature initiative by then-Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein sought to infuse the city school system with corporate values that emphasized strong leadership, autonomy, and accountability, and the program quickly became the department’s favored training pipeline, eventually accounting for 15 percent of the city’s principals.

The program accepted promising candidates and trained them intensively over 14 months to immediately take over as principals — or in Klein’s words, CEOs — of their schools. The approach at times drew fire from teachers and parents who complained of principals who graduated from the program having oppressive managerial styles.

When the grants ran out in 2009, the city picked up part of the tab, awarding the academy contracts that have paid out $27 million over the last four years, according to the city comptroller’s office. That year, the contract represented 70 percent of the organization’s $9.6 million in revenues, tax filings show.

But its graduate haul diminished significantly in the last several years, from 56 to 2010 to 28 last year. Zardoya said next year’s cohort totals around 20. Much of the academy’s work now centers on coaching about 150 principals annually who are currently working in schools.

Zardoya’s organization is also tasked with helping the city recruit for its own training program, called Leadership in Education Apprenticeship Program, a one-year program that accepts experienced teachers and trains them with help from their current principals. In 2012, LEAP graduated 68 people, 25 of whom were hired as principals, according to the Independent Budget Office.

(A third alternative pathway to becoming a principal, New Leaders, graduated eight in 2011-2012, down from 28 in 2009-2010. Twenty-two percent of all city principals last year graduated from one of the city’s three alternative pathways, according to the IBO.)

Meanwhile, there has been a surge in demand around the country in response to higher priorities to provide better teacher and principal training. It is one of the central reforms of the Race to the Top grants and winning states have increasingly look to outside vendors for help figuring out what that looks like.

The New York State Education Department has worked with the Academy to develop a program in Rochester. Private grants funded a partnership with Buffalo to develop a similar program, though Buffalo later discontinued it after district administrators misused the funds.

More recently, the Academy was picked by Greece Central School District as part of a $1.5 million state grant funded with Race to the Top dollars. The academy was tasked with developing a leadership training curriculum, which the district is using to train 85 administrators and teacher leaders this month, said Greece Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

“It’s not a packaged approach,” Deane-Williams said of the academy’s curriculum. “They actually looked at where we wanted to go as a district and customized to what we’re trying to do.”

The academy still has a presence training educators in New York City and last week Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited one of its programs, the New Principals Institute, which supports first-year principals. At the event, the rookie principals took a break to share concerns they had for the new job.

“My biggest fear is that in Bushwick, we won’t be that beacon of hope that those kids need,” said Kyleema Norman, who became principal of the Academy of Urban Planning this winter. “That whatever it is that those children need right now, that we won’t do that, and we’ll lose a kid.”

Walcott, Klein’s successor who has been a staunch defender of the Bloomberg administration’s policies, including the NYC Leadership Academy, shared some of his own advice based on personal experience.

“You will never satisfy everyone, you may not even satisfy anyone, but at the same time, knowing the implications of your decision-making is always extremely important,” Walcott said. “So even if you piss off the entire world, as long as you have your decision-making factors in place that you’re satisfied with, and you feel, and the people surrounding you feel, it will have a benefit to the system, to your school, then you have to be comfortable with that.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of years of teaching experience required for participants to be admitted to the Academy. Since its inception in 2003, applicants have need a minimum number of three years of teaching.

 Anika Anand contributed reporting.

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.