More than a million children in New York City resurrected their school-day routines Thursday as the nation’s largest school system returned from summer vacation.
It was the second first day of school in the city for Chancellor Richard Carranza, who is making the ritual five-borough tour of schools that are connected to some of his priorities, including the expansion of early childhood education and the “Bronx Plan” that is bringing additional resources to some of the city’s most struggling schools.
Our Reema Amin will be following along, and the rest of our team is fanned out across the city to bring you snapshots from the first day. Check back for updates, and feel free to provide your own: We welcome first-day photos and observations on social or by email.
THE CHANCELLOR’S VISIT Carranza has eight public appearances on his official schedule today, starting with a visit with food service workers at P.S. 264 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and ending as school is dismissed at P.S. 146 in East Harlem. In between, he’ll make stops at a pre-kindergarten program on Staten Island; high schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens; and on NY1.
“A REAL CONCERN” Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to reporters after cutting the ribbon on a new pre-K center on Staten Island. There, de Blasio offered some new comments on one issue that is sure to shape this school year: what to do about gifted programs. An advisory group last week recommended phasing the city’s gifted programs out, and today, asked about whether 4-year-olds should be admitted to special programs on the basis of one test, de Blasio said, “It’s a concern. It’s a real concern.” He didn’t commit to a specific timeline for making a decision, but said his administration will be analyzing the report over the next school year. That could even mean changes by 2020-2021. We’ll have more on their comments later today.
FIRST STOP: STATEN ISLAND AND 3-K
As a music teacher played tunes on a piano in the front lobby, parents filed in with their 3-year-olds — some shy — of their first day of school ever at the new Richmond Pre-K Center in Staten Island.
It was the first stop for Carranza and de Blasio as they welcomed families across the five boroughs on the first day of school. The building was the latest opening in an expansion of 3-K — pre-kindergarten for 3-year-old children.
“Despite all the angst and stuff you hear, we continue to grow in a positive direction as we’re serving more and more children at an earlier and earlier age,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Teachers Federation, during a press conference.
De Blasio told reporters, “We saw some evidence — some powerful evidence — in the recent state test scores that early childhood education is working. The difference between the kids who got that opportunity and those who didn’t have it, it was striking, but especially striking because it’s helping us close the achievement gap in ways we have not seen before.”
This school held some of the roughly 18,000 seats available across the city for 3K, expected to grow to about 20,000 seats in a few weeks, de Blasio told reporters.
Dropping off her 3-year-old Emilia, mom Mimoza Demiri said she felt a blend of sadness and excitement — this was the first time she’d be separated from Emilia since she was born.
The minute Demiri heard about 3-K as an option, she knew she’d enroll Emilia so she could learn early social skills. After ranking a dozen choices for 3K, she was matched with the Richmond center, which is less than five minutes from their home. Compared to her friends, she felt really lucky,
“I know a lot of people who didn’t get placed, or school was way too far,” Demiri said.
A TEST FOR SCHOOL INTEGRATION
From our Christina Veiga:
At M.S. 88 in Park Slope, Heather Copeland started the school year with high expectations for her son — and a new plan to help integrate schools.
For Brooklyn’s District 15, the new year marks an important first test of an admissions overhaul designed to spur more student diversity in middle schools across immigrant-heavy Sunset Park and Red Hook, and brownstone neighborhoods including Carroll Gardens and Windsor Terrace.
The district’s initial admissions offers show the potential for significant shifts at some schools, but after receiving their placements, unhappy families still had a chance to find other options — like charter or private schools — before the first day of classes.
The real test of whether the diversity plan is working comes now, when students stream in and schools start to learn who actually decided to enroll. Official enrollment numbers aren’t due until the fall.
Copeland said M.S. 88 wasn’t at the top of the list of schools her son, Henry McLean, wanted to attend. But now she feels it will be a good fit, with courses that match her son’s interest in media, art, and technology.
Plus, she believes in the larger goal of building more diverse schools: While M.S. 88 has historically served mostly Hispanic students from low-income families, preliminary results show that this year’s sixth grade class could be significantly more diverse if families like Copeland’s decide to enroll.
“The idea of diversifying the school is important,” she said.
NEXT STOP FOR MAYOR AND CHANCELLOR: BROOKLYN
Elsewhere in Brooklyn, Carranza and de Blasio peeked into an AP For All class at Urban Assembly High School of Music and Art.
Students were starting their first day talking about what America means to them, when one boy whispered a curse word when he noticed both the mayor and the chancellor walking in.
At each table, students were already diving into the some of the questions adults still grapple with today. They shared whether they agree with ideas such as “America is a land of opportunity” and “America is the most free and democratic country in the world.”
The mayor and chancellor sat in on two separate discussions. At his table, the chancellor eventually veered into a chat about what the students at his table want to be when they’re older. (Entrepreneur, one young woman said). Race and racism came up at the mayor’s table: he asked them if they knew that up until 1967 in some states, interracial marriages were illegal.
THEN THEY WERE OFF TO THE BRONX
The third stop for the mayor and chancellor was Bronx Leadership Academy II, a school that’s part of the new Bronx Plan, which allows some of the hardest-to-staff schools to give staffers bonuses of up to $8,000.
“You guys are doing such important work, and I appreciate it deeply,” de Blasio told a group of teachers before he left. “You’re on the cutting edge of what we’re trying to do with the Bronx plan.”
The plan, reached during the teachers union contract negotiations last year, allows some schools in the Bronx — as well as in Brooklyn and Queens — to provide bonuses, and to develop a “collaborative schools mode,” where teachers and principals work together to pinpoint their school’s challenges and possible solutions.
Rebecca Adler, who has been teaching at the school for four years and will be receiving a salary boost, was leading the sophomore Algebra II and Trigonometry class that de Blasio and Carranza visited. When solving math problems, Adler has her students use an “accountable talk” model: They chat with their desk mates about why they think an answer to any given problem is correct, then come to a collective agreement. But before that, she had students put pencils down and just study the problem — “thinking and observing first,” she said. Adler walked around to different desks, asking students to explain why they chose a certain answer.
The city’s teachers union president Michael Mulgrew and Assemblyman Michael Blake joined them, too, as groups of students looked at graphs on a projected screen and tried to choose the right answer to the problem.
Mulgrew rose from his chair at one point, squinting at the screen and determining with the group that choice C was probably not the right answer. De Blasio and Carranza quietly talked out the problems with their groups. The bell rang, and Adler asked students to quickly share their answers on mini dry erase boards at each table. The correct answer was choice A. Carranza gave his table high fives; they got the right answer. Asked if he nudged them toward the right answer, he shook his head — “No way.”
FINDING COMMON GROUND AMONG MULTILINGUAL STUDENTS IN QUEENS
Hailing from 14 different countries, a group of student ambassadors who are learning English as a new language peppered Carranza with prepared questions at Newcomer High School in Queens, a school with about 80% multilingual students.
One student asked about LGBT-centered curriculum; another asked about what mental health programs are available for students.
A final student asked Carranza, a former multilingual student himself, what sort of difficulties he faced growing up. He talked about learning in school things that, unlike many of his peers, he’d never had the chance to see, such as the Statue of Liberty. Even now, Carranza said there are obstacles that haven’t changed, such as how some people perceive him because of the color of his skin.
If he walks into a “very fancy department store” without his usual suit and tie, Carranza said, “there are days where I know I am being followed, if you know what I mean,” alluding to store employees or security. A couple students nodded.
Overcoming those challenges, Carranza told the students, is what actually matters, and it’s the education department’s job to help students be ready “to compete” once they leave. At one point Carranza switched quickly between English and Spanish in the same sentence, sparking some laughter in the room.
“You’re all going to be able to do that, too,” Carranza said.
THE SCHOOL DAY ENDS WITH SELFIES IN EAST HARLEM
The final stop of the tour: P.S. 146 in East Harlem, where parents were picking up their children at the end of the school day.The mayor and chancellor greeted them, and took droves of photos with students, families, and teachers.
The school day ended without a hiccup, said Vice Principal Daniel Cortes. This year the school had a new universal literacy coach coming in, who focused on helping with K-2 reading instruction “so kids have a strong foundation,” he said.
For years the school had struggled academically, said Superintendent Alexandra Estrella, who credited Principal Mona Silfen for bringing the school back into good standing. A lot of that success, Silfen said, relates to the school implementing certain strategies, such as social-emotional learning, long before they became popular in the education world.
This was Silfen’s 20th first day as an educator at P.S. 146. The biggest change over her two decades here? Universal 3K and Pre-K, she said, which she said has boosted the school’s enrollment.
Also notable, she said, P.S. 146 has lost no teachers in the past two years. “That is a really big deal,” she said.