Colorado

Denver board hears report on campus sharing

Can two schools with different philosophies happily co-exist in Denver where the term “colocation” has sparked near riots?

Choose North Now protesters hit the sidewalk with signs and chants Thursday before the DPS board meeting when a controversial co-location plan was expected to be approved.
Choose North Now protesters hit the sidewalk with signs and chants before the DPS board meeting when a controversial co-location plan was expected to be approved.

Well, yes, according to a short report by district staff and shared with the school board this week. And that’s important as the district continues to explore shared campus options as a way to maximize efficiencies and promote school choice. There are now 15 campuses in DPS that house 42 schools attended by more than 12,000 students, or 14 percent of the district’s student population.

“Schools on a shared campus that have intentional events to get staff together have expressed greater collaboration between the two schools,” said Liz Mendez, director of operations and support services.

Key components of a happy marriage, according to interviews by staff with people at several shared campuses in the district, include:

  • Frequent communication between school leaders through regular team-building meetings;
  • Including all schools – especially if there are more than two  — in communications regarding the campus;
  • Providing each principal with equal say in building use, regardless of school size or tenure 
on campus.
  • Planning intentional events for all campus staff and students so collegial relationships can be forged.
  • Sharing behavioral support staff, such as school deans, to create a fair and balanced campus culture with consistent behavior expectations for all students regardless of school affiliation.
  • Dedicated areas for each school, such as wings, pods, hallways and  floors so that the school can build identity and culture.

Of the schools on shared campuses, most – or 34 – are at the secondary level.

Mendez told the board that the arrangements save the district money.

For instance, it would have cost the 350-student Creativity Challenge Community elementary school $11 million to buy land and build a school. It only cost $680,000 to renovate Merrill to accommodate the school.

sharedSimilarly, renovations at Gilpin Montessori Public School cost $107,000 compared to an $11 million price tag had Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High had to buy land and build a school, or the $1.5 million cost for a three-year lease in another facility.

But board member Arturo Jimenez pointed out that it would cost the district less if charter schools provided their own facilities.

Board member Jeannie Kaplan also raised concerns about how the district helps charter schools secure locations.

“We’re building new facilities for a lot of our charter entities,” she said. “It’s something I really struggle with. I appreciate trying to be equitable, but I think we’ve leaned over the other way and it’s more equitable for the charter schools.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said schools like Merrill would not have gotten the facelifts they needed and additional educational resources without the impetus of the shared campus and a robust student body to glean efficiencies.

There’s no doubt the school mergers are not always harmonious – especially at the time of proposal.

The community at North High School was not pleased with the idea and ultimate approval by the school board of a new STRIVE Prep High School joining them in the fall 2013. But Mendez said work is underway to ensure a smooth transition. She said the sports teams will be merged with coaches from both schools. A joint booster club is also in the works. The schools will also share a nurse. STRIVE will use the North gym only for special events. STRIVE’s physical education classes will occur in their own multi-purpose room, Mendez said.

The board will take up possible changes to its campus sharing policy at its regular  meeting Thursday. Board member Happy Haynes said she would like to see more information and data from campuses shared by different age groups.

Cole Arts & Sciences Academy Principal Julie Mergel said things have worked out well between her school and DSST at Cole. Cole serves elementary school students; and DSST is a middle school.

“We, from the beginning, have structured [the campus] around the language of one not two schools,” she said. “It’s one school with two programs.”

The two school leaders meet once a month at a minimum, but usually more.

The schools have worked hard to make a harmonious lunchtime since elementary school students are mixed with middle-schoolers. Eighth-graders eat on their own.

However, school leaders acknowledged they could have done more in the beginning to bring staff together.

“It would have been more powerful and created more ownership among the team,” DSST Cole Middle School Director Jeff Osborne.

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.