border control (updated)

Second draft of District 2 zoning plan puts CEC in tough position

Rezoning plan for Lower Manhattan

District 2’s Community Education Council is facing a catch-22: Approve the three rezoning plans presented by the Department of Education last night, with all of their wrinkles, or risk missing a chance to solve crowding problems this year.

After parents criticized a first draft of the plans last month, department officials brought new rezoning maps – one for the Upper East Side, one for the West Village/Chelsea, and one for  Lower Manhattan – to the council’s meeting last night. The plans, which council members had not seen before the meeting, address some problems but introduce others, according to Shino Tanikawa, the council’s president.

The Upper East Side plan was minimally altered, while the West Village/Chelsea plan had significant changes. P.S. 3 and P.S. 41, which currently share a single choice zone, will be split into two separate zones. Moreover, the P.S. 41 zone would include inside of it the future zone lines for the Foundling School, which is set to open in 2014.

The main point of contention involves the Lower Manhattan plan which would send some addresses currently zoned for Tribeca’s P.S. 234 and others currently zoned for P.S. 397, the new Spruce Street School, to P.S. 1 in Chinatown, a far less affluent school with many immigrant students. Last summer, families on P.S. 234’s waiting list resisted when they were offered places at another Chinatown school, P.S. 130.

Some parents said the change would damage the neighborhoods’ sense of identity. But Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent and a co-chair of the school’s overcrowding committee, said the bigger problem is that P.S. 1 could become overcrowded.

“The proposals are all just overcrowding the schools around us for an insignificant gain,” Joyce said. “Rezoning does not create seats and seats are what we need.”

The DOE added 180 seats to the area last week when it upped the size of a forthcoming school, Peck Slip, but Joyce said that is not enough. Last month, she helped pass a resolution by Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee that rejects the idea of rezoning altogether in favor of building more schools.

Community members will have another chance to share concerns before the council’s vote, but Tanikawa said DOE officials made it clear that the plan is closed to any major revisions, although they would be open to minor adjustments. At this point, the council is not allowed to suggest new zone lines, only approve or reject the lines the department proposes.

Tanikawa said she might seek legal advice about whether the CEC could approve some elements of the proposals while rejecting others.

Without that option, the council is risking waiting a year to rezone if it pushes back too hard on the department’s proposed rezoning. That would leave the Peck Slip school to open next fall in Tweed Courthouse without zoned students, making it essentially an overflow school for students in crowded schools across Lower Manhattan.

“What the DOE has done is created a Peck Slip zone by also putting in a highly unpalatable proposal,” Tanikawa said. “It would make it impossible to build a strong, viable community that way.”

She also said that the council and families in District 2 hadn’t had adequate time to evaluate the department’s proposal, which was not released until the meeting began.

“People didn’t have anything to react to. If we were able to distribute the proposals before the meeting people could have come out and said ‘this is great’ or ‘this is horrible’ or whatever,” Tanikawa said. “We wanted a good feedback session last night, otherwise we were wasting our time and the parents who showed up were wasting their time.”

Rezoning plan for the West Village and Chelsea
Rezoning plan for the Upper East Side

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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.