one last time

For Bloomberg's education panel, a quiet ending in the Bronx

The Panel for Educational Policy, which has overseen some of the most raucous debates over New York City schools over the past 12 years, ended its legacy under Mayor Bloomberg quietly and unemotionally Wednesday night.

The Panel for Educational Policy met on Wednesday night at the Taft Educational Campus in the Bronx.
The Panel for Educational Policy met on Wednesday night at the Taft Educational Campus in the Bronx.

Just a handful of audience members showed up for the Bronx meeting, where there were no public comments and little debate among members as they passed two revised building-use plans and three co-location proposals — including the once-controversial plan to put a new district high school in the struggling Boys and Girls High School.

“You can kind of tell they’re just limping over the finish line,” said panel member and Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan, who has served since 2007 and has been one of the panel’s few voices of dissent.

The PEP, the 13-member group of appointees that approves the city’s decisions on changes like school openings, closings, and co-locations, has been the mayor’s mechanism for pushing through his education policies.

It’s unclear how the panel will function and who will serve on the panel under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who has said he agrees that the mayor should appoint the majority of its members. De Blasio has also said he will be revisiting the decisions made by the panel in the last months of the Bloomberg administration.

But last night’s meeting featured relatively few agenda items — a far cry from meetings like the one held in January 2010, when the Panel voted to begin closing 19 schools and change 32 building plans in an auditorium packed with emotional speakers and protestors. A hundred police officers and security guards were on hand then, and the city had even prepared a contingency plan to move the panel members into the gym if the protests grew too loud.

Nearly four years later, the city made sure the final PEP meeting wouldn’t play host to much protest. DOE officials had secured the support of the Boys and Girls High School’s advisory committee in recent weeks for a co-located school honoring Nelson Mandela, though the school had resisted co-location in the past.

Sullivan and the Brooklyn panel representative Fred Baptiste, who was appointed in August, were the only panel members to raised issues with various proposals during the meeting. While Baptiste abstained from voting on the Boys and Girls High School co-location, he made his concerns clear to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

“Our concern is [that] adding another school distracts from the mission of improving outcomes at Boys and Girls,” he said.

Walcott responded by listing additional resources the Department of Education has secured for the campus, including a new mental health center, new football field, and a new transfer school that opened in September.

Sullivan also raised a question about what kind of authority the panel and the DOE have in regulating charter schools. He specifically referenced the Daily News story about a “calm-down” room at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School that is “about the size of a walk-in closet” and is used to pacify children when they get out of hand.

Walcott said while KIPP is a state-approved charter school and the city doesn’t have direct authority over its policies, the city will be raising questions. “I’ve been personally involved in discussions on this particular issue,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, Queens representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj said he was humbled by the opportunity to advocate for the city’s children. Fedkowskyj, who served for five and a half years, said his term will expire at the end of the month.

“It was frustrating and challenging but it was also rewarding,” he said.

Walcott ended the meeting on that note as well, thanking the panel members for serving, even though meetings often lasted long past midnight.

“Thank you for your service as volunteers — to give your time, energy, and your time and time and time, late into the night. And [for] our passionate debate around beliefs … even if they may be different at times.”

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.”