board talk

State policymaker with a city stake wants to keep networks

photo (4)A state education policy maker whose name has arisen as a possible contender for chancellor said today that while she thinks Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio should move quickly to change some Bloomberg-era school policies, others are worth keeping.

Kathleen Cashin, a former Department of Education official who now sits on the state Board of Regents, said the new mayor should preserve city schools’ “network” structure of school support while moving quickly to help schools that have many high-need students. She also said the state should be open to changing its approach to teacher evaluation and the Common Core — two initiatives where she has been a dissenting voice in Albany.

In an interview today, Cashin said changing course shouldn’t be seen as a repeal of the reforms and the purpose behind them.

“It’s not a sign of weakness,” she said. “I think it’s a sign of intelligence to revisit some initiatives.”

The comments, made at a small breakfast gathering for principals at the City College of New York’s School of Education this morning, come as New York City prepares for the education policies of the last 12 years to be revised after de Blasio takes over City Hall next month. De Blasio was critical of many of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies on the campaign trail.

Cashin, who supervised schools in de Blasio’s area of Brooklyn, is seen as a possible candidate to head the school system under him. Last month, the Daily News even published an op-ed from one of Cashin’s supporters arguing about why she’d be a good fit for the job.

Cashin declined to comment on the rumors today. But she said that an immediate priority should be establishing a special district for schools with the neediest students, similar to the Chancellor’s District in operation under former schools chief Rudy Crew before Bloomberg took over the schools.

“You can’t wait a year to get something rocking and rolling for the kids that are far behind,” Cashin said.

Cashin had additional advice for the mayor-elect, saying that if de Blasio is successful in securing funding to expand pre-kindergarten access, the department would need to shift quickly toward training people to work in those programs.

“If we do get the pre-K money, I think having a lot of [professional development] so our pre-K’s are second to none,” Cashin said.

But Cashin was not entirely critical of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies. She endorsed the city’s current network structure of school support, saying that it unites principals in a way that had never before been possible under old models, including where she was a regional superintendent. She said a letter in support of the networks, signed by over 100 principals last month, showed that the structure works, “as long as we have a clear chain of command.”

“You know why networks are so important right now? Because they have community and people have been living alone or on their own,” Cashin said.

“It means so much to them to be together,” she added. “I think that’s why they’re objecting to going back to the districts.”

Asking about their experience with their own networks, principals in the audience agreed with Cashin, though they said improvements could be made.

“They step into that gap between policy making and policy fulfillment,” Tammy Pate, principal of Renaissance School of the Arts, who is a part of a network run by the private nonprofit CEI-PEA. Pate said she wants to be able to stay in her network but wants the city to create a better accountability system.

“We’re not sure who’s responsible for what or who has the power to make what decisions,” Pate said.

One area where she said she would appreciate the help of an empowered superintendent, rather than a network leader, is with enrollment. Over 40 percent of her students have disabilities, a rate so high that a former high school superintendent at the event, Joyce Coppin, said she would have never tolerated it had she been in charge.

“A superintendent who had the authority and power to say I have to inspect equity in the district is something that would be the most amazing occurrence,” Pate said.

In her talk to the principals, Cashin emphasized the need for equity and social and emotional support for high need students. Too much of a teacher’s evaluation, 40 percent, is based on student learning when she said so much of that outcome is based on a student’s personal life. She said she thought closer to ten percent should be attributed to a teacher.

She also said the state should change how it’s implementing the Common Core, learning standards that the state adopted last year. She has been asking the state to create an independent committee of teachers to review and amend the state’s Common Core-aligned curriculum materials.

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.”