wish list

On DonorsChoose, a look at what teachers say they lack

With their discretionary funds eliminated and their schools’ budgets deflated, city teachers are supplicating strangers to fill in the gaps.

There are 1,793 projects posted by city teachers – mostly from high poverty schools – on DonorsChoose, a website that allows teachers across the country to describe small-scale projects that need funding. The requests paint a depressing picture of what many classrooms are lacking.

There are the occasional requests for cutting edge technology, such as iPads, tablets and digital cameras. And many of the more ambitious projects range from the creative (violins, costumes, wireless microphones) to the healthy (soccer balls, juicers, pedometers) to the icky (fetal pigs, butterfly larvae, composting worms). But most teachers seem to be asking for classroom staples such as pens, paper, and glue.

Here’s what we saw when we checked out DonorsChoose today:

  • More than half of all NYC projects relate to literacy and language, a focus of the Department of Education’s this year. Many teachers, hoping to make their reading areas more appealing, are asking for beanbag chairs, rugs, library shelves and books. Ms. Coneys, from Thurgood Marshall Academy in Manhattan, is requesting a class set of “Things Fall Apart”  for her students. She writes: “School supplies have become less of a priority, and asking students to go out and buy a book they have never heard of is even more difficult. That being said, it’s apparent that my students have the desire to learn something new.”
  • Some basic requests highlight the irony of classrooms that have been gifted with Smart Boards and printers, but lack compatible computers and ink. “What good is having computers if we can’t print the work we just did? We have been blessed with lots of technology in our school, however we struggle to pay for ink cartridges,” Ms. Glembocki, of Brooklyn’s School for Math Science Design and Technology, wrote.
  • Threatened arts programs are reaching out for help sustaining their presence in their schools. Ms. Achu from Mott Hall Bridges Middle School in Brooklyn writes: “Art…it’s always the first cut, but the most needed. Our funding limitations didn’t allow us to offer art. We soon realized how necessary this outlet is for kids. Many times they bring the wear and tear from their home lives into a school subject such as art to express themselves in a positive manner.”
  • Teachers who want to push their students to the next level are asking for the means to do so. For example, Mr. Murphy’s students at Manhattan’s Frederick Douglass Academy has had a 92 percent pass rate on the AP European History exam but their review books are worn. “Challenges? How about massive budget cuts in an inner-city school that continues to pursue the thoroughly attainable dream of acceptance to a competitive College or University,” Mr. Murphy writes. “Our school is fighting that nearly impossible fight, and going into battle is all the more difficult without the proper weapons.”
  • And some teachers, are using their projects to make their students more comfortable during the school day. Ms. Metcalf from P.S. 70 Max Schoenfeld School in the Bronx is requesting healthy snacks for her students. She writes: “Do you know how hard it is to focus on tackling a word problem or writing an essay when you’re hungry? 97% of my students receive free lunch and do not have the means to bring a snack with them every day, and since we eat lunch at 1:50, they depend on healthy snacks to get through the day.”

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.
Sincerely,

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.”