school closing season

Small school resists meeting the fate of a larger one it replaced

Ama Willock urges DOE officials not to close her son's school, Middle School for the Arts in Crown Heights

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted the success of the small schools opened during his tenure in his State of the City address, families and staff from one of them were preparing to fight the city’s closure plan.

The Department of Education opened Middle School for the Arts, or M.S. 587, in 2004 to replace M.S. 391, a much larger school that was persistently low-performing.

But the Crown Heights school never fulfilled its promise. Last year, only 13 percent of the 334 students met state proficiency standards in reading, and only 11 percent were proficient in math. In December, the city proposed to close the school.

That proposal drew about 40 students, parents and staff members to speak out at a public hearing in the school’s auditorium Thursday evening. They said the school’s low test scores do not accurately capture what happens there and argued that replacing the school again would not solve its problems.

The hearing kicked off a three-week sprint of hearings the city has scheduled at each of the 25 schools it proposes to close or shrink this year, 11 of them middle schools. More hearings could be added to the docket if a plan Bloomberg announced in his speech — to close 33 struggling schools, at least in name, in order to retain federal funds — moves forward.

Teachers defended the school‘s grim academic track record to department officials and parents on the Community Education Council for District 17.

“I’m a passionate teacher. I’m always here. I know that the students who sit in front of me every day need extra, extra, extra, extra support,” said Andrea Patrello, a sixth-grade math teacher who has been at the school for four years. “I was brought up with the mentality don’t give up. To me, the whole solution of phasing out schools is giving up.”

Richard Thomas, a social studies teacher and the chair of the School Leadership Team, said one reason the school isn’t meeting performance benchmarks is that the students have behavioral problems and gang affiliations that make them more difficult to teach.

“This is a case where statistics don’t tell the whole story. What we have here is one size fits all, irrespective of the makeup of the student population,” he said. “Before you can start teaching students you have to deal with so many multiple issues.”

A parent, Ama Willock, said her son enrolled in the middle school this year because of his passion in the performing arts. If the closure is approved next month by the Panel for Education Policy, which has never rejected a city proposal, Willock’s son would be in the school’s last class.

Willock said the department’s assessment of the school’s performance was correct. But she disputed its claims that opening a new school in its place would solve the problems Middle School of the Arts has faced.

“I’m not here to support a failing school,” she said. “But changing the name on the school is not going to help.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.