Process of elimination

City says it has started letting schools know they risk closure

Some schools who pulled low grades on the progress reports handed out last week are already getting notice that the city is seriously worried about their performance.

Department of Education officials have identified 20 schools — 11 with middle school grades and 12 in Brooklyn alone — for “early engagement conversations” that could lead either to closure or another lease on life. This is the second year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year’s notice comes even earlier than last year, by a few weeks.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve. But in starting the early conversations, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the DOE deputy chancellor in charge of school closures.

So far, the DOE has sent letters to elected officials in the schools’ districts, the districts’ elected parent councils, and their superintendents. Next, principals and DOE officials will jointly begin holding a series of meetings with families and teachers to discuss each individual schools’ options.

“We’ll take the feedback into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success, and continue to work with all of our schools to ensure that students have access to high quality options,” Sternberg said in a statement.

One principal, whose school received an F on its progress report, said she was “shocked and humiliated” when she found out her school would be listed publicly.

“Even though the F grade implies that we’re failing, we’re certainly not a failing school and we’re not failing our children,” the principal said.Eleven of the schools are middle schools or include middle school grades, signaling where the department could start making room for some of the 50 new middle schools it plans to open in the next two years.

The schools represent only a small fraction of those with progress report scores low enough to put them on the chopping block. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or below — this year, 116 schools — can be closed, according to the DOE’s guidelines.

Some of those schools have little reason to worry. Schools that are at full enrollment or even over capacity, such as P.S. 148 in Queens, are rarely closed. And other schools have had good grades in the past, so the department is likely to put them on notice but not out of existence. P.S. 112 in the Bronx, for example, had A’s on the two progress reports before this year’s, when it got a D. And schools with brand new principals, such as P.S. 161 in Brooklyn, are also not likely to be shut down.

Other schools with low progress reports are charter schools authorized by the state, which the city legally cannot close.

But schools not on the list of 20 could still wind up fighting for their existence as the city makes decisions about which schools to replace with new schools. And the department has not yet turned its attention toward high schools, whose progress reports will come out next month.

The schools undergoing early conversations:

P.S. 137 John L. Bernstein, Manhattan
P.S. 277, Bronx
New Millennium Business Academy, Bronx
Ms 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx
Aspire Preparatory Middle School, Bronx
Satellite Three, Brooklyn
P.S. 256 Benjamin Banneker, Brooklyn
Knowledge And Power Preparatory Academy, Brooklyn
P.S. 019 Roberto Clemente, Brooklyn
P.S. 022, Brooklyn
P.S. 161 The Crown, Brooklyn
Middle School For The Arts, Brooklyn
I.S. 171 Abraham Lincoln, Brooklyn
P.S. 298 Dr. Betty Shabazz, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Elementary School, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Middle School, Brooklyn
P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott, Queens
P.S. 181 Brookfield, Queens
P.S. 014 Cornelius Vanderbilt, Staten Island
J.H.S. 296 The Halsey School, Brooklyn

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.”