Bully pulpit

Mayoral control, Obama: unseen stars at Harlem Charter Night

The crowd at Harlem Charter Night.
The crowd at Harlem Charter Night.

Mayor Bloomberg and Lil Mama cheered charter schools, school choice, and mayoral control of the public schools before a crowd of thousands of parents and students last night.

The mayor and the rapper even shared some tactics. “Do we want more parent choice?” Mayor Bloomberg yelled. “I can’t hear you! Do we want more competition? Do we want better test scores and higher graduation rates?”

Lil Mama was more successful with the call-and-response style. She called “Parent” while the crowd screamed back, “Choice!” “You don’t have to send your child to a regular public school,” the Harlem native said before performing two of her hits, “G-Slide” and “Lip Gloss.” “You can send them to a public charter school.”

While many of the kids seemed most excited to watch Lil Mama perform, a team of volunteers and interns at the pro-mayoral control group Learn NY were on hand to encourage parents to sign a petition supporting mayoral control, and a parade of education officials used the unprecedented crowd size to push their causes. (The legislature will vote on whether to renew the mayor’s control of the public schools in June.)

The Harlem-born rapper Lil Mama performed on stage with charter school students.
The Harlem-born rapper Lil Mama performed on stage with charter school students.

Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone and the chairman of Learn NY, spoke about how, just seven years ago, Harlem schools were the worst-performing in the state. “If people want to know why I support mayoral control, this never happens otherwise,” he told me after his speech, gesturing towards the enormous crowd of enthusiastic students and their parents. He said he’s a big fan of regular public schools as well, but “the issue is we want great education for our children, and if it’s parochial, if its public, if it’s charter—whatever it is, that’s what we’ve go to do for these kids.”

Because space is tight in lotteried charter schools, critics say the schools leave unlucky children in increasingly unsuccessful regular public schools. Bloomberg made one answer to the problem in his speech, saying that 30,000 kids are waiting to enter charter schools. The answer? Build more.

“We’ve got to make sure that the reforms that we made don’t all get rolled back by the politicians this June,” he said.

President Obama was the unseen star of the show. Organizers passed out buttons saying “Obama [heart] Charters,” and Canada played a video clip of the president’s recent education speech, where he declared that caps on charter schools are not “good for our children our economy or our country.”

Chancellor Joel Klein declared that charter schools can deliver on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education. “Unless you are willing to stand up and fight and support public charter schools and parental choice so that every kid has an opportunity for the American dream, we will never, ever be the country we want to be,” he said.

The activist Howard Fuller, who chairs the pro-voucher and pro-charter Black Alliance for Educational Options, said that demanding school choice continues in the spirit of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and other black leaders. “Harriet Tubman’s mission was to rescue slaves. Our mission is to rescue children,” he said.

I also spoke to Paul Fucaloro, the director of literacy and math for Harlem Success Academy, who departed slightly from the cheerleading to say that not all charter schools are excellent. “Just because people open schools doesn’t mean they’re going to get the same care and attention to detail that we have,” he told me. “We put our money where our mouth is.”

We’ll post more on parents’ experience at charter night later today.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.