Vox populi

Conversation of the week: Participating in a controversial policy

Some of our most thought-provoking comments this week came in response to a first person account of starting a new school in the GothamSchools Community section.

In his post, teacher Stephen Lazar described his inner conflict over helping to start Harvest Collegiate High School this year. He believed in the new school, he wrote, but he knew that it would occupy space vacated by a school that was being closed. That school is Legacy High School, a struggling small school that will share its building space with Harvest in Union Square until it finished phasing out.

Lazar chose to join Harvest’s founding team, but still, he said, the question stymied him: Should a teacher help create a new school if he objects to the policy that led to its creation?

Commenters were divided in their answers.

“Former Turnaround Teacher” said that Lazar’s discomfort about his participation in the city’s reform effort is a common among educators at new schools and phase-out schools:

When I was looking to transfer at the end of the past school year I often faced a similar decision. I could not bring myself to apply to certain schools that I know where in current phase out buildings. However I did apply to some schools in buildings that had finished phasing out. When it comes down to it, in the current system unless you are lucky enough to get into the 20% or so of High Schools that are either specilized or the DOE for whatever…

Two commenters said they worked at Legacy High School, said Department of Education officials and Harvest Collegiate community members created a “hierarchy” that privileged the new school. Both schools share space in a Union Square building.

“Former Legacy Teacher” wrote:

The unspoken thing about starting a new school is the hierarchy of the new school over the closing school.  As a veteran teacher, I have been through two school closings, my second being Legacy, and the snobbery that the kids and teachers of the closing school experience by the kids, teachers, and administration of the new school is extremely damaging.  There is this idea by the new teachers and students that the closing school members are defective, that they failed.  Everyone may say that they are supportive and don’t judge but it happens.  I’ve overheard teachers and students at the new schools talk down about the closing school.  I’ve been told by new school members how they aren’t going to make the mistakes of the failing school.  It’s amazing to me the hubris, as you put it, that people have when opening a new school, how sure they are that they won’t fail.

And “Cave-Dweller,” a commenter who identified as a Legacy teacher also expressed concerns about the divide, and how some Legacy students and teachers don’t feel the school is being adequately supported by the department:

Our students have separate water fountains and bathrooms even though it would be far easier for our students to use the “Harvest Fountains”. Security makes sure that our students walk upstairs to the “Legacy fountains and restrooms”. As one student said, “Wow, did anyone see that movie about the Civil Rights movement with the separate fountains? This is just like that.”

Harvest does not speak to, greet, or often acknowledge Legacy staff. And before someone tells me about my prejudice. I have tried several times to at least have the elevator not feel like a ride up to prison. Sometimes they will speak to a student but this usual comes with ignoring the adult next to them.

My kids know and feel what’s happening. They see how Harvest and Legacy are separated; they feel looked down upon from the Harvest Community.

Lazar responded that he had heard a couple of students make negative comments about Legacy, and would bring this concern to school leaders and community members.

“Juggleandhope” offered Lazar words of support:

I agree with you that all our work involves ethical compromises and prioritization (and not just with NYCDOE but any work within a system of exploitation on what is literally blood-soaked (and gratefully rain-washed) land).  I also agree with your point that the dynamics of learning (and implicitly, actual experience) should be our focus rather than just the container politics (thanks for that word).  And I share your hope that your thoughtful and creative pedagogical relationships can make a big difference for some students (and adults) and that you can ameliorate the disheartening dynamics between the Legacy and Harvest students and staff.  Looking forward to further thoughtful posts about your work.

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.”