Pomp and Circumstance

With a bang, Harbor School principal graduates beside students

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Students listened to their valedictorian in the rain, before lightning caused the ceremony to be moved inside.

Faculty and students at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School believe in the Scandinavian saying: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

For four years, members of the class of 2012 endured classes in the rain, snow, and sleet as they learned the ins and outs of marine biology and ship engineering through sailing and diving in the New York Harbor.

But that didn’t stop a severe thunderstorm from interrupting their graduation Friday, which was held outside the small public high school’s campus on Governors Island.

When lightning struck yards from where the ceremony was being held, Principal Nate Dudley helped direct an evacuation of the area. Students, teachers, and families fled to shelter in a tunnel in a nearby building, crying young siblings in tow, then waded through ankle-deep puddles to the school’s dining hall. They quickly dismantled tables that had been set for a senior banquet, and the ceremony resumed where it left off, in the middle of the valedictorian Cesar Gutierrez’s speech.

Dudley said that efficiency and resiliency represents the Harbor School. “We roll with whatever happens to make our programs work,” he said.

Dudley, too, was graduating, after overseeing the school since it opened in Bushwick in 2003. This summer he is leaving Harbor School to become a deputy leader in one of the networks that the Department of Education runs to support schools. He’ll also continue working toward a doctorate in education leadership at Seton Hall University.

During Dudley’s time at the school, it moved from a shared building in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn to its current location on Governors Island, where it has a state-of-the-art facility. This fall, the school will open a marine and sciences technology center, paid for with $4 million raised through public money, including grants from the city council, and private donations.

“For a small public school that’s 70 percent free and reduced lunch to raise $4 million — I want to see any other school do that,” Dudley said.

Although Dudley is proud of the school’s big-picture accomplishments, such as mass fundraising and saving oysters unique to New York, he said he was most proud of the students as individuals. As he walked through the halls before graduation, he stopped to high-five or hug every student, teacher, or parent he met.

“Your daughter’s achievement was one of the highlights of my life,” he said to a father. “Not my career — my life.”

Students said they were happy to share the spotlight with their principal, whom they consider a father figure — albeit one who berates them for being late to class. Many students wore sunglasses to the ceremony, despite the cloudy conditions, because they knew tributes to Dudley, as well as their classmates, would make them tear up.

Dudley with the class of 2012 before the ceremony — and the storm.

“He’s a large part of the reason we work so well as a community,”  said Christopher Lorient, who is attending Roger Williams University on a full academic scholarship in the fall. “I like that it feels like he’s graduating with us.”

Dudley was honored with a scholarship established in his name that will be given each year to a graduating senior who has faced adversity. And he said he hopes to stay involved with the school as a board member, especially as the school navigates its 10-year-plan to add more facilities and possibly expand into a middle school.

He and the 74 students who graduated Friday said they will miss the daily ritual of the ferry ride to and from Governors Island everyday.

Graduate Pamela Riera said the ferry ride facilitated a close-knit community.

“You share that experience of getting to school at the same time, leaving from the same ferry, the same place,” Riera said.

But for Dudley — who took an earlier ferry than his students each day — the ride represented a chance to meditate.

“I will miss my morning ritual of the sun coming up over Brooklyn, with the Statue of Liberty on starboard side and the city on port side, and Governors Island and the Harbor School, straight ahead,” he said.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.

summer mix tape

Ten stories you might have missed over the summer (and should read now as a new school year begins)

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Stand for Children received funding to support parent education.

There is no such thing as time off from covering education. While school doors were shuttered, plenty happened this summer on the Colorado education beat. Here, we’ve compiled stories that we hope prove useful as you ease back into your fall routines.

We’ve got your immunization data right here … 

For the second year, Chalkbeat tracked down immunization data for more than 1,200 schools in Colorado’s largest school districts. Our database revealed that Boulder remains a hotspot for the anti-vaccination movement, students in districts with racial and income diversity are more likely to get their shots and nearly half of schools in the database did a better job this year tracking students’ immunization records. Read our news story about the findings, check out these six charts that dig into the numbers and search for school-level data here.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg reflects on his sabbatical (a break not everyone appreciated)

In June, Denver Public Schools’ longtime schools chief returned from a six-month unpaid sabbatical in South America with his family. “It made us appreciate the extraordinary resources we have here,” he said in an interview about his experience.

A milestone for Colorado charter schools on diversity, but not so much on integration

For the first time, Colorado’s charter schools educated a larger proportion of racial and ethnic minorities than district-run schools, a state report showed. We took a closer look and found that does not mean charter schools are more integrated.

Race, policing and education during a summer on edge

This summer sadly provided no shortage of violence and heartache over issues that sometimes feel like they’re tearing America apart at the seams. We sought to bring some local perspective (and wisdom) to the debate by talking to an ambitious Manual High School student who took up a bullhorn at Denver street protests and to Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn.

A middle school’s last-ditch effort to save itself 

An Adams County middle school running out of time to improve has placed its bet on more challenging, more personal teaching — and zero test preparation. Watch Chalkbeat later this week for a report on whether these efforts paid off in the form of improved state test scores. (Hopefully … the data are set to be made public Thursday).

Guess which Colorado school district had a high proportion of teachers designated to lose tenure …

Compared with other large Colorado school districts, Denver Public Schools had a higher proportion of teachers set to lose tenure under a sweeping educator effectiveness law passed six years ago. We surveyed big districts about one of the consequences of Senate Bill 191.

Too darn hot to teach and learn 

As part of its big bond request of voters this fall, Denver Public Schools wants to try to cool off some of its hottest schools. We took a look at where the mercury soars the highest and found that in 12 of the 18 hottest buildings — some of which house more than one school — the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch exceeds the district average.

But the University Club has a lovely lunch menu (and squash courts, too)…  

What if the State Board of Education held a not-so-public meeting with the education commissioner at a private club downtown to prioritize goals, but didn’t get much of anything accomplished? That happened.

What we know — and don’t know — about Colorado remediation rates

Colorado’s college remediation rates inched upward after years of steady decline, a disheartening development. On top of that, we’re not getting the full picture, either, because of incomplete school-level numbers and non-existent district-level data.

Diet Coke: Coming soon to a high school vending machine near you? 

Despite opposition from advocacy groups, Colorado appears headed toward lifting a seven-year ban on diet soda in high schools. The rule change would clear the way for diet soda to be sold in high school vending machines and school stores, though districts could decide not to stock the drinks. We covered the issue before and after the State Board of Education’s initial vote.