west side story

Tonight, a rally in District 3 to support diversity, oppose rezoning

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A few people protested outside last week's CEC meeting; more are expected tonight.

A rally this evening against a parent council resolution to relieve overcrowding in Upper West Side schools will try to move beyond a bitter fight between two schools to focus on the broader issue of diversity in the neighborhood’s schools.

The Community Education Council for District 3 voted last week after a contentious meeting to introduce a resolution that would move two schools and reduce the zones of two others. Tonight, six members of CEC 3 must vote to pass the resolution.

Before tonight’s CEC vote, a rally will give voice to parents who say the resolution, if enacted, would reduce diversity in several of the neighborhood’s school buildings. “Is this what we want in our city?” asked Jeanne Kerwin, a parent who is one of the organizers of tonight’s rally.

At stake is the fate of the entire two-month-long rezoning process. If the resolution is defeated tonight, the Department of Education, not parents, will decide how to deal with the space crunch at neighborhood schools.

Last week’s CEC 3 meeting turned into a showdown between representatives of two schools that have dominated the two-month-long rezoning process. Those schools share a building on West 70th Street that has been the epicenter of bitter fighting: Parents from the Center School, a selective middle school, say the building would become nearly all white if their school is forced to move. But parents of students zoned for PS 199 argue that having two schools in the building next year would cause hopeless overcrowding — or require some kids to be shut out of their neighborhood elementary school.

At last week’s meeting, speakers from several other schools interrupted the Center School-PS 199 fight to raise issues of diversity. “There are a lot of parents that are concerned about what is going on,” Jeanne Kerwin told me.

Among the issues: Parents at the Computer School worry about what will happen when a citywide gifted school, the Anderson School, moves into the building the Computer School shares with MS 44; until now, that building has had very few white students. Representatives of PS 75 say rezoning could threaten its Spanish dual-language program. And several parents from PS 199 told me last week that they were unhappy with their Parent Association’s anti-Center School attitude.

Kerwin said she organized tonight’s rally using e-mail addresses she collected from parents and other community members who walked out of last week’s meeting to protest what they said was the CEC’s inattention to issues of diversity through the rezoning process. The Center for Immigrant Families, a community group that has long supported programs to desegregate Upper West Side schools, issued a statement saying the CEC resolution should have addressed issues of equity.

A second contingent of parents could join the opposition tonight, but for a very different reason. The Post reported today that residents of several high-rise buildings on the verge of being rezoned for a low-performing elementary school are angry. Rumor has it that they plan to protest the resolution.

If diversity is to remain the focus of tonight’s rally, a major question is what role the Center School will play. The school’s Web site says that parents will be “mobilizing … and hopefully leading” the rally. But a message to the school’s private Yahoo group yesterday from a member of the PTA emphasizes that the Center School is not playing a leadership role:

Just to be clear, the rally … is NOT related specifically to the Center School’s move, but to the general issue of diversity. It is not sponsored by us, and we are not organizing or directing or leading it. You are welcome to back this issue, but any signs … should NOT say “Center School” or use our school’s name in any way.

A Center School parent, Alan Madison, who is also the son-in-law of Principal Elaine Schwartz, told me that community members decided not to make the school the focus of tonight’s rally. “In fact in this case we’re supporting someone else,” Madison told me. “We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

About the Center School, Kerwin said, “They certainly have had their time in the press. … If I were them, I would choose to let other people speak.”

“A lot of schools have their own issues that all tell a bigger story,” she said.

Organizers expect a sizable turnout at tonight’s rally, but they aren’t expecting a last-minute change of heart from CEC members.

“Will [the rally] change the minds of CEC people? I have no idea,” Kerwin said. She said she’s hoping to prompt a larger conversation about race and class in District 3 schools.

Still, one CEC member abstained from voting last week after hearing a litany of complaints. If others abstain tonight, the resolution might not pass.

“If the resolution is defeated, that’s it,” Jennifer Freeman of CEC 3 told me. The DOE would then decide how to ease overcrowding, and it could cap school enrollments, end the district’s admissions lottery, or move schools or programs. Only rezoning is the exclusive domain of community education councils.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”