no snow day

Schools are open, but snow leaves little hope for a regular day

Students walk to school past PS 9, the Teunis Bergen School, in Prospect Heights this morning.
Students walk to school past PS 9, the Teunis Bergen School, in Prospect Heights this morning.

Bucking a regional trend, Chancellor Cathie Black announced early this morning that schools would open as usual this morning. She later added that after-school activities and sports will take place as planned.

But that doesn’t mean that today will be a regular school day. We’re hearing from teachers in our comments and on Twitter that snow is wreaking havoc on their schools. And in the Community section, high school teacher Dana Lawit writes that having low attendance is just as disruptive as having an actual snow day.  Send us your stories and pictures.

“Thanks Bloomberg. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to know how running a daycare felt. Today’s going to be chaos,” wrote BNiche, an elementary school special education teacher, early this morning.

A little later, he wrote, “Wow. 26 teachers absent. Wow.” Twenty minutes later, he updated that tally: “Scratch that. Make that 30. 30!” As the school day began, he wrote once more: “So far, 10 out of 32 students present.”

Middle school teacher Deven Black, who commutes from Nyack, wrote after he learned Cathie Black’s 5 a.m. decision, “I just got notice that NYC schools will be open. To get to school on time I would have had to leave 45 mins ago. Why do they wait so long?”

A little while later, he revealed his plans for the day. “I’ve been trying to call sub-central as required for a half hour and the line is constantly busy,” he wrote. “I guess I’m not the only one not going in.”

Teacher C, who teaches science in Brooklyn, went to school, but she wasn’t anticipating all of her students to do the same thing. “I hope I win the “How many kids will actually show up today?” bet,” she wrote. “I guessed 65% of our enrollment.”

And students who do show up might not be prepared. A city student (and Justin Bieber fan) who posts Twitter updates as RunAfterBiebs wrote this morning, “WTF MAN. Theres a freaking snow storm and the mayor opened up schools. I did no h.w and my parents are making me go. WAHHH IM ABOUT 2 FLIP.”

A student and his parent stamp the snow off their boots before entering PS 22 in Prospect Heights this morning.
A student and his parent stamp the snow off their boots before entering PS 22 in Prospect Heights this morning.

We’re also hearing from parents who report smooth sailing to their children’s schools today. “This was arguably the easiest commute (and yes, we commute) my child and I have had all school year,” wrote Tim in a comment on GothamSchools. “From what we could see, the highways are absolutely spotless, the major arterial streets are just about clear, all of our neighborhood’s and our school’s neighborhood’s secondary streets were clear, the Parks Dept and MTA had gotten to many sidewalks and staircases, and any sidewalk in front of a business was clear.”

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”