transition talk

De Blasio advisors include critics of Bloomberg school policies

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 4.13.15 PMA leading special education advocate and a PTA president are among the 60 people that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has named to his “transition committee.”

The committee will advise de Blasio as he crafts policies for his administration, which begins Jan. 1. Its composition signals de Blasio’s priorities now that campaigning has given way to governing — and the names on the list suggest that, on education especially, de Blasio plans to stick with the profile of staunch progressive that he cultivated on the campaign trail.

The committee includes Zakiyah Ansari, the Alliance for Quality Education’s advocacy director and a leading critic of the Bloomberg’s education policies; Cynthia Nixon, an actress who herself has worked with AQE; and Kim Sweet, a special education advocate whose organization has repeatedly sued the city under Bloomberg. All are public school parents.

While the list of civic, business, and cultural leaders does include some allies of the Bloomberg administration, none of the education names on the committee have been strongly aligned with Bloomberg’s school policies.

Charter school advocates, who have said they are cautiously optimistic that de Blasio would back down on his pledge to charge rent to some charter schools, are not represented on the committee. But one member, Children’s Aid Society head Richard Buery, does operate a charter school within city-owned space.

Buery has been a leading advocate of community schools, or adding more social services to city schools, an arrangement that de Blasio has said he would pursue.

Although de Blasio has said he will heavily weigh the influence of educators on his school policies, the committee does not feature any. One member, Brooklyn Academy of Music President Karen Brook Hopkins, was a member of the state’s education policy making board for four years until 2010.

De Blasio said today — during his first public appearance in days — that the transition committee “will result in a city government that is progressive, that is effective, and is diverse … It really reflects all the strengths of New York City.”

The list of committee members is below, with education-oriented members in bold:

Jennifer Jones Austin, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)

Carl Weisbrod, Co-Chair, Transition NYC (previously named)

Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, Studio Museum of Harlem

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, President and Founder of Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute

Cheryl Cohen Effron, Founder, Greater NY; Former President, ATC Management

Karen Brooks Hopkins, President, Brooklyn Academy of Music

Alexa Avilés, Program Officer, Scherman Foundation; Co-President, Parent Teacher Association of Public School 172

Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education

Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President and Special Advisor for Campus Planning, Office of Government and Community Affairs, Columbia University

Kate Sinding Esq., Senior Attorney, New York Urban Program, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Hon. Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, Former Councilmember, 40th District

MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO, Forest City Ratner Companies

Bertha Lewis, President and Founder, The Black Institute

Marcia A. Smith, President, Firelight Media

Ana Oliveira, President and CEO, The New York Women’s Foundation

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST)

Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Martha Baker, Executive Director and CEO, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW)

Dr. Katherine LaGuardia, Assistant Clinical Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Mount Sinai Medical Center

Dr. Conchita M. Mendoza, Chief of Geriatrics, University Hospital of Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital

Cynthia Nixon, Actress, Artist, Activist

Arnold L. Lehman, Director, Brooklyn Museum

Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, The Public Theater

Edward (Ed) Lewis, Founder, Essence Communications, Inc.

Richard Buery, Jr., President and CEO, The Children’s Aid Society

William Floyd, Head of External Affairs, Google, Inc.

Meyer (Sandy) Frucher, Vice Chairman, The NASDAQ OMX Group

Orin Kramer, Founder, Boston Provident LP

Vincent (Vinny) Alvarez, President, NYC Central Labor Council

Peter Madonia, COO, The Rockefeller Foundation

Ken Sunshine, Founder, Sunshine Sachs

Harold Ickes, Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff

Dr. Rafael Lantigua, Professor of Clinical Medicine, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center

John Banks, Vice President of Government Relations, Con Edison; Board Member, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)

Douglas (Doug) Durst, Chairman, The Durst Organization

Derrick Cephas, Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Former CEO and President, Amalgamated Bank

Herb Sturz, Co-founder, Vera Institue of Justice

Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Rabbi Michael Miller, Executive Vice President and CEO, Jewish Community Relations Council

Pastor Michael Walrond, Jr., Director of Ministers Division, National Action Network (NAN); Seventh Senior Pastor, First Corinthian Baptist Church

Udai Tambar, Executive Director, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!)

David Jones, President and CEO, Community Service Society of New York (CSS)

Marvin Hellman, President, OHEL Childrens Home and Family Services

Rev. A.R. Bernard, Founder, Senior Pastor, and CEO, Christian Cultural Center

George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

Dr. Steven Safyer, President and CEO, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Ken Lerer, Managing Director, Lerer Ventures; Former Chairman and Co-Founder, Huffington Post

Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director and Chaplain, Islamic Center, New York University

Marian Fontana, Board Member, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Families Advisory Council

Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL, Inc.

Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman, Gilt

Pam Kwatra, President, Kripari Marketing; Executive Committee, Indian National Overseas Congress

Elsie Saint Louis, Executive Director, Haitian-Americans United for Progress, Inc.

Vanessa Leung, Deputy Director, Coalition for Asian American Children & Families

Paula Gavin, Executive Director, Fund for Public Advocacy

Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York

Dr. Marcia Keizs, President, York College, The City University of New York

Jukay Hsu, Founder, Coalition for Queens

Arnie Segarra, Activist and Longtime NYC Public Servant

Elba Montalvo, Founder, President, and CEO, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc.

Mindy Tarlow, Executive Director and CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, Executive Director, Queens Council on the Arts

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.