election 2013

Schools play starring role as primary election day finally arrives

triptychMonths of mayoral candidates’ promises and pavement-pounding culminate today, when New Yorkers head to the polls to pick their favorite candidate from each political party.

City schools will play a starring role in the election. About 650 of the city’s school buildings are being used as polling stations today, meaning that unfamiliar adults will be filing in and out all day, especially at drop-off time this morning, to wrangle with old-style voting machines. For some of them, Election Day is the only time they will ever step inside a public school.

(Voting today? Take our voters guides to the Democratic and Republican primaries with you, and don’t forget our tracker of all candidates’ education positionsNY1, the New York Times, City Limits, the Center for Arts Education, among others, all produced resources for education voters, too.)

For the most part, schools will be trying to maintain the routines that they established on Monday, the first day of the school year. But that could be difficult as candidates bring their coteries of supporters and reporters with them to vote.

And at least one network of schools is turning election day into a learning experience. The Democracy Prep Public Schools charter network is sending students from its eight schools onto the streets of Harlem to get out the vote as part of its “I Can’t Vote But You Can” campaign. The network is focused on civic participation and wants to see the primary turnout lifted far above the 11 percent rate from 2009, the lowest in the city’s history.

It’s the second year of the campaign. Last year, Democracy Prep students spent Election Day in November getting out the vote for the presidential contest, when it was difficult for some of them to contain their enthusiasm for Barack Obama.

Most last-minute activities today will be far more partisan. The UFT will be pulling out all the stops for the candidate it endorsed, Bill Thompson. Union members will campaign with Thompson in Harlem this morning and will hand out campaign literature and man phone banks in multiple locations all afternoon.

Union president Michael Mulgrew, who campaigned with Thompson on Monday, will be at Thompson’s campaign headquarters tonight, hoping for the good news that frontrunner Bill de Blasio did not clear the 40 percent threshold that would eliminate the need for a runoff election. The most recent poll about the election, released by Quinnipiac Polling Institute on Monday, suggested that de Blasio could jump that hurdle — or that the Democratic primary would turn into a “Battle of the Bills.”

On Monday, Thompson started the last 24 hours of his campaign greeting parents outside his mother’s old school, P.S. 262 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where she taught for 26 years. Thompson was in full campaign mode, taking some time to attack de Blasio, who has surged in popularity in recent weeks in polls.

Referring to de Blasio’s goal of taxing high-earning New Yorkers to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, which has come under scrutiny because it faces steep political obstacles, Thompson said this election “is not about making things up. It’s not about fantasy programs.”

Halfway across the borough, de Blasio defended himself during a bustling campaign stop at P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens.

Monday’s polls showed that nearly a fifth of likely voters said they still felt open to switching their votes. But parents in central Brooklyn dropping of their children at school on the first day had mostly made up their mind.

Doranda Taitt, whose two children attend two of the new charter schools in the area — La Cima and Bed-Stuy Collegiate — said Thompson had her vote. “I’ve heard good things about him,” she said.

Thompson was even flanked by officials who send their children to charter schools. Robert Cornegy, Jr., a candidate for City Council, appeared with Thompson and Mulgrew, whose union endorsed Cornegy’s opponent.

Two women said they liked Comptroller John Liu, who has trailed in the polls amid scandal surrounding his campaign. One was Iva Webster, who was bringing her great-granddaughter to P.S. 262 for the first day of first grade. The other was Monet Johnson, who was sending her daughter to her first day of full day pre-K at the school.

“I’m a city worker and he’s the only one who’s said he’d give us raises,” Johnson said.

But outside a school where City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was campaigning on the Upper West Side, several people on Monday said they still had not made up their minds between de Blasio and Quinn, who lately has been polling third.

Jane Escolastico’s daughter Julia is starting first grade and son Jeremy is starting fifth grade. She said she’s voting for Quinn not because of anything she heard today but because she remembers Quinn helping advocate for a gym and an elevator where her oldest son went to high school, the NYC iSchool in Tribeca. “I’ve seen her in action working hand in hand with schools,” Escolastico said.

Another mother, Jenny Falcon, said she hadn’t made up her mind. She pressed Quinn about her support for charter schools, saying, “You need to make new public schools, not just new charter schools.” When Quinn continued her pitch, emphasizing her plan to add schools citywide, Falcon pressed on. “Not just charter schools,” she said. “If you’re mayor, please, really!”

Sarah Darville 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.