protest movement

When crowds go wild: 8 loud moments in education activism


A raucous Poughkeepsie parent crowd prompted Commissioner John King last week to cancel plans for future meetings with parents. But the disruption, in the video above, is just the latest instance of angry protesters derailing public events in recent years. In New York City, other meetings have long been the backdrop for battles over school closures, charter schools, overcrowding, teacher evaluations and testings have wages. Here are highlights caught on tape from event in recent years:

“Sex and the City” star gets jeered, then cheered


Nov. 12, 2008: Even the rich and famous don’t get a free pass to air grievances about the city’s public school system. “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon and noted education advocate spoke up at a Upper West Side meeting in opposition to an overcrowding plan that would move her son’s school to another building. Nixon was booed by the plan’s supporters as she stepped to the microphone. But her argument — that the plan exacerbated racial and socio-economic segregation — ended with applause.

Educators 4 Excellence panel dissolves

June 2, 2011: A 2011 panel about teacher evaluations broke down after a small number of teachers in the audience demanded that their questions be raised during a Q&A portion of the event. In the video above, Stuart Kaplan also objects to a teacher evaluation policy paper — which endorsed tying test scores to performance ratings — released earlier in the day by the event’s host, Educators 4 Excellence. But Kaplan’s complaints were soon drowned out by another teacher — and the audience’s applause — who told him to leave and let the panel resume.

An angry parent confronts Bill de Blasio over co-locations

July 20, 2011: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was just about finished with a 2011 press conference about a new report that examined the city’s contentious school space-sharing arrangements, known as co-locations. The report criticized the city’s handling of co-locations, but stopped short of calling for an all-out ban. Sonya Hampton, a parent from P.S. 149 in Harlem, which shares space with a Success Academy charter school, did not like what she was hearing and chimed in. She later said she was “extremely disappointed” that de Blasio’s report did not explicitly support putting charter schools in their own buildings.

David Coleman’s speech on Common Core gets occupied

Oct. 25, 2011: Invited to meet with parents to discuss about new learning standards that the city had adopted, David Coleman wasn’t too far into his opening remarks before conceding it was a lost cause. That’s because over 200 education protesters from an off-shoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement also attended the event and deployed their “people’s mic” tactic. Unable to compete with their decibel level, Coleman handed his own microphone to Chancellor Dennis Walcott and returned to his seat.

Eva Moskowitz’s charter pitch to parents falls on deaf ears

Oct. 29, 2011: Controversial Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz traveled to Cobble Hill in Brooklyn to make a pitch for a new outpost of her network, bringing along a couple of parents from her then-brand-new Upper West Side school. Protesters who were driven inside by foul weather interrupted the meeting repeatedly, shouting,“This district doesn’t have failing schools, it has successful elementary schools!” After a few false starts, Moskowitz told the protesters that she would not continue to shout over them before leaving the stage.

Union activists butt heads over protesting tactics

Feb. 9, 2012: Union leader Leo Casey took heat from activists from within his own union leader at a meeting where the city was voting to close low-performing schools. Casey was leading dozens of teachers in a walkout mid-way into the meeting, but opponents, buoyed by the prospect of preventing the closures from being approved, said they wanted to stay and protest using the “people’s mic” until it was called off.

Feeling the heat but staying in the kitchen

Sept. 30, 2013: Like King in Poughkeepsie, New York City Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky also took a beating from parents recently at a public meeting to talk about the Common Core. But Polakow-Suransky responded a little differently, sticking around after the event to talk to a smaller number of parents and teachers about their concerns with the new policies. Polakow-Suransky didn’t appear to sway anyone’s opinion, but his appearance did earn him credit from even his harshest critics.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”