that was fast

City picks parent, principal, network leader to head Stuyvesant

In a picture the Department of Education distributed on Twitter, Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks to Jie Zhang, Stuyvesant High School's interim principal, today.

A longtime educator who began her career teaching girls in jail has been named acting principal at the city’s most selective high school.

Jie Zhang, who led a different elite high school for five years, will be interim acting principal at Stuyvesant High School, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. She replaces Stanley Teitel, the school’s 11-year principal, who announced his retirement last week amid an investigation into a cheating scandal at the school.

“We are fortunate to have tremendous leaders and talented teachers like Jie Zhang in New York City public schools, and we are thrilled to have her join the Stuyvesant High School community,” Walcott said in a statement.

Zhang is not actually new to Stuyvesant: She has been a parent there since 2005, when her older child enrolled, and last year she headed the Department of Education “network” that Teitel selected to support the school. Her daughter is a junior.

The cheating scandal that erupted in June implicated more than 70 students, giving rise to criticism that Stuyvesant’s cutthroat environment encourages students to take shortcuts to success. But in a phone call with reporters today, Zhang said she did not learn about widespread cheating at Stuyvesant as either a parent or an administrator. Still, she said, improving the school’s “culture” so that cheating does not take place is her first goal.

“I have not been made aware … or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there,” Zhang said. “However, my top priority is to create a positive school culture that ensures integrity and zero tolerance for cheating.”

An investigation is ongoing into whether administrators at Stuyvesant followed the proper procedures after learning about the cheating. Department officials declined to say whether network officials had been interviewed by investigators, saying that the department never comments on open investigations.

And explaining that she has not been offered the slot permanently, Zhang declined to outline any specific plans for the school. But she said its “academic offerings could be looked into to be able to meet the needs of individual students.” She also pointed to the expansion of advanced courses and research programs under her leadership at the Queens High School for Sciences at York College as some ideas she might consider for Stuyvesant.

She also said she would work to foster racial diversity at Stuyvesant, which has been criticized for not serving students of all races equitably. Citywide, 72 percent of students are black and Latino, but at Stuyvesant, it’s Asian students who make up 72 percent of enrollment. Just 4 percent of Stuyvesant students are black and Latino, although those numbers could edge up this year.

“I’m for the idea of diversity,” said Zhang, who would be Stuyvesant’s first Asian principal. “We live in New York City where diversity is the key. I’m definitely going to promote the idea of diversity.”

Zhang was born in China and moved to New York to get a master’s degree in applied mathematics. She began working in city schools in 1988 as a teacher at a girls’ school on Riker’s Island. She became a math teacher at Forest Hills High School, a large and high-performing school in Queens, in 1993, then spent two years as its assistant principal for mathematics.

After a stint helping middle and high schools with math instruction, she took over Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, one of several specialized high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration. Last year, she left to work as a network leader to more than 30 schools, including Stuyvesant.

Zhang’s resume makes her an ideal pick to lead Stuyvesant, principals union president Ernest Logan said in a statement.

“Jie has exactly the right combination of outstanding academic and administrative experience to allow her to maintain the stability and standard of achievement for which Stuyvesant High School has always been famous,” Logan said.

Zhang said she hopes to become the school’s permanent principal after the city’s required appointment process is completed this fall. That process, known as C-30, requires sign-off from a committee that includes parents and teachers, some of whom are already familiar with Zhang.

“I know that she is a math person and I know that there are math teachers at Stuy who know her well and who think very highly of her,” said Mike Zamansky, the school’s longtime computer science teacher. “My experiences with her have been very good.”

And Zhang’s experiences with the school have been good, too. After leaving Stuyvesant, her son graduated in three years from Harvard University, where he studied physics, math, and computer science, she said. This fall, he is set to begin graduate work in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

How much does Zhang credit Stuyvesant for her son’s success? “Ninety-nine percent!” she said. “I get the 1 percent.”

This story has been corrected to characterize correctly the statement issued by principals union president Ernest Logan.

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.”