changing of the guard

After chair steps down, charter school's board pledges changes

The standing-room only audience at New York French American Charter School's meeting for the board of trustees and parents.

Parents at a Harlem charter school that’s on probation got what they wanted Tuesday night: The chair of their board resigned.

The resignation took place just minutes into a meeting of the Board of Trustees for New York French American Charter School, the year-old the city put on probation last week because of “serious violations” of its charter and state law. It drew cheers from the standing-room only audience.

Many of the roughly 50 parents who packed a small classroom on the school’s second floor said they had never been to a board meeting before but were anxious about how the board would resolve the school’s administrative woes. Those woes included a lack of communication among board members, parents, and school staff.

Now, parents say they expect communications to improve after the board elected Fabrice Rouah, a financial analyst, to be acting chair.

“He looks at everything with a fresh pair of eyes,” said Claire Zaglauer, who was recently elected president of the school’s brand-new parent-teacher organization. Zaglauer said the board appears poised to add multiple new members in the coming weeks.

Celestin’s resignation “sent a strong signal that the board is willing to take responsibility for the current crisis,” Rouah said in a statement today. “The board’s commitment to the school is stronger than ever, as is our resolve to get the probation lifted.”

During the meeting itself, the board assured parents that some of the problems identified by the DOE had been fixed already and said other resolutions were on the way but would take more time. Lingering problems, they said, include the lack of a permanent principal, trouble securing a long-term home for the school, security breaches, and a lack of cleanliness in the building. Sybil Swain, the school’s director of operations, said the school is also struggling to find a health insurance plan for its staff.

“We’re acting very quickly to get some of these things to where they should have been in the first place,” she said.

Much of the meeting focused on fact that the school does not have an accurate account of its finances, a citation in the probation report that Swain and other board members acknowledged. The board members explained that the accounting firm they had hired had not delivered required services and would be replaced.

Several parents questioned how the school could tackle its problems and pay for new staff members and security services if it doesn’t have a clear picture of how much money it has. But board members assured them that the school would not run out of money.

Still, over the long term, NYFACS will also have to draw new families in to ensure there are sufficient funds, said Ellis Scope, another board member who is also the prin­ci­pal of a public high school for stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties. This year, the school projected full enrollment when applying for its budget from the DOE, but its actual enrollment has fallen significantly short of that target. Making matters worse, Scope said, the school lost most attendance records from between February and June.

DOE officials “were extremely concerned about our ability to account for the number of students,” she said. “They’re saying, if you can’t even do that, then how can you run the school?”

The board chair who resigned, Johnny Celestin, said in an interview after the meeting that he stepped down to appease families who accused him of failing to perform his duties, which included reporting information to the DOE.

“We need for the school to heal,” he said, “and as leader of the school I take full responsibility for where we are.”

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.”