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.

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.