transition talk

De Blasio advisors include critics of Bloomberg school policies

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 4.13.15 PMA leading special education advocate and a PTA president are among the 60 people that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has named to his “transition committee.”

The committee will advise de Blasio as he crafts policies for his administration, which begins Jan. 1. Its composition signals de Blasio’s priorities now that campaigning has given way to governing — and the names on the list suggest that, on education especially, de Blasio plans to stick with the profile of staunch progressive that he cultivated on the campaign trail.

The committee includes Zakiyah Ansari, the Alliance for Quality Education’s advocacy director and a leading critic of the Bloomberg’s education policies; Cynthia Nixon, an actress who herself has worked with AQE; and Kim Sweet, a special education advocate whose organization has repeatedly sued the city under Bloomberg. All are public school parents.

While the list of civic, business, and cultural leaders does include some allies of the Bloomberg administration, none of the education names on the committee have been strongly aligned with Bloomberg’s school policies.

Charter school advocates, who have said they are cautiously optimistic that de Blasio would back down on his pledge to charge rent to some charter schools, are not represented on the committee. But one member, Children’s Aid Society head Richard Buery, does operate a charter school within city-owned space.

Buery has been a leading advocate of community schools, or adding more social services to city schools, an arrangement that de Blasio has said he would pursue.

Although de Blasio has said he will heavily weigh the influence of educators on his school policies, the committee does not feature any. One member, Brooklyn Academy of Music President Karen Brook Hopkins, was a member of the state’s education policy making board for four years until 2010.

De Blasio said today — during his first public appearance in days — that the transition committee “will result in a city government that is progressive, that is effective, and is diverse … It really reflects all the strengths of New York City.”

The list of committee members is below, with education-oriented members in bold:

Jennifer Jones Austin, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)

Carl Weisbrod, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)

Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, Studio Museum of Harlem

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, President and Founder of Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

Cheryl Cohen Effron, Founder, Greater NY; Former President, ATC Management

Karen Brooks Hopkins, President, Brooklyn Academy of Music

Alexa Avilés, Program Officer, Scherman Foundation; Co-President, Parent Teacher Association of Public School 172

Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education

Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President and Special Advisor for Campus Planning, Office of Government and Community Affairs, Columbia University

Kate Sinding Esq., Senior Attorney, New York Urban Program, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Hon. Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, Former Councilmember, 40th District

MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO, Forest City Ratner Companies

Bertha Lewis, President and Founder, The Black Institute

Marcia A. Smith, President, Firelight Media

Ana Oliveira, President and CEO, The New York Women’s Foundation

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST)

Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Martha Baker, Executive Director and CEO, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW)

Dr. Katherine LaGuardia, Assistant Clinical Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Mount Sinai Medical Center

Dr. Conchita M. Mendoza, Chief of Geriatrics, University Hospital of Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital

Cynthia Nixon, Actress, Artist, Activist

Arnold L. Lehman, Director, Brooklyn Museum

Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater

Edward (Ed) Lewis, Founder, Essence Communications, Inc.

Richard Buery, Jr., President and CEO, The Children’s Aid Society

William Floyd, Head of External Affairs, Google, Inc.

Meyer (Sandy) Frucher, Vice Chairman, The NASDAQ OMX Group

Orin Kramer, Founder, Boston Provident LP

Vincent (Vinny) Alvarez, President, NYC Central Labor Council

Peter Madonia, COO, The Rockefeller Foundation

Ken Sunshine, Founder, Sunshine Sachs

Harold Ickes, Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff

Dr. Rafael Lantigua, Professor of Clinical Medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center

John Banks, Vice President of Government Relations, Con Edison; Board Member, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)

Douglas (Doug) Durst, Chairman, The Durst Organization

Derrick Cephas, Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Former CEO and President, Amalgamated Bank

Herb Sturz, Co-founder, Vera Institue of Justice

Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Rabbi Michael Miller, Executive Vice President and CEO, Jewish Community Relations Council

Pastor Michael Walrond, Jr., Director of Ministers Division, National Action Network (NAN); Seventh Senior Pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church

Udai Tambar, Executive Director, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!)

David Jones, President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York (CSS)

Marvin Hellman, President, OHEL Childrens Home and Family Services

Rev. A.R. Bernard, Founder, Senior Pastor, and CEO, Christian Cultural Center

George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

Dr. Steven Safyer, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Ken Lerer, Managing Director, Lerer Ventures; Former Chairman and Co-Founder, Huffington Post

Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director and Chaplain, Islamic Center, New York University

Marian Fontana, Board Member, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Families Advisory Council

Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL, Inc.

Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman, Gilt

Pam Kwatra, President, Kripari Marketing; Executive Committee, Indian National Overseas Congress

Elsie Saint Louis, Executive Director, Haitian-Americans United for Progress, Inc.

Vanessa Leung, Deputy Director, Coalition for Asian American Children & Families

Paula Gavin, Executive Director, Fund for Public Advocacy

Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York

Dr. Marcia Keizs, President, York College, The City University of New York

Jukay Hsu, Founder, Coalition for Queens

Arnie Segarra, Activist and Longtime NYC Public Servant

Elba Montalvo, Founder, President, and CEO, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc.

Mindy Tarlow, Executive Director and CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Executive Director, Queens Council on the Arts

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.