The scoop

DOE dropping school closure plan that drew UFT, parent lawsuit

The Department of Education is dropping its bid to close three zoned elementary schools and replace them with charter schools, GothamSchools has learned.

School officials informed the schools today about their uncharacteristic about face, which comes a week after the teachers union and a group of parents sued the DOE on the grounds that the plan to close the elementary schools represented an illegal alteration of zone lines.

The three schools, PS 241 and PS 194 in Harlem and PS 150 in Brownsville, will enroll new students in the fall, John White, director of the department’s portfolio office, confirmed. The DOE will phase out middle school grades at PS 241 and PS 150 as planned, White said, because the districts where those schools are located do not have zoned middle schools.

White emphasized that parents will still be able to choose to send their children to charter schools. All of the charter schools that were supposed to replace the zoned elementary schools will continue to expand inside DOE space, he said. The charter schools will either share space with the existing elementary schools, as in the case of PS 150, which is getting two schools that are part of the Uncommon Schools network, or they will remain in their current spaces. The latter option is possible for Harlem Success Academy 2, which is currently located inside PS 123.

White said the department made its decision because the lawsuit left parents unsure of which schools would be open next year. “Rather than continue to confuse them through this lawsuit, which is hanging over the process, we know that they will be given all of these options choose the one that will be best for them,” he said.

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who represents Manhattan and had criticized the department’s decision to shutter the schools, said he was pleased to hear the news from Micah Lasher, the department’s chief lobbyist, in a voice message today. He said he suspects politics played a role in the decision. “Obviously there’s a mayoral election this year and the question of mayoral control before the state legislature – those are not the best circumstances to be losing a lawsuit about notification of parental involvement,” O’Donnell said in a phone interview.

Jennifer Freeman, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said an elected official involved in the case told her today that the zoned school in her district, PS 241 in Harlem, would not close as was announced in December. She said she is concerned that the schools could still share space with charter schools.

“As far as we’re concerned, that’s still problematic,” Freeman said, because the DOE did not involve the elected parent council in the decision to site the school there, she said. She said her purpose in joining the lawsuit was to push the DOE to follow state laws requiring community input in decisions about school siting and other matters.

“To stop something that is clearly illegal feels good,” Freeman said. “But as far as the overall direction of giving more voice to communities, it’s just a little baby step.”

White emphasized the point that originally led the department to close the zoned schools: More students who live in the schools’ zones already choose to attend charter schools than the existing public schools. He said that only seven kindergartners from the zone enrolled at PS 241 in Harlem this year, whereas Harlem Success Academy, which was slated to replace PS 241, has already received applications from four times that number of children who live in the zone.

UPDATE: Union president Randi Weingarten, a plaintiff in the case, told me in an interview this evening that she is pleased with the decision. “The bottom line is that the school system has the obligation to provide a public school, not just a public charter school, but a public school that a kid is entitled to go to – not that a kid has a lottery to go to but that a kid is entitled to go to,” she said.

CORRECTION: The original version of this post incorrectly identified the school that had only seven kindergarteners enroll this year. The school is PS 241.

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

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.”