DPS plans triple use of new building

A complicated real estate deal will allow Emily Griffith Technical College and its companion high school, a new elementary charter school and the district’s central offices to move into a refurbished building downtown.

Cheree Lueck, Downtown Expeditionary School parent, and her family celebrate news that the charter school will have a home at 1860 Lincoln St. and be able to open in the fall.

Denver Public Schools and city officials today officially announced the consolidation of the three entities, including the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, into the 13-floor building at 1860 Lincoln St.

The real estate deal will go to the school board Dec. 20.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Mayor Michael Hancock described the deal as a major boost to the vitality of the city’s core that could also save the district between $5 and $15 million over the next five years through increased efficiencies.

“Downtown will finally have its elementary school,” Hancock said to claps as the deal was announced in a classroom at Emily Griffith’s decades-old current campus at 1250 Welton St. “We heard loud and clear, ‘Bring an elementary school downtown.’”

Hancock also said the real estate shuffle provides an “upgraded facility for the seriously overcrowded Emily Griffith.”

“To the people of Denver – you helped this happen,” Hancock said, referring to the $466 DPS bond issue passed last month.

Hancock pointed out that while the Emily Griffith building needs work, it also has the benefit of location, location, location for a prospective buyer since it is located next to the Colorado Convention Center.

The school district has already signed a contract to buy the vacant office building at 1860 Lincoln St. and renovate it to serve district administrators, teachers and students.

Boasberg said the district is using money designated in the 2012 bond to purchase the building. Bond documents call for $24.9 million to be spent on Emily Griffith, a school founded nearly a century ago to provide education to anyone who wanted it – regardless of age or station in life. The asking price of the building on Lincoln is $19.3 million.

Emily Griffith open to all

Emily Griffith today offers certificates in more than 50 professional and technical fields, from welding to cooking. The new location is close to mass transit stops, which is a key benefit, backers of the move say. The college serves about 8,500 students per year, its completion rate averages 79 percent and 80 percent of its students are placed in jobs or further education upon completion of a program, said the school’s executive director.

“We have been looking for a location that would better serve our instructional programming needs,” said Jeff Barratt, Emily Griffith Technical College executive director. “I think our boilers were created at the same time the Titanic’s boilers were created.”

Parents who choose to live and work downtown are also thrilled at the prospect of a 400-student elementary school opening in the heart of downtown, supporters say.

The board approved the expeditionary school’s charter in June, and it is slated to open in the fall, making it the first priority in terms of renovating the building on Lincoln. Cyndi Kahn, a community organizer who helped found the school, said the school aims to be economically diverse and take full advantage of the learning opportunities available to students downtown.

Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tamara Door said the school has been a priority for parents who live and work in the urban core.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for all of these children, in addition to a [an opportunity] for the downtown Denver business community to envelop the school with support and  mentorship – and make them a part of the downtown community,” Door said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The other renovations and moves will happen over the next 18 months.

900 Grant to be put on market – again

The plan also will mean changes for district buildings at 900 and 780 Grant St. Boasberg said when 900 Grant St. – a dated building that will need plenty of TLC for a new occupant – was listed for sale a few years ago there was a lot of interest.

The building at 1860 Lincoln St.

“As the market begins to come back we expect to see very considerable interest,” Boasberg said. “We’ve seen residential development in the area south of the Capitol.”

DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes that the building was not sold the first time around because of concerns that popped up over a plan to move district staff to Manual High School. The district’s Contemporary Learning Academy, a school for students who have struggled in other settings, is slated to move into 780 Grant St., which now houses DPS’ technology services.

The deal also allows DPS to vacate its building at 1330 Fox St., which may house a new center for victims of domestic violence. In addition, district support staff now working at the closed Del Pueblo school will move to Lincoln St. – making space for the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS) to move to Del Pueblo in the fall of 2013.

DPS plans to fund the renovation of 1860 Lincoln St. through 2012 bond sale proceeds and short-term financing that will be repaid by the “sales of existing DPS buildings vacated through this plan,” according to a news release.

Boasberg also estimate the move will result in $1 million annual savings in operational costs, savings that can be used to hire more teachers and support schools.

“Financially, this is an opportunity for the district to generate very significant savings,” Boasberg said.

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.