Colorado

Theresa Peña to head Denver compact

Denver school board member Theresa Peña will head Mayor Michael Hancock’s Denver Education Compact, the mayor announced Thursday.

Theresa Peña spoke about her appointment as executive director of the Denver Education Compact at Thursday

Peña, a term-limited eight-year board veteran, will assume her new post Dec. 1, after her board service ends. In the interim, Janet Lopez, director of  P-20 Education Initiatives at the University of Colorado-Denver, will serve in the compact director’s role.

The concept behind the compact is to bring together city government, Denver Public Schools, higher education, businesses and foundations to improve educational opportunities.

Hancock has  listed improved third-grade reading proficiency, lower dropout rates and increased attention to neighborhood schools as possible key priorities for the compact.

“I cannot think of a better director of these efforts than … Theresa Peña,” said Hancock, speaking in front of about 100 people on the Auraria campus.

“Theresa has been a fearless education leader for our city’s children,” Hancock added. “She is a collaborator, she is a convener, and I trust she will continue her hard work…to blaze the trail from cradle to career for our kids.”

Hancock also announced that Donna Lynne, president of Kaiser-Permanente Health Plan Colorado, would co-chair the compact, joining Hancock and DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Peña thanked Hancock for “really advocating on behalf of Denver children, from a perspective that breaks down the silos, and breaks down the adult relationships, which I believe that the city of Denver is ready for.”

Peña said she feels “a big commitment to this school board in finishing my last year. It’s going to be really tough to leave this job. It’s been the best job I’ve ever had. I think this new job is going to be even better because it’s so much bigger than the work we were doing in Denver Public Schools.”

Peña, 48, was first elected to the school board as an at-large representative in November 2003, and was at that time the first Latina elected to an at-large position in the city of Denver.

She was reelected in November 2007 to a second four-year term. In November 2005 she was chosen to serve as the board president, and in November 2007 she was re-elected by fellow board member to serve as board president two more years.

A Denver native, Peña graduated from East High School and attended Pomona College where she obtained her B.A, in sociology, and  Cornell University where she earned an M.B.A. with a concentration in finance and marketing.

Work on the education compact has been underway in Hancock’s office since before his July 18 inauguration and has been spearheaded by Phil Gonring, senior program officer for the Rose Foundation.

Similar compacts exist in four other cities – Cincinnati, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles compact will likely be particularly influential in forming the Denver compact. Hancock said the L.A. compact places particular emphasis on holding all compact partners accountable for following through on their commitments.

“We have pulled pieces from them that we believe will suit Denver’s needs,” said mayoral spokeswoman Amber Miller. “It will be piece-mealed from all of these, but will be unique to Denver’s needs.”

The compact will be funded through a public-private partnership, Hancock said, fueled by “an extensive fund-raising effort.”

The funding is “one of the things that the co-chairs are going to work on together, putting together the pieces,” said Hancock. “But I will tell you right now that we are receiving inquiries from people in the private sector asking how they can lend their support to this effort.”

Hancock set out the sequence of steps he expects the compact members to pursue:

  • Appointment of a board of stakeholders, perhaps as many as 15.
  • A setting of common goals and an establishment of metrics to monitor progress toward those goals.
  • Identifying best approaches to achieve the desired progress toward those goals.
  • Each compact member will make a specific commitment on how they can help meet the goals.
  • Clear measures of the progress toward established goals will be reported each year.

Hancock was joined at Thursday’s announcement by Boasberg, among others.

“I’m terrifically grateful to Mayor Hancock for thinking of this, and for driving this idea, and bringing this idea to a reality,” Boasberg said.

Among those looking on at the announcement event was Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

“We wish her luck,” Roman said of Peña, who has had a sometimes edgy relationship with the union. “It’s going to be a challenging job, and we look forward to collaborating with her in moving the schools forward.”

Asked if he believed the union would have a seat at the table in the compact, Roman said, “My understanding is that all of the stakeholders will be a part of the collaboration. So we will find out soon.”

Van Schoales, who recently took the helm of  the A+ Denver advocacy organization, said Peña’s appointment “sends a really strong message that his administration is going to be focused on education reform.

“It’s reflective of what he said in the campaign, that it’s not about compromise, or slowing things down, but that if anything, we need to accelerate and deepen reform.”

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.