but a whimper

At Murry Bergtraum HS, little will to contest proposed changes

 Murray Bergtraum Business Teacher Carol Newell spoke of the need for more social services to help students do better in school. (Photo by Aisha Asif)
<br />Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers Carol Newell testified at a public hearing about how the school’s building will be used next year about the need for more social services to help students. (Photo: Aisha Asif)

The massive auditorium at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers was nearly empty Thursday night when District 2 Superintendent Marisol Bradbury read aloud the Department of Education’s proposal to open a new high school in the lower Manhattan building.

The new school would work with the National Parks Service to offer career training in carpentry, masonry, landscaping, and restoration, Bradbury explained to the handful of adults in the audience. It would open in September with a ninth grade and expand to as many as 500 students over three years, according to the department’s proposal.

At the same time as the new school grows, Murry Bergtraum would lose students. By 2018, the school would have around 450 fewer students than the 1,806 who currently attend.

The proposal would mean a jarring new change for a once-venerable high school whose reputation and performance have plummeted in recent years. But where educators and students at other schools being asked to share space have made concerted efforts to hold on to their classrooms, few at Murry Bergtraum attended the city’s public hearing to comment on the plans.

The sparse attendance at the hearing did not surprise social studies teacher and teachers union chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana, who was not at the hearing himself. “We don’t have any community here,” he said. “When you send high-needs kids across town to school, you don’t have a community.”

Elfrank-Dana was referring to shifts in the school’s enrollment in recent years that have accompanied a rise in discipline issues and the withering of some popular programs. The closure of other large high schools in the area in the early years of the Bloomberg administration meant that many high-need students now end up at Murry Bergtraum, Elfrank-Dana said.

“The mayor turned one of the best high schools in the city into a dumping ground,” Elfrank-Dana said. “That’s been the legacy of the school for the last 10 years.”

In 2010, students rioted in the school after the school’s principal at the time banned bathroom breaks in an effort to cut down on discipline issues. The school received a “D” on its most recent progress report with an “F” in student progress, while only 29 percent of teachers say order and discipline is maintained in the school, according to Department of Education statistics.

Carol Newell, a business teacher at Murry Bergtraum who spoke at the hearing, said her department — once the pride of the school — shrunk from 32 teachers to just seven since 2006. She said students’ greatest need is for social services, a need that became especially acute after Hurricane Sandy.

“How do you make a kid study if he’s going through flux if he can’t figure out anything about his identity?” she asked. “There’s issues at home. How does he make it?”

Parent leaders from the area said their concerns about the department’s plans started at the school level and radiated across the city.

“Why are we developing a new school here to teach landscaping?” asked Paola de Kock, president of Citywide Council of High Schools. She said she wondered why the city did not give Murry Bergtraum some of the $20 million set aside for a new initiative to teach computer science in schools when the high school was one of the first in the city to teach the subject.

De Kock also said she was concerned that the city has moved to close other schools that started out sharing space with new schools, such as Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx.

“What if it’s not the size of the school? What if it’s something else?” asked Shino Tanikawa, president of the District 2 Community Education Council. “I want to understand that.”

Both Tanikawa and de Kock said they were nostalgic for what they described as the pre-Bloomberg glory days at Murry Bergtraum.

“Murry Bergtraum was once one of the best non-specialized high schools in the city,” de Kock said. “I’m not talking about 100 years; I’m not talking about 50 years ago. I’m talking about this school from 1975 when it was founded until the Bloomberg administration.”

Elfrank-Dana said sharing space with another school would be disruptive if not detrimental, but he said he stayed away from the hearing anyway. “I have better things to do than participate in the illusion of due diligence when it comes to alleged transparency and common decision-making,” he said.

The Panel for Educational Policy, the city’s school board, is set to vote March 11 on the co-location proposal along with a slew of other space-sharing and closure plans. Among the members of the panel, which has never rejected a city proposal, is Judy Bergtraum, the daughter of Murry Bergtraum High School’s namesake.

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.