parent disengagement

An outspoken parent quits a Queens district council in disgust

Charging that elected parent councils are “window dressing” that allow the city to avoid listening to families, a member of one of them quit publicly last night.

Brian Rafferty, a member of the Community Education Council for District 24, announced his resignation at the council’s meeting by reading a letter of protest he had written to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“The Community Education Council serves no purpose other than to be a shield between the Department of Education and the parents of schoolchildren citywide,” Rafferty wrote in the letter, which he also posted on Facebook.

Rafferty echoed complaints that parents around the city have sounded for years about the weak role of the councils, which are seen as one of the few venues for parents to voice opinions about DOE policies, even though their only statutory function is to redraw school zone lines. Over the summer, after a disastrous set of council elections that had to be conducted twice, Walcott replaced the head of the DOE’s family engagement office.

But Rafferty suggested that little has changed since then. He said council members did not receive maps of new school zones until just before a recent public meeting about them, so members could not respond to parents’ criticism.

“We were as blindsided as the parents, and our job, as whipping boys for the DOE, was to take the brunt of the parents’ lashes without any regard to our own opinions on this,” Rafferty said.

“We are the volunteer appointed go-betweens who waste our time swallowing the vitriol and scorn of angry parents so the DOE doesn’t have to taste it. We bear the punches of the angry parents so that the DOE doesn’t have to feel the frustration,” he said.

This is not the first time Rafferty has made the news. Last year, Rafferty, who is also executive editor of the Queens Tribune, said the New York Post fabricated a column under his name advocating for the public release of teachers’ ratings.

Rafferty’s full letter of resignation is below.

September 27, 2011

To Chancellor Dennis Walcott:

The Community Education Council serves no purpose other than to be a shield between the Department of Education and the parents of schoolchildren citywide.

I would feel better about the work we do if I considered us to be an annoyance – that would mean that we’ve gotten under somebody’s skin and we have to be dealt with.

The reality is quite the opposite. The Dept. of Education does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it and to whomever it feels like. It does not care about the parents – and why should it? It views the parents as unnecessary in the process.

And let me be clear, I’m not talking about those who are here tonight, any other CEC night, at parent-teacher conferences, asking kids about their homework, making sure they put their studies first and involved in their children’s lives. No, I’m talking about the great majority of parents that have neither the time, interest, desire or understanding to do what they need to in order for their children to succeed. That is the great silent majority – the people who don’t care enough to try their best.

The Dept. of Education uses the human shield of the Community Education Council to deflect the anger, resentment, scorn, lack of information, frustration – and good ideas – of the vocal minority. The DOE doesn’t care about the angry rabble, about the people who know they are right and want to work from within the system to make a change.

That’s us. The few of us on the board who were selected to be the shield, and those of you sitting in the audience tonight and on other nights who hurl arrows at the DOE, at the Mayor, at Portfolio, at zoning rules, at the Chancellor.

Do they hear your complaints? For the most part – no. And why? Because WE sit here. Because we are the volunteer appointed go-betweens who waste our time swallowing the vitriol and scorn of angry parents so the DOE doesn’t have to taste it. We bear the punches of the angry parents so that the DOE doesn’t have to feel the frustration. We hear the cries of parents whose children languishing in overcrowded schools do not have the opportunity to use a bathroom – so that the DOE can sleep soundly.

We are the middleman that doesn’t deliver, the punching bag that can’t fight back.

A perfect example of this is the two recent zoning meetings we have had. These are often well-attended, with parents that have very clear positions on what should or should not be included in new zoning. At both of these meetings the parents were there to protest, but we – the board – didn’t have the zoning map until the meetings. We were as blindsided as the parents, and our job, as whipping boys for the DOE, was to take the brunt of the parents’ lashes without any regard to our own opinions on this. We didn’t have the chance to turn the maps back to the DOE and say change it. I did not attend those meetings because I can no longer bear the frustration, the anger, the resentment and scorn. I’d have no problem with it if the DOE said, “Hey, we’ve got your back. Don’t worry, we’ll solve those problems.”

In some cases the problems seem too big for the DOE to handle; in others the DOE has its own agenda. In still more, the DOE couldn’t give a damn.

Some of my colleagues on this board may disagree with me. That is their prerogative. Some of the parents in the audience, the teachers, administrators and others may also not see things the way I do. That’s fine – we don’t all have to always be on the same page.

The simple truth here, as far as I see it, is that my function – and that of any CEC – is that of window dressing. There have been the rare instances when we have affected change, but the losses column towers high over the gains.

Additionally, I was initially inspired to resign this position in protest to the flawed election process that transpired in the spring, where people who earned votes were removed from ballots due to the flawed rules adopted by our legislature.

In neighboring District 28, the 4th and 5th highest vote-getters in a district that only initially selected 7 were not seated on the board pursuant to Chancellors regulations, which state that when not enough people are selected, ALL those who received no votes get voted on again. The people who received votes in the initial round were denied seats on the board while the people with fewer – or no – initial votes ended up placed on the board. The rule allows for eliminating certain candidates, but only if there aren’t nine members selected. District 28 only has eight.

That is a perfect example of the how absurd the law is and how inconsequential we all are. If the DOE doesn’t want you on the board, they won’t have you.

It is because of all of these reasons that as of tonight, I am resigning my position with the Community District Education Council of District 24. I have enjoyed the company, I have relished the tasks and I have learned a great deal – but my fists are too bloodied from pounding them against the great immovable object that is the New York City Department of Education.

Though many have chastised Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Chancellors Joel Klein, Cathie Black and Dennis Walcott and various bureaucrats at the City level, my blame rests solely on the New York State Legislature and their spineless rubber stamping of a process that takes away local authority, discourages parental involvement and offers absolutely no oversight to ensure that the people in charge, in the middle or at the bottom are doing their job.

And despite all of this, the City’s children have made improvements in the last decade – depending who you ask. Clearly, their plan has worked, and they can keep doing what they have with or without you, me, or anybody else. If anything, that shows just how useless all of this is, how we are wasting our time and how – despite all symbolism and flair – my statement tonight will not matter.

File that next to nearly everything else we do on this board. I quit.

Brian M. Rafferty
Community Education Council, District 24

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.”