passive aggressive

Usual activists plan to keep low profile at tonight's PEP meeting

The crowd at a January PEP meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School

Chancellor Dennis Walcott is so ready for yet another raucous Panel for Educational Policy meeting tonight that he has reserved the Prospect Heights Campus auditorium until 9 a.m. Friday.

“We’re prepared to stay all night and into the morning,” Walcott told Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly, the “Good Day New York” crew at Fox 5 during an appearance this morning.

But there’s a chance that tonight could actually be much less heated than some of the panel meetings that have taken place over the past school year.

That’s because two key organizers behind the protests, rallies, and theatrics at those meetings are taking a backseat tonight. The teachers union is largely staying away and Occupy the DOE protesters who have disrupted previous meetings say they plan to keep a low profile. Only a new group, Students Activists United, which grew out of the Alliance for Quality Education and the Coalition for Educational Justice’s efforts against school closures, has plans for an organized protest.

The groups cite political and practical reasons for stepping back, and seasoned activists also say they are suffering from protest fatigue after shouting themselves hoarse at panel meetings whose outcomes seem predetermined.

“After witnessing so many bad PEP meetings, no one has any hope that this will not be another rubber-stamp approval across the board,” said Kevin Kearns, a teacher at Lehman High School in the Bronx.

Instead of protesting at the panel meeting, the UFT is hosting a rally miles away on the steps of City Hall “to protest Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to close 26 schools despite fierce community opposition,” according to a press advisory. The City Hall rally takes place at 4:30 p.m., giving teachers time to attend the 6 p.m. meeting if they want to. But the union’s absence is notable, given that it has in the past organized a caravan of buses to bring hundreds of members to panel meetings in protest.

The Occupy DOE movement, a faction of the Occupy Wall Street movement that dominated and even derailed education department meetings this year, is also not shooting for a starring role.

“We want to let the schools take the lead,” said John Yanno, a teacher at the Secondary School of Law in Brooklyn, who helped organize teacher “grade-ins” in Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy protests last fall.

But even teachers at the now-24 turnaround schools said they’re not planning any mass protest. They’ve organized dozens of rallies throughout the four-month ordeal, but no such event was planned for tonight.

“Most of us plan to go the traditional route of just giving public testimony in support of our schools,” said Kearns, who emceed an all-turnaround-school protest outside the Department of Education’s Tweed Courthouse headquarters that attracted teachers from only a handful of schools.

Organizers offered several reasons for taking a lower-key approach to tonight’s meeting.

One of them is political. When the Department of Education removed nine schools from its turnaround list, some took that as a small token of political good will.

“Getting those seven schools was a big deal,” said one organizer about the A- and B-rated schools pulled from the list earlier this month. “People want more, but it was a smart move by the administration to do that. It was an egregious decision to put them on there in the first place.”

Yanno also suggested that the union’s growing focus on the 2013 mayoral elections had made it less likely to take to the streets. “We’re going into an election season and the UFT’s tactic for this is to get people behind elected officials,” he said.

Activists are also feeling protest fatigue after a rally-packed spring and are simply having a hard time mustering the energy to protest against the panel, which has never rejected a single mayoral proposal.

“People are so frustrated with what’s going on,” said another organizer. “They have no hope anymore that this administration is going to change course. They’re just getting to the point where they have to show up and be heard but that’s about it because they’re just going to go through with these policies anyway.”

A third explanation could be that the groups are hoping to avoid a showdown of the type that overshadowed the Feb. 9 meeting where the panel voted to close or shrink 23 schools. Three separate groups that evening organized protests, and while the collective effort was disruptive, it also revealed a deep rift between the Occupy DOE protesters, who pledged to shut down the meeting by using their trademark “people’s mic,” and the UFT leadership. The competing demonstrations derailed the UFT’s protest in a scenario the union might be hesitant to repeat.

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.