on the scene

Live-blogging the reconstituted Board of Education meeting

I’m conveying live reports from Philissa and Anna, who are at Tweed Courthouse, where the reconstituted Board of Education is having its first meeting in seven years. UPDATE: As of 1:30 p.m. the show moved to City Hall, and we’re still updating from there.

2:15 p.m. Meeting adjourned.

2:11 p.m. Bloomberg: “This is so obviously right, that’s why there’s unanimity.” He also just declared that New York City offers a model for how government should work.

2:05 p.m. Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx borough president, said he might want to convene the Board of Education before September 10. The Board earlier voted not to meet again until that date. “I’ve never had a problem with telling the chancellor what’s on my mind,” Diaz said.

That prompted Queens president Marshall to step in and announce she’s already convened a parent advisory panel. She said she dislikes Bloomberg’s third-grade retention policy. The last time school board members opposed that policy, Bloomberg voted them off the board as it was known under mayoral control, the Panel for Educational Policy.

2:03 p.m. “If we disagree with the mayor, there isn’t a borough president here who wouldn’t stand up and do something,” Scott Stringer, the borough president of Manhattan, said. Stringer’s appointee, Jimmy Yan, is a former attorney for Advocates for Children, the nonprofit that supports students with disabilities. He now serves as Stringer’s legal counsel.

2:01 p.m. Asked what he’ll do about community school boards, which are also supposed to resurrect under the pre-2002 law, Bloomberg punted. “How can we convene them?” he said. He said officials have not considered what to do about school boards yet.

1:59 p.m. “We’re trying to continue on as though mayoral control were approved,” Bloomberg said.

1:52 p.m. Bloomberg earlier thanked Helen Marshall of Queens for appointing Walcott. She smiled and laughed. Now the mayor is warning of a significant risk that the Senate will drag its feet, since the law has expired. He also declared that no chancellor ever lasted more than a year and a half under the old governance structure. That’s not true. Harold Levy, the previous chancellor, served two years; his predecessor, Rudy Crew, served for four.

1:47 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg is now flexing his foreign-language muscles, summarizing the situation en Espanol. Of his riot threats, he said, “It’s a euphemism.” Huh?

1:46 p.m. Randi Weingarten: “So I guess I should have resigned effective June 30.”

Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. offered the lone voice of (some) dissent at today's City Hall press conference.
Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. offered the lone voice of (some) dissent at today’s City Hall press conference.

1:42 p.m. Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz fumbled, referring to the Department of Education. He then paused and said “Board of Education.” Even the DOE legally was called the Board of Education.

Bronx borough president, speaking at City Hall, was the only person to foreshadow possible disagreements inside the new Board of Education. “It doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree,” he said.

Parent activist Jane Hirschmann of Time Out From Testing temporarily stole the mayor's podium, demanding more voice for parents.

1:40 p.m. Before the mayor spoke, parent activist Jane Hirschmann stole the podium. “We want the voice of the parents to be heard,” she said. She has since been escorted from the room by City Hall staff.

1:35 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg, at a press conference at City Hall, said of the revived Board of Education, “These are Band-aids, not solutions.” He said, “The temporary school board has attempted to sidestep the worst consequences” of mayoral control’s expiration.

1:14 p.m. All board members have waived their salaries, says Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz. The law outlines $15,000 a year for board members and $20,000 for the board president.

1:08 p.m. Why Walcott? “He’s from Queens, he knows a lot about education,” Queens borough president Helen Marshall, who appointed Walcott, told Anna. “He’s still obligated to me, and if he crosses that line…” The borough president gave Anna a meaningful look.

PHOTO: Maura Walz
Meet the new Board of Education president, Dennis Walcott. (Center)

1:06 p.m. The entire meeting lasted nine minutes, by Philissa’s count.

1:01 p.m. The Board of Education voted to endorse the Assembly’s mayoral control bill, passing a motion, 6 to 0, to support the Assembly’s version of the revised law. (Fernandez abstained.) Then it voted to adjourn until September 10.

12:58 p.m. Chancellor Joel Klein will remain in office, following a 7 to 0 vote of all Board members. Fernandez voting in favor this time.

12:57 p.m. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott was just voted president of the new Board of Education, and Department of Education counsel Michael Best was voted secretary. The Bronx appointee, Dolores Fernandez, abstained from voting both times.

12:52 p.m. Carlo Scissura, the Brooklyn borough president’s Board of Education appointee, served on a community school board in 1999. Then he “led the district in making the transition to mayoral control” as president of District 20’s Community Education Council in 2004, a press release stated.

12:48 p.m. Meanwhile, James Merriman, executive director of the city’s charter school advocacy center, is in the room.

12:47 p.m. A Community Education Council president, for District 1 in Manhattan, is among those unable to get inside the meeting. Lisa Donlan’s CEC passed a resolution this morning asking that it transform into a community school board. The CEC also requested that its superintendent be appointed the community district superintendent under the pre-2002 rules.

A crowd of people who aren't being let into the Board of Education meeting. Philissa reports that police shut the door as soon as she snapped this photo.
A crowd of people who aren’t being let in to the Board of Education meeting. Police shut the door to the meeting right after Philissa snapped this photo, she reports.

12:44 p.m. A crowd of parents and others are waiting outside the room, unable to get in. See the photo on the right. Police shut the door to the meeting just after Philissa snapped that picture, she reports.

12:36 p.m. The meeting is in the same Tweed Courthouse room as Panel for Educational Policy meetings were held. But this time the audience gets fancy plush chairs with wheels. Used to be folding chairs. Philissa says Department of Education staffers are dressed extra-nice.

12:30 p.m. Weingarten to reporters: “The ironic part here is there were a lot of checks and balances in the Assembly bill that would have gone into effect starting today.” The checks would have specifically given superintendents more power in their districts, she said.

12:19 p.m. I just got a call from two parent activists who aren’t being let in and wanted to see if I could help. I can’t.

Randi Weingarten, city teachers union president, arrived at the Board of Education meeting and was immediately thronged by reporters.

12:16 p.m. Famously tardy Randi Weingarten, who’s still president of the United Federation of Teachers for one more month, just walked in smiling. But no more people will be let in; staff say the room is full.

12:14 p.m. The meeting will start late. The Bronx borough president’s appointee, Delores Fernandez, is stuck in traffic. She’s the only appointee who’s indicated, via borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., that she’ll criticize mayoral control and Chancellor Joel Klein.

12:07 p.m. There will be no public comment at the board meeting. Haimson, with a laugh: “This is the real Soviet Union!”

12:02 p.m. Reporters and new Board of Education members have settled in their seats. Leonie Haimson just placed the book she and other mayoral control critics produced at every member’s seat. No one stopped her.

12:00 p.m. The room at Tweed is so packed that Department of Education employees have been asked to listen on loudspeakers outside.

Newark Enrolls

After changes and challenges, Friday’s deadline to enroll in Newark schools finally arrives

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
A student fills out an information sheet at Central High School's booth at the citywide school fair in December.

Newark families have just a few hours left to apply to more than 70 public schools for next fall.

At noon on Friday, the online portal that allows families to apply to most traditional and charter school will close. After that, they will have to visit the district’s enrollment center. Last year, nearly 13,000 applications were submitted.

The stakes — and stress — are greatest for students entering high school. Each year, hundreds of eighth-graders compete for spots at the city’s selective “magnet” high schools, which many students consider their best options.

This year, those eighth-graders have to jump through an extra hoop — a new admissions test the magnets will use as they rank applicants. District students will sit for the test Friday, while students in charter and private schools will take it Saturday.

That’s news to many parents, including Marie Rosario, whose son, Tamir, is an eighth-grader at Park Elementary School in the North Ward.

“I don’t know nothing about it,” she said. District officials have been tight-lipped about what’s on the new test, how it will factor into admissions decisions, or even why introducing it was deemed necessary.

Students can apply to as many as eight schools. Tamir’s top choice was Science Park, one of the most sought-after magnet schools. Last year, just 29 percent of eighth-graders who ranked it first on their applications got seats.

“I’m going to cross my fingers,” Rosario said.

Students will find out in April where they were matched. Last year, 84 percent of families applying to kindergarten got their first choice. Applicants for ninth grade were less fortunate: Only 41 percent of them got their top choice, the result of so many students vying for magnet schools.

This is the sixth year that families have used the online application system, called Newark Enrolls, to pick schools. Newark is one of the few cities in the country to use a single application for most charter and district schools. Still, several charter schools do not participate in the system, nor do the vocational high schools run by Essex County.

Today, surveys show that most families who use the enrollment system like it. However, its rollout was marred by technical glitches and suspicions that it was designed to funnel students into charter schools, which educate about one in three Newark students. Some charter critics hoped the district’s newly empowered school board would abolish the system. Instead, Superintendent Roger León convinced the board to keep it for now, arguing it simplifies the application process for families.

Managing that process has posed challenges for León, who began as schools chief in July.

First, he ousted but did not replace the district’s enrollment chief. Then, he clashed with charter school leaders over changes to Newark Enrolls, leading them to accelerate planning for an alternative system, although that never materialized. Next, the district fell behind schedule in printing an enrollment guidebook for families.

Later, the district announced the new magnet-school admissions test but then had to delay its rollout as León’s team worked to create the test from scratch with help from principals, raising questions from testing experts about its validity. Magnet school leaders, like families, have said they are in the dark about how heavily the new test will be weighted compared to the other criteria, including grades and state test scores, that magnet schools already use to rank applicants.

Meanwhile, León has repeatedly dropped hints about new “academies” opening inside the district’s traditional high schools in the fall to help those schools compete with the magnets. However, the district has yet to hold any formal informational sessions for families about the academies or provide details about them on the district website or in the enrollment guidebook. As a result, any such academies are unlikely to give the traditional schools much of an enrollment boost this year.

District spokeswoman Tracy Munford did not respond to a request Thursday to speak with an official about this year’s enrollment process.

Beyond those hiccups, the enrollment process has mostly gone according to plan. After activating the application website in December, the district held a well-attended school fair where families picked up school pamphlets and chatted with representatives. Individual elementary schools, such as Oliver Street School in the East Ward, have also invited high school principals to come and tell students about their offerings.

American History High School Principal Jason Denard said he made several outings to pitch his magnet school to prospective students. He also invited middle-school groups to tour his school, and ordered glossy school postcards. Now, along with students and families across the city, all he can do is wait.

“I’m excited to see the results of our recruitment efforts,” he said. “Not much else is in my control — but recruitment is.”


Jubilation, and some confusion, as Denver schools begin their post-strike recovery

PHOTO: Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat
Lupe Lopez-Montoya greets students at Columbian Elementary School on Thursday after Denver's three-day teacher strike.

Lupe Lopez-Montoya got the text message at 6:15 a.m. The strike was over, the colleague who’d been keeping her up to speed on news from her union told her.

And so as district and teachers union officials celebrated their deal at the Denver Public Library, Lopez-Montoya on Thursday resurrected her regular commute to Columbia Elementary School, the northwest Denver school where she’s the longest-serving tenured teacher.

For the past three days, Lopez-Montoya had stayed out of school as Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association sparred over how teachers in Denver are paid. She still had unanswered questions about the future. But first, it was time to greet students.

One girl ran across the sidewalk to give a hug. “Ms. Montoya’s back,” she shouted, burying her face in the teacher’s side.

Lopez-Montoya began to welcome students into the building. “Line up and you can go get breakfast,” she told one boy. “I’m happy you’re here today.”

The moment kicked off what was a not-quite-normal day in Denver schools. With a deal coming just an hour before some schools were due to start for the day, teachers and families had little time to adjust their plans. The district also had too little time to reopen early childhood classes that have been closed all week; those will reopen on Friday, officials said.

Building principals got an email around 7 a.m. telling them that the strike was over and that many teachers would be coming back to work. In some buildings, central office staff and substitutes who had been filling in for teachers were already on site when teachers returned to work. And some students who commute long distances didn’t get the word in time to go to schools.

By early afternoon, about 81 percent of teachers in district-run schools had shown up to work, and about 83 percent of students had, according to Denver school district spokesman Will Jones.

In the parking lot outside Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, a west Denver elementary school, teachers still clad in the red of their cause gathered in the parking lot to walk in together. Asked what the mood was, reading intervention teacher Denise Saiz said, “Relief!” and her colleagues responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

“We’re really excited to get back to the kids,” said fifth grade teacher Emily Mimovich.

While strike participation was high at the school — it was founded with support from the state and local union as a teacher-led school — the teachers said they did not believe there would be hard feelings between those who walked and those who didn’t.

“We have such a good relationship,” said Reyes Navarro, who teaches Spanish to kindergarten and first-grade students. “We understand that you have to do whatever is right for you.”

Parents also said they were eager to have their children get back to school.

Sarah Murphy, who has a third-grader and a 4-year-old preschool student, said this morning was a “bit of a scramble, albeit a welcome one.” She had both children signed up for a day camp at the University of Denver and was unsure if she should send them to school or to camp because she wasn’t sure teachers would be back at school. Then she got word that camp was canceled for both children — but Denver Public Schools preschools are still closed.

“We were left trying to figure out what to do with our ECE4 since they were still closed,” she wrote to Chalkbeat. “We know how hard this has been on everyone, but this morning proved that the ECE program was the hardest hit, short notice every step of the way. We very much look forward to tomorrow when both are back in their normal school routines.”

Not everyone returned to school. Some teachers said they needed a day to collect themselves after an emotional experience. Judy Kelley, a visual arts teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, said she and many of her colleagues live too far away from the school to get there on short notice.

But the majority of teachers who went back to work Thursday describe positive experiences returning to their schools. Ryan Marini, a social studies teacher and football coach at South High School, called it the “best day” in 17 years of teaching.

Suzanne Hernandez, a first-grade teacher at Westerly Creek Elementary in Stapleton, said she and other teachers gathered to walk into school together at 7:45 a.m.

Teachers thanked the subs from central office who were in the building. They headed back to their roles in central offices.

Early in the morning, Hernandez sent a message to her students’ parents to let them know teachers would be back in school. The reaction from students as she greeted them was “overwhelming,” she said.

With the help of paraprofessionals who had prepared lessons, Hernandez said teachers were able to jump right back to where they left off last week.

As far as Valentine’s Day, that celebration will be pushed back until Friday afternoon, she said. For now, teachers are having their own celebration, happy to be back in the classroom.

“I think if there’s any sort of effect from the strike, it’s been a positive one,” she said. “It’s been a very unifying experience.”

Allison Hicks, a teacher at Colfax Elementary, said returning teachers were greeted with hugs, music, smiles and tears.

“After finding out an hour ago we were going back to work, I scrambled home to get ready,” she wrote to Chalkbeat. “I am exhausted, but so excited to be back with my students. This day won’t be normal, but knowing I did my part to put my students first is the best feeling to have.”

Kade Orlandini, who teaches at John F. Kennedy High School, said most of the teachers are back in her building, despite the short notice.

“Teachers were ready, and we are jumping right back into instruction,” she wrote. “Attendance seems lower than normal, but students who are here are ready to learn. The atmosphere in the school is very positive all around.”

What was your experience going back to school? What other questions do you have? Take our survey

Chalkbeat’s Ann Schimke, Erica Meltzer, and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting to this article.