Equity

School board moves a step away from neighborhood middle schools in northwest Denver

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with reporters in February.

After months of planning and angst, the Denver school board voted tonight to approve a shared enrollment zone for middle school students in northwest Denver.

Denver Public Schools has been introducing shared zones — where students aren’t automatically assigned to a single school, but are guaranteed a spot at one of a number of schools. — in neighborhoods across the city in what officials say is an effort to foster integration and promote school choice.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the new approach to school assignments will “promote opportunity and equity within northwest Denver…and promote integration and equity in our school district, which are foundational principles of our democracy.

“The narrower you draw your boundaries, the more likely you are to see schools that are less diverse,” Boasberg said. “The broader you draw the zone, the more likely you are to draw greater diversity.”

Those issues have been pressing in northwest Denver, which includes middle-class neighborhoods and rapidly-gentrifying areas, as well as the largest housing project for lower-income families in the state, Quigg Newton.

The board had voted to close the middle school at [email protected] Mann, a pre-K-8 school near the Quigg Newton project, earlier this spring, citing low enrollment and difficulties adequately staffing the school to serve English language learners. That required the district to redraw middle school boundaries in the region.

The new enrollment zone in northwest Denver will include STRIVE, Skinner Middle School, Denver Montessori Jr/Sr High School, and Bryant-Webster. Trevista will remain open as a K-5 school.

Boasberg commended the principals at each of the schools involved in the zone. “We have a common set of values, equity and integration,” he said. “They put aside the fact that some are district, some are charter.”

Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was the sole vote against the plan. Jimenez raised concerns about whether the zone would genuinely foster integration, whether choices would be accessible to the neighborhoods neediest students, and about transportation plans for families in the region.

Check Chalkbeat’s board tracker to see how the board voted on each of the items at tonight’s meeting.

Some residents of northwest Denver had raised concerns about the fact that each of the schools except Skinner has a specialized focus. Some with children at Skinner were concerned that the school would become overcrowded. Others were concerned that the proposals would automatically assign students to STRIVE, a charter school. Still others were concerned that some of those avoiding STRIVE were biased or misinformed about the charter school’s model.

Dozens of families and employees at the affected schools appeared at a board public comment session last week to share their thoughts on the plan.

The new zone gives preferences to students with certain backgrounds at certain schools: Students who already attend Skinner will be given preference at that school. Students with Montessori backgrounds will be given preference at the Montessori school. And students who have been attending dual language elementary schools will be given preference at Bryant-Webster.

Board members said the district plans to provide for transportation and will evaluate how transportation options are working and how enrollment patterns are playing out each year.

“It’s a dynamic, changing neighborhood,” said board member Mike Johnson.

“The legal environment makes it so challenging to do the things we’d hope to do to create equity,” said board president Happy Haynes. “The district’s been very creative in finding ways, through choice and through shared enrollment zones, to address equity issues.”

The district also voted tonight to approve a three-year placement of Denver Montessori Jr./Sr. High School at the Smedley building in northwest Denver.

The board rejected an amendment proposed by Jimenez that would require the district to create a new, district-run middle school in northwest Denver before moving any other new or existing program into the region. Board members said they were not sure how that amendment would align with a new policy that dictates how schools are placed in buildings.

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.