moving right along

As DOE eases back into its regular plans, some raise objections

Chancellor Dennis Walcott takes questions after the Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

The city postponed some Panel for Educational Policy votes to next month after Hurricane Sandy threw the Department of Education’s public hearing schedule off track. But at the panel’s monthly meeting Thursday night, several members argued that the department was getting back to its regular business too quickly.

“We need to give people time to recover from this tragedy that we all have experienced in some way or another,” said Kelvin Diamond, the new Brooklyn borough president’s representative on the panel.

Diamond proposed a resolution to suspend all public hearings until 2013 for Brooklyn schools. Hearings about four proposals to co-locate or shrink schools in Brooklyn were rescheduled because they were supposed to take place during the week when all schools were closed because of the storm. Hearings about another 6 proposals for changes to Manhattan and Bronx schools are set for between now and Dec. 20, when the panel is to meet next. The hearings must happen before the panel can vote on the proposals.

Diamond said it would be unfair to hold hearings when many Brooklyn residents cannot focus on changes to how school buildings will be used next year.

“They’ve been hit hard. We just can’t have a machine run through them,” he said. “I have a [Community Education Council] member who is grieving, who attended a funeral and didn’t have time to respond to a letter” from the city.

Other panel members jumped to support the resolution, even suggesting that it be broadened in scope.

“It’s highly inappropriate” to hold hearings in the wake of hurricane, Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s representative, told officials.

“The administration is taking advantage of the fact that people can’t get to the hearings, can’t voice their opposition,” he added. “I would support the resolution not just for the specific Brooklyn proposals but for all the proposals that were moved to the December meeting.”

Hearings about six other proposals, for schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, were also rescheduled because of the storm.

But city officials said there is not enough time in the year to postpone hearings further, especially because state law requires the city to follow a rigid public notification timeline when proposing that schools be colocated, opened, or closed. The panel, which is dominated by mayoral appointees and has never sided against the city, voted down the resolution.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said holding the hearings and taking up the proposals would help the department return to normalcy after several weeks when the department has been engaged in an all-hands-on-deck effort to figure out how to serve thousands of students whose schools were damaged.

“Part of the balancing act we’re trying to do is be sympathetic to what’s going on in New York City right now.” Walcott said. “While we’re balancing that part of life, we also have to balance the reality that life does go on as well. Part of that is to make sure we maintain the schedule that will allow us to conduct the business.”

He and other officials noted that the city would run the risk of being unable to fulfill its schools agenda for the year if it waiting any longer than planned to vote on the proposals, which would determine where new schools are sited within existing schools.

By the new year the city must also begin the process of holding hearings for schools it wants to close. “Early engagement” meetings for some elementary and middle schools at risk of closure had been scheduled for last week, and the department had also planned to name the high schools that might be closed during the week that schools were closed.

Debate over Diamond’s resolution did not end after the panel voted it down. The next item on the agenda, school budgets, had been deferred from October’s meeting because members of the education department’s budget office were ill at that time, officials said.

The explanation prompted Sullivan to renew his support for the postponement resolution.

“So we have hundreds of thousands of people across the city grieving and we cannot defer the people’s business … but one person is sick, and we have to defer the budget vote for the school system?” he asked.

“We’re going to stay on topic,” a budget secretary responded, prompting a raised-voice squabble between Sullivan and Walcott.

“Madame Chair, may I ask my next question?” Sullivan said in almost a shout, repeatedly as Walcott asked him to stop talking.

“You’re not asking a question about the budget, you’re giving your opinion in linking people who are grieving to someone who was sick,” Walcott said. “Patrick, you’re not going to bully people. … Stop being dramatic and ask a question.”

“Why can’t you postpone the other votes because people are grieving?” Sullivan responded, prompting some applause from the thin PEP audience.

As expected, the panel, which met in Queens this month, approved all department proposals and contracts up for a vote, including a new, one-year contract for Champion Learning, a tutoring service that lost its contract with the city earlier this year after it was found to have billed the city millions of dollars for services it might not have delivered.

Most of the attendees had little to say about the disruptions that Sandy has wrought on the city’s schools. Instead, parents turned out to lobby for more gifted programs in Queens, and to support the co-location of a new Achievement First charter school. The panel also approved a co-location proposal that would require P.S. 15 in the Bronx to cede three classrooms, to the dismay of school leaders who attended the meeting to protest the plan.

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.”