great expectations

Co-location backlash turns de Blasio allies quickly into critics

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
The president of a community education council in Brooklyn holds a sign opposing new co-locations at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in October 2013.

Hundreds of people crowded into Brooklyn’s I.S. 281 last October for a public hearing on a plan to install a new charter school in the building. More than 50 people spoke that night, and all but a handful said they opposed the space-sharing proposal.

Later that month, as a school policy board appeared set to vote in favor of the plan, an I.S. 281 teacher said she was hitching her wagon to the mayoral frontrunner, Bill de Blasio, who had promised to review each approved co-location.

“Hopefully,” the teacher said, “de Blasio does what he says he’s going to do.”

But after de Blasio, now mayor, announced last week that almost all Bloomberg-era co-location plans would go forward, people at I.S. 281 and across the city who had pinned their hopes on him said they were disappointed. Parents and politicians alike said de Blasio was already breaking a promise to consider public input when making school decisions.

“We expected to see change,” said Laurie Windsor, president of the elected parent council that oversees I.S. 281’s district. “That’s what they kept saying, and we really, fully trusted them. Now the trust is gone.”

On Thursday, de Blasio and his schools chief announced that they had reviewed 45 co-locations approved in the final weeks of the Bloomberg administration and decided to cancel nine, including three that involved charter schools. The three dozen other co-locations, including the one at I.S. 281, will proceed as planned.

“We did a thorough analysis as quickly as we could in the first weeks of being here,” the mayor said at a press conference Thursday. “We decided that some of these were not fair, did not make sense, and we took action.” (Education department officials also noted that overturning many of the proposals would hurt students who had applied to attend the new schools.)

De Blasio’s announcement outraged supporters of the three Success Academy charter schools that lost space they had been promised. But it also inflamed many parents, educators, and elected officials who had counted on the new mayor to reverse more co-locations, and who saw in his decision a lack of consistency and transparency. The backlash revealed how quickly the administration’s supporters might morph into critics if their hopes for specific causes are dashed.

Vincent Gentile, a south Brooklyn City Council member who supported de Blasio’s mayoral bid and lobbied against the I.S. 281 co-location last fall, said the city had not contacted him or others invested in the school during the review process.

“To my knowledge, none of that input was sought,” he said, adding that he learned of the decision only when it was announced publicly. “Part of the disappointment was the lack of a heads up.”

Gentile and two other Democratic City Council members released a statement Thursday saying they were “furious” with the decision and intend to fight it “tooth and nail.” Separately, the parent groups behind a lawsuit meant to stop more the co-locations said they would continue with their legal challenge.

The principal of a school that will share space with a new charter school next fall said he emailed a deputy chancellor during the review period to raise his concerns about the co-location, but did not get a reply.

“I didn’t find the review to be a transparent process,” said the principal, who asked for anonymity because a superintendent instructed him not to discuss the decision publicly. “There wasn’t a way for principals to make their case.”

Last week, the education department announced that it would more actively involve the public in future co-location decisions through extra meetings and the formation of a working group. But the effort was seen by some as a half-measure, since the new engagement policies did not apply to the pending co-locations.

“It was like, ‘We’re going to listen to you in the future, but this is what we’re doing now,’” said Larry Acosta, who directs an adult education center based inside I.S. 171, a middle school in East New York that will have a new middle school open in its building this fall.

At least one group endorsed the city’s co-location decisions: a coalition of charter schools seeking the city’s support and whose leaders were invited to meet with top city officials shortly before Thursday’s announcement. They released a statement the next day calling the city’s decision-making process “thorough” and “principled.”

But such support was drowned out by criticism from people who felt betrayed by de Blasio, who during the mayoral campaign had pledged to “rescind those [co-location] proposals that have clear negative impacts,” while allowing the rest to remain. Many people appeared to have disregarded the second half of de Blasio’s promise.

“He’s a scam,” said Josephine Shayef, whose son is a seventh-grade student at I.S. 281. “He told us when he was elected, everything would be reversed. Why did he lie?”

For Mona Davids, the head of the New York City Parents Union, the administration’s decision felt like a personal betrayal. Her organization is a part of a lawsuit alleging the Bloomberg administration acted unlawfully in approving dozens of co-locations last October, and Davids was expecting big change from de Blasio.

Instead, the limited scope of the changes left her “hugely disappointed and surprised.”

“As much as de Blasio says he’s about a new day, he’s not engaging parents,” Davids said. “At this point, de Blasio continues to renege on all campaign promises.”

Windsor, the CEC president, said parents and community members will now regard the administration’s school policies with more skepticism.

“Now you have to take it with a huge grain of salt,” she said.

But Dionne Grayman, the co-founder of NYCpublic.org, an organizing tool for public school parents, defended the city’s decisions, saying it would have been infeasible to undo all the planned co-locations. She added that it will take time for the city to better include parents in its decision-making, but even then parents will not always be satisfied with the city’s choices.

“As optimistic as I am, I think we have to be realistic,” she said.

Sarah Darville contributed reporting.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”