reaching out

As Fariña meeting nears, a new charter school coalition angles for acceptance

A new coalition of charter schools has a public message for Chancellor Carmen Fariña just days before she is set to meet with the entire sector: We’re not what you think.

Education leaders representing 27 charter schools serving 13,000 students announced this week that they’ve united in hopes of playing nice with Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio at a delicate moment for the charter sector. The group includes organizations tied to the de Blasio administration, such as the Children’s Aid Society, as well as an independent charter school whose principal counts Fariña as a mentor.

“This group supports the mayor’s progressive agenda for children and families,” the statement says. “It also believes that the majority of the city’s charters share the administration’s desire to reach those students who most need a high-quality public education.”

Members of the fledgling group say they also want to further distinguish themselves from the sector’s fiercest advocates, especially Eva Moskowitz, a frequent target of de Blasio’s criticism.

“This group came together out of a concern that generalizations have allowed misperceptions of charter schools and their work,” the group said in a joint statement sent Wednesday night, three weeks after Chalkbeat first reported about its formation. “[D]espite the best of intentions, the growth of the charter sector did not always hear or heed community concerns. This needs correcting.”

The move comes at a politically sensitive moment for the sector, which is anxiously awaiting de Blasio’s decision on several pressing issues affecting charter schools. It remains unclear whether he will cancel space plans for new charter schools, charge rent to charter schools in public space, and push to include charter schools in his pre-kindergarten expansion.

“I am hopeful that this group can help serve as a bridge to City Hall as the next chapter of the charter school story in NYC is written,” Harlem RBI CEO Rich Berlin, a founding member, said in an email.

The group’s formation marks a decisive step forward in a movement that has been building within the sector for years, in response to growing tension over how charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, should assert themselves politically.

Some charter school advocates argue that any effort to curtail growth in charter networks like Success Academy, KIPP, and Uncommon Schools, which are popular with parents and boast high student test scores, is unacceptable. To make their case, they’ve organized mass rallies, given money to political campaigns and advertised publicly. Today, one advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, held a rally to tout support from an assemblyman, Karim Camara.

But others — mostly among the 99 of the city’s 183 charter schools that are not affiliated with a network — say they are less concerned with growth than being able to continue to serve their existing students. They say their preference for a more middle-of-the-road approach has been drowned out.

“Our voices don’t get heard,” said Michael Catlyn, a founding board member and current vice chair of Brooklyn Charter School, which opened in 2000.

“I respect her work,” Rafiq Kalad Id-Din, founder of Brooklyn’s Teaching Firms of America Charter School, said of Moskowitz. “But she doesn’t speak for me.” 

Based on its membership, the coalition is in a good position to influence Fariña and de Blasio. Former Children’s Aid Society CEO Richard Buery, an early supporter of the group, is now a senior aide at City Hall. Christina Tettonis, who runs Hellenic Classical Charter School in District 15, Fariña’s former district, is a protégé of the chancellor from when she was a student at Teacher’s College Columbia University. Tettonis is also rumored to belong to a group of principals that is advising Fariña.

Most of the member organizations run a single charter school (New Visions for Public Schools is an exception). Several have unionized teachers, including University Prep High School in the Bronx and Renaissance Charter High School in Queens. And many serve high-need student populations, including New York Center for Autism Charter School and Broome Street Academy, which serves students at risk of dropping out.

In interviews, charter operators who signed onto the statement emphasized that they shared an opposition to de Blasio’s plan to charge charter schools rent with other schools in the city but said they disagreed with some of their colleagues about how to advocate against it.

“There’s a communication problem,” said Kalad Id-Din. “This is not a policy problem.”

Privately, several members said they believed that an ongoing political rivalry between de Blasio and Moskowitz, a former City Council member who is seen as having mayoral ambitions, has undermined their ability to work with the new administration.

Responding to the group’s statement, Moskowitz said she agreed that the sector suffered from misperceptions, which “have obscured the real achievements of our students. New York City children will only benefit if the administration and charter community can jointly embrace the task of providing equal access to high quality education.”

(Another charter operator who did not sign on to the coalition, Dave Levin of KIPP, said he was “completely aligned in spirit and with the hopes expressed by our charter friends.”)

Now, the sector is preparing for an important meeting that could determine its future. On Saturday, the New York City Charter School Center is hosting a meeting between Fariña and the city’s charter school leaders. All schools have been invited, but the group said they released their statement in advance to get Fariña’s attention. A spokeswoman for the center declined to comment about the center’s hopes for the meeting.

Like de Blasio, Fariña has criticized the charter sector and noted that it contains both “good” and “bad” schools. She has also said she has concerns that some charter schools use enrollment rules to serve fewer high-need students.

Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye said Fariña “believes in listening to and engaging with all members of our school system” as a way to set good education policy.

“Families across the city want access to high-quality schools — district and charter — and we celebrate when families find schools that meet their needs,” Kaye added.

The group’s complete statement and list of members is below:

A diverse group of leaders from more than two dozen community-based charter schools met this week to discuss ways in which charter schools can develop a more collaborative working relationship with Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña. Along with other interested schools that were unable to attend, this group currently includes over 45 organizations, educating more than 13,000 students in all five boroughs, housed in private and public space.

This group includes independent charter schools and charters affiliated with well-known social service organizations that have a long tradition of partnering with the city to serve children and families. Although the schools represent many different approaches to public education, they all share a firm commitment to social justice through public education.

This group came together out of a concern that generalizations have allowed misperceptions of charter schools and their work. And despite the best of intentions, the growth of the charter sector did not always hear or heed community concerns. This needs correcting.

This group supports the Mayor’s progressive agenda for children and families. It also believes that the majority of the city’s charters share the administration’s desire to reach those students who most need a high-quality public education. We look forward to engaging the city in a productive dialogue to consider how the charter sector, working in partnership with the city, can continue its work and help advance the administration’s priorities and values to the benefit of the children of New York.

Academy of the City Charter School
Amber Charter School
Bedford-Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School
Beginning with Children and Community
Partnership Charter School
Brooklyn Charter School
Broome Street Academy and University
Settlement House
Central Queens Academy Charter School
Children’s Aid College Prep Charter School
Compass Charter School
DREAM Charter School and Harlem RBI
East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School
Family Life Academy Charter School
Heketi Community Charter School
Hellenic Classical Charter School
Hyde Leadership Charter School
John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School
Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School
Math Engineering Science Academy
Middle Village Preparatory Charter School
New Dawn Charter High School
New Visions for Public Schools
New York Center for Autism Charter School
New York City Montessori Charter School
Opportunity Charter School
Renaissance Charter School
Summit Academy Charter School
Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School
University Prep Charter High School

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.”