UFT members protest at PEP meeting, then walk out en masse

The agenda items before the Panel for Educational Policy Wednesday night were relatively uncontroversial. But that didn’t dissuade the teachers union from staging a mass protest.

The protest was aimed at Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to remove half of teachers at 33 low-performing schools, which he announced during his State of the City speech last week. It began when more than 100 members of the United Federation of Teachers flooded the front rows of Brooklyn Technical High School’s auditorium, breaking into chants of “Save Our Schools!” and blasting whistles to delay the meeting’s start.

Michael Mendel, a union official, took the microphone to lambaste the panel, which has approved hundreds of school closure proposals since Bloomberg gained control of the city’s schools in 2003.

“You should be removed from office,” Mendel said. “You are a disgrace to public education.”

Then, in the middle of the public comment period, the group of teachers stood up and walked out en masse.

Plans to close and reopen struggling schools won’t start appearing on the panel’s agenda until next month. Last night, the agenda focused instead on proposals to move or expand schools, including Community Roots Charter School and the Academy of Young Writers.

Community Roots Charter School, a socioeconomically and racially diverse elementary school in Fort Greene that put its expansion plans on hold last year amid protest, has struggled to show academic progress. It earned a C on its most recent city progress report and an F in 2010 — a lower grade than the one earned by another charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, that the city is closing this year.

PEP member Patrick Sullivan voted against the proposal. He questioned why the city wanted to expand a “failing” school and suggested the decision was politically motivated to serve the community’s newer, more affluent residents. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the school was in high demand in the neighborhood and had shown improvement.

In a brief exchange, Sternberg invited Sullivan to visit the school, but Sullivan declined. “I don’t need to visit the school,” Sullivan said. “It probably looks exactly like a school on the Upper West Side.”

Parents and teachers at the school where Community Roots is slated to open its middle school, P.S. 287, said they weren’t opposed to the charter school’s expansion as much as they objected to the DOE’s decision to move it into their building. The plan, they said, would stall P.S 287’s own efforts to expand.

The panel approved the plan by a vote of 9-3.

Then, members of District 19’s elected parent council criticized the DOE for not following through on a plan to open a new secondary school with middle school grades. Instead, the department decided to move an existing high school, Academy for Young Writers, into the district from Williamsburg and allow it to add a middle school starting next year.

“The kids were supposed to be starting in sixth grade and work their way up to 12th,” said Erica Perez, a council member who brought a petition opposing the school’s move that she said had more than 1,200 signatures.

Stephen Lazar, a Young Writers teacher (and a panel member at a GothamSchools event in August) said he agreed with Perez and other CEC members that the city had not included the community’s input in its decision. But in his testimony, which is below, he pleaded for the community to give the school a chance.

“I feel bad for the administrators who are now in this oppositional position with CEC 19, but it’s a good school that deserves support and I really hope that 19 will grow to love it,” Lazar said in an interview after his testimony.

The panel approved that plan 10-0, with two abstentions.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”