making the most of it

Stuy alum Allon urges changes to school's admissions, grading

Tom Allon speaks about his education policy platform at the New School in May.

The sudden and surprising leadership change at Stuyvesant High School is an opportunity to make the school more diverse and less cutthroat, according to a graduate who is running for mayor.

Tom Allon, a long-shot mayoral candidate who graduated from the elite city high school in 1980 and later briefly taught there, made the case in a press release sent this morning in response to Friday’s resignation of Stanley Teitel, the school’s principal since 1999. Teitel announced his retirement amid a cheating scandal and an investigation into how he handled it.

“I’m afraid Stuyvesant has become a place where education and knowledge have taken a backseat to testing and grades and hyper-vigilance about college admissions — not unlike the testing and data-driven grading that is crushing the life out of public education throughout America,” Allon said in his press release.

Allon suggests that the school switch to an A-F grading system, instead of awarding numerical grades on a scale of 100, which he said encourages students to worry about small swings in their grade-point averages.

He also offers a slate of recommendations geared at shaking up the ultra-competitive admissions process, which for decades has been based solely on scores on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

Allon suggests offering automatic admission to the top eighth-grader at each city middle school, making the admissions exam harder to game, and adding an essay to the multiple-choice test — changes that Stuyvesant’s principal wouldn’t be able to enact.

Stuyvesant is the largest and least racially diverse of the city’s specialized high schools. Amid a push by Stuyvesant graduates to increase diversity, the number of black and Hispanic students offered seats doubled this year, from 25 students last year to 51. The school enrolls about 800 new students each year.

Allon isn’t the first to propose tweaks to yield a student body that more closely represents the city’s student population. A former CUNY official suggested in the GothamSchools Community section in 2010 that the school use “proportional representation” to admit at least some of its students. The strategy would ensure that students from every district could enroll.

But revising the admissions process isn’t up to Stuyvesant’s new principal or easy to do. Instead, it would require legislators to change a 1971 law, the Hecht-Calandra Act, which mandates that admission to specialized high schools be determined by exam.

Allon’s complete press release is below.

NYC Mayoral Candidate Tom Allon Calls for Stuyvesant Reforms

In the wake of the recent cheating scandal and subsequent resignation of the Principal at New York’s Stuyvesant High School, NYC Mayoral candidate Tom Allon today called for reforms that would constructively address some of the issues at the heart of the troubled school’s problems of late.

“My alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, one of America’s premiere public high schools, is at a very interesting and precarious crossroads,” Allon said. “I care deeply about this school but am concerned that it has lost its way, despite turning out some of the brightest high school graduates in America every year.”

“I’m afraid Stuyvesant has become a place where education and knowledge have taken a backseat to testing and grades and hyper-vigilance about college admissions – not unlike the testing and data-driven grading that is crushing the life out of public education throughout America.”

“Stuyvesant is also a school that has become homogeneous: the school population is now only 1.2 percent African-American and 2.4 percent Latino. This is a problematical demographic mix because it is so radically different from the population of New York City,” said Allon.

“As Stuyvesant now searches for a new Principal, I’d like to offer the following suggestions to improve what has always been thought of as one of the shining lights of public education in New York City:

  • Every middle school valedictorian in the City should be offered admission to Stuyvesant. This would incentivize teens to work hard in middle school and help alleviate the diversity problem.
  • The entrance exam should be radically altered from year to year, so that students who have prepped for it for a long time do not have a huge advantage.
  • The exam, like the SATs, must include an essay. Students must exhibit their ability to write and think critically.
  • Change the school’s grading system to letter grades so students will not focus so heavily on a one or two point swing on a test and instead focus on mastering the subject matter while developing their critical thinking faculties.

“Stuyvesant is a wonderful institution that has produced four Nobel Laureates, countless American political leaders, doctors, lawyers, academics and business leaders. We must help it find its way again so that it can continue to be the place that new generations see as a way to hoist their children up the ladder of upward mobility,” said Allon.

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.”