Sharon Greenberger When several families arrived at a Park Slope middle school for an evening basketball practice recently, they were surprised to find themselves locked out. The gym, they learned, had been closed without warning so that construction workers could make repairs. The basketball team couldn’t practice, kids were disappointed, and parents were frustrated. Most parents would chalk the experience up as just one of the many small injustices of family life in the city. But for Sharon Greenberger, a Park Slope resident and mother of two, it was a professional learning experience. Greenberger leads the city’s School Construction Authority, the agency that oversees the building of new buildings and the repairs work for the old ones. In recent years, that has become a daunting job. More and more children are being brought up in the city, leaving parents distraught that public school buildings might not have enough room to fit them. At the same time, the city’s aging stock of school buildings — most are at least 90 years old — has required extensive repairs. Greenberger is the woman charged with balancing demand for new schools against the need to maintain old ones, an acrobatic challenge that has only gotten harder as grim fiscal realities set in.
First family-elect. (Via Flickr.) Last night on "60 Minutes," during her first interview as First Lady-elect, Michelle Obama was asked how she will decide where to send her daughters to school. "We want that to be a personal process," she said. Democrats for Education Reform, the lobbying group I profiled last week, is looking at the Obamas' choice through a political lens. DFER wants the president-elect and his wife to consider sending their daughters to charter schools — and, barring that, to support charter schools, a top DFER issue. The group is also asking charter school parents to plead with the Obamas, by mailing in a form letter:
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein called on more than 1,000 Teach for America alumni at a conference Saturday to "wield cudgels" and see themselves as "warriors in the fight for educational equity." But some alumni questioned the feasibility of the warrior lifestyle that Klein said is embodied by TFA grads such as D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and KIPP charter school founder Dave Levin. "We want to be like you," a TFA alum told who now works for the DOE stood up to tell his current boss, District 79 Superintendent Cami Anderson. But he asked how it's possible for a regular person to make a difference and still have a personal life. Anderson, a former TFA regional director for New York City, has a reputation for putting in long hours and having almost limitless energy. Confessing to her own struggles with burnout, Anderson acknowledged that closing the achievement gap isn't going to happen in just a few years, so the work must be sustainable. Before taking her current DOE position, she said, she set personal goals for herself, such as leaving work twice a week at 6 p.m. and sometimes reading frivolous books.
If a Department of Education program launches but isn't press-released, has it really launched? ARIS, the online data warehouse that was re-launched to principals a few weeks ago after a very rough start last year, was re-launched to reporters this morning. (Teachers are next in line to be informed: They are getting postcards (PDF) from the Department of Education this week letting them know the new ARIS has arrived.) A few thoughts: ARIS is actually two different programs, each housed in the single Web site. The first is the data warehouse. The second is a kind of Facebook for the Department of Education. The data warehouse part is meant to streamline reports about city public school students that are now spread across at least seven locations, including some databases created 20 years ago. Teachers at the press event today said they used to spend hours searching for basic information, like what schools their students attended previously, who their English teacher was last year, how they scored on a math test, or how many high school credits a high school student had won. ARIS collects all of that intelligence in a single location that teachers and principals can access just by going on the Internet. Here's what a high school teacher would see, looking at one of his classes
The coalition protest yesterday at City Hall. (Courtesy Campaign for Better Schools) The newest addition to the debate over how much power the mayor should have over the public schools, a coalition of 25 community groups called the Campaign for Better Schools, unveiled its position yesterday [link corrected] — that the public should have a say in policies that rule the public schools. The pro-checks and balances stance is not a surprise. The groups behind this coalition — including the parent-led group called the Coalition for Educational Justice, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Hispanic Federation, and the NAACP — have campaigned against the mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein since they took office, often portraying them as orchestrating power plays against the public will. What is new is the argument the group is deploying to make its case. Rather than portray the mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein as dictators (remember the posters during the budget cut wars that portrayed Klein as a greedy "Simpsons" villain and Bloomberg as Pinocchio?), they are zeroing in on the pair's results — and calling them failures.
Randi Weingarten (via Flickr) Randi Weingarten, the teachers union president, hopes to be known as an unconventional labor leader. She will be sending that signal strongly on Monday, in a speech at the National Press Club that she is hyping as a big deal — both to reporters and to D.C. education insiders. Mayor Bloomberg is introducing her speech, which is titled, "Making the Right Choices for Education and the Economy." Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, the national union that Weingarten recently became president of (she's holding onto her local New York City presidency too), told me that the speech will be "provocative": She’s going to be talking about provocative ways — interesting, unconventional ways — to improve schools and student achievement, and will be putting forth some recommendations that some people would not think are typical of a teachers union. Any guesses on what Weingarten will endorse? Keep in mind that in her big speech accepting the presidency of the AFT, she promoted the idea of "community schools." In case you've forgotten, below the jump is a video clip with the key description: