trump's america

‘Education not deportation’: Hundreds of NYC students walk out of class, march to Trump Tower in protest

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Beacon High School students marched to Trump Tower Tuesday morning.

Leaving biology, English, and calculus behind, hundreds of New York City high school students walked out of class and into the pouring rain, marching to Trump Tower exactly a week after the eponymous candidate’s victory.

The march began around 10 a.m., when well over 100 students streamed out of Manhattan’s selective Beacon High School, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Education, not deportation!” The protest coincided with others at colleges and university across the country.

Organized largely over Facebook and Instagram, New York City’s protest included at least two high schools — and was not the first time local students have walked out of class since the election.

Tuesday’s march captured the fear and anger many students have felt toward an election they could not directly influence.

“The day after the election, I was in tears,” said Hebh Jamal, a Beacon senior and one of the protest’s organizers. “A lot of my friends are disabled, a lot of my friends are immigrants, a lot of my friends are undocumented. This is scary. Everyone was just so distraught, and we all want to do something.”

After Jamal discovered a Facebook group that encouraged students to walk out of class, she helped spread the word at her school, and said teachers and staff were accommodating — even if they didn’t all support the protest directly.

Across the country, teachers have been forced to reckon with a president-elect whose rhetoric often comes at the expense of marginalized communities, and wouldn’t be tolerated in many schools.

But on Tuesday, the focus was on students. Their mile-and-a-half-long march to Trump’s soaring Fifth Avenue tower was accompanied only by a single NYPD van that blocked intersections still choked with rush-hour traffic so students could safely cross. Onlookers and tourists occasionally joined the chants, or took video as students marched past.

Beacon junior Chrys Fernandez, who participated in the march, worried that Trump’s policies could soon have a direct effect on her undocumented family members from the Dominican Republic.

“I don’t want [them] to disappear,” she said while standing in a barricaded area across the street from Trump Tower.

Fernandez, who identifies as queer, emphasized a Trump administration’s potentially devastating stance toward LGBT people. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, she pointed out, has suggested diverting HIV and AIDS funding for “conversion therapy” to reverse the sexual orientations of queer people.

“I’ve never been in a position where being queer is a bad thing,” she said. “We’re outraged that this election will affect us directly the most but we had no say in it.”

Other students wondered whether Trump might eviscerate a variety of programs and protections, including federal Pell Grant funding, Obamacare and reproductive rights.

About 30 minutes after the Beacon students left, roughly a dozen students walked out of Harvest Collegiate High School near Union Square and hopped on the subway to Midtown.

Students from both Beacon and Harvest Collegiate said their teachers did not try to block them from leaving — and some encouraged the act of civil disobedience.

“My English teacher was like, ‘It’s fine I get it,’” said Beacon sophomore Jasmine Niang.

Beacon Principal Ruth Lacey did not return interview requests. The school’s parent coordinator, Erdene Greene, said Lacey generally does not speak to the press because reporters “always twist things around.” Officials at Harvest Collegiate did not return a call.

An education department official would not comment directly on the protests, but noted that students “who leave school will be subject to appropriate consequences in accordance with the Discipline Code.”

Still, Jamal, one of the protest’s organizers, said the march left her feeling hopeful.

“The fact that [Beacon staff members] didn’t stop us was very inspiring,” she added. “If this organized event proves to students that they can organize and can be a part of something, then we can do even more next time.”

3-K for All

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces plan to expand universal pre-K to 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his State of the City address at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to offer prekindergarten to every 3-year-old child in New York City, he said Monday in one of his most ambitious education announcements to date.

Calling the initiative “3-K for All,” de Blasio said the plan will start by expanding pre-K seats for younger children in District 7 in the Bronx and District 23 in Brooklyn over the next two years and encouraging more families to enroll in existing seats. The plan builds on de Blasio’s signature education initiative — a push to provide free pre-K to every 4-year-old in New York City — which he highlights as a major success.

“We have proven through the growth of Pre-k for All that it can be done, and it can be done quickly,” de Blasio said at a press conference Monday at P.S. 1 in the Bronx.

But the initiative will take a while to reach every 3-year-old in the city. The city plans to fund eight districts on its own by 2021, but also wants to raise enough outside funding to make it universal by that time.

Over the past two years, the city has enrolled at least 50,000 additional students in pre-K programs, bringing the total to more than 70,000. Still, research has shown the city’s program is highly segregated — a reality schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has described as a product of parent choice.

Officials cautioned the roll-out would probably be even more difficult than expanding pre-K to 4-year-olds and suggested they would need state and federal funding to make it a reality. The city anticipates adding 4,500 new teachers to staff the effort. In order to reach all city school districts, the city will need to raise $700 million in outside funding, de Blasio said.

“This is going to be a game-changer,” the mayor said, “but it’s also going to be hard to do.”

You can read the city’s announcement here.

Two for one

Schools in Pueblo, Greeley up next as state sorts out struggling schools

Charlotte Macaluso, right, speaks with Pueblo City Schools spokesman Dalton Sprouse on July 22, 2016. (Pueblo Chieftain file photo)

The Colorado Department of Education is expected Monday to suggest that five of the state’s lowest-performing schools, including one that was once considered a reform miracle, hire outsiders to help right the course.

The department’s recommendations for the schools — three in Pueblo and two in Greeley — are the latest the State Board of Education are considering this spring. The state board, under Colorado law, is required to intervene after the schools have failed to boost test scores during the last six years.

Like all the schools facing state intervention, the five before the state board Monday serve large populations of poor and Latino students.

A year ago, Pueblo City Schools was expected to pose the biggest test of the state’s school accountability system. A dozen of the city’s schools were on the state’s watch list for chronic poor performance on state standardized tests. However, most of the city’s schools came off that list last year.

Among the schools still on the list and facing state intervention is the storied Bessemer Elementary, where barely 9 percent of third graders passed the state’s English test last spring.

The school, which sits in the shadow of the city’s downsized steel mill, has been in a similar situation before.

After the state first introduced standardized tests in 1997, Bessemer was flagged as the lowest performing school in the state. District and city officials rallied and flushed the school with resources for students and teachers. Soon, students and teachers at the Pueblo school were being recognized by President George W. Bush for boosting scores.

But a series of leadership changes, budget cuts and shifts in what’s taught eroded the school’s progress.

Pueblo City Schools officials declined to be interviewed for this article.

The 17,000-student school district was preparing to make slightly more dramatic changes to improve things at Bessemer. Officials were going consolidate the school into just three grades, preschool through second, and send the older students to a nearby elementary school that is also on the state’s watch list. That school, Minnequa Elementary, is expected to face sanctions next year if conditions don’t improve.

But the district and its school board backed down after the community rejected the idea.

“With the input gathered, we determined that, at this time, changes to the grade reconfiguration were not in the best interest of the communities involved,” Pueblo Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso said in a press release announcing the changes. “We realize the sense of urgency and will continue to support our schools while closely monitoring improvement at each location.”

The decision to not reorganize the schools was made earlier this week.

Suzanne Ethridge, president of the Pueblo Education Association, the city’s teachers union, said the last-minute pullback was troubling. The district, she said, has held up staffing the schools until a final decision was made.

“I just hope we can get to a final plan and we can move on and get these schools going in the right direction,” Ethridge said.

According to documents provided to the state, district officials are expected to tell the state board they want to go along with what the state education department is proposing.

But some in the city are wary of involvement by outside groups because the district has been burned by outside groups in the past.

According to a 2012 Denver Post investigation, Pueblo City Schools had a three-year, $7.4 million contract with a New York-based school improvement company. The company was hired to boost learning at six schools. Instead, school performance scores dropped at five of the six schools.

“It wasn’t a lot of fun,” Ethridge said.

Other schools in Pueblo that will appear before the state board are the Heroes Academy, a K-8, and Risley International, a middle school. The state is recommending that Risley maintain a set of waivers from state law. The flexibility for Risley, and two other Pueblo Middle Schools, were granted in 2012.

The hope was the newfound freedom would allow school leaders and teachers to do what was necessary to boost student learning. That happened at Roncalli STEM Academy and the Pueblo Academy of the Arts.

But Risley has lagged behind.

Macaluso was the principal of Risley before being appointed superintendent last fall.

Like Risley, the state is recommending that two Greeley middle schools be granted waivers and hire an external manager to run some of the schools’ operations.

The state’s recommendation in part runs contrary to what a third party review panel suggested last spring. The panel, which visited all of the state’s failing schools, suggested Franklin be converted to a charter school. That’s because the school lacked leadership, according to the panel’s report.

Greeley officials say the school’s administration team, which has not changed, has received training from the state’s school improvement office, which has proven effective.

As part of the shift, Franklin and Prairie Heights middle schools will change the way students are taught. The schools will blend two styles of teaching that are in vogue.

First, students will receive personalized instruction from a teacher, assisted by digital learning software. Second, students will also work either individually or in teams to solve “real-world problems” on a regular basis.

“These schools have students with some important needs,” said Greeley’s deputy superintendent Rhonda Haniford, who helped designed the plan. “It’s more reason to have a personalized curriculum.”

The 21,000-student school district has already contracted with an organization called Summit to provide the digital curriculum and a cache of projects. The organization will also provide training for the school’s principal and teachers.

Haniford acknowledged that when struggling schools make major shifts it can be difficult, and sometimes student learning fall even further behind. But she said Summit is providing regular training for teachers and principals.

“The district made an intentional decision to support the turn around of these schools,” Haniford said, adding that she was hired last year as part of that effort. “This is one of my top priorities.”