New York

Back to normal for the Panel for Educational Policy

After the first meeting of the citywide school board packed Tweed last month, it was a return to normal last night, as the board unanimously approved all of the contracts up for discussion before a thinly-populated crowd.

The main items of interest for the panel were the new contracts for the city schools’ vending machine suppliers. The vending contracts have received much attention in recent days because they are part of the education department’s initiative to get healthier foods into the schools, efforts that have also included restrictions on school bake sales. The contracts are also being closely scrutinized because they replace the city’s controversial no-bid contract with Snapple, which expired in August.

The panel approved the vending contracts as part of an omnibus vote that also included approval of more than 30 contracts in all, including agreements with a number of special education service and teacher professional development service providers, as well as a centralized source for schools to purchase discounted performing arts event tickets.

The contracts were widely expected to be approved, but the meeting did offer a few interesting tidbits:

  • DOE officials said that they hoped that the vending contracts will drive soft drink and snack vendors to develop healthier products. “We’d like to help create the new normal,” said David Ross of the the department’s Division of Contracts and Purchasing. Education department spokesman Will Havemann said that goal was still aspirational, and that the final lists of drinks and snacks that will be vended in the machines is still being finalized. The contract nutritional guidelines, which were endorsed by a representative from the city health department last night, allow only low-calorie, naturally-sweetened, and either caffeine-free or non-carbonated beverages.
  • Examples of snack foods that meet the education department’s nutritional guidelines include: reduced fat Triscuits; Baked Lay’s or Ruffles potato chips; Quaker “chewy 25% less sugar” chocolate chip granola bars; a variety of Nature’s Valley granola bar flavors; a variety of Del Monte canned fruit in 100% juice; General Mills Cheerios and Total Whole Wheat cereals; as well as more simple offerings like medium-sized apples or small- and medium-sized bananas. At the meeting, critics of the new bake sale regulations charged that prohibiting the sale of home-baked goods gives the corporate vendors of these snacks a monopoly in the school buildings.
  • In business unrelated to the new snack vending contracts, Chancellor Joel Klein announced that the long-awaited RAND Corporation study on the performance of third and fifth graders affected by Mayor Bloomberg’s change in promotion policy will be released on October 15. The panel will have time to review the study’s conclusions before voting on the new proposal to expand his retention policies to all tested grades, the Chancellor said.
  • And a group of varsity girls soccer players and their coaches came to the meeting to protest the education department’s decision to switch the girls’ soccer season from the spring to the fall. Teams have reported trouble mustering full teams because of schedule conflicts resulting from the switch, but the players reported more troubles as well: the girls’ teams now have to share limited field space with the boys’ teams, which creates schedule challenges that necessitate playing games on weekends and booking double- and triple-header games. Those scheduling challenges, in turn, are leading to exhaustion and injury for the players, they said. The playing schedule switch happened as a result of a deal brokered between the DOE and the New York Civil Liberties Union in January. The NYCLU had threatened the education department with a lawsuit unless they made the switch, arguing that moving the soccer season to the fall allowed female players to play on travel teams in the spring, as male players frequently do, and thus equalize their access to college soccer recruiters.

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.”