Third time's the charm

City council members criticize charter schools at hearing, though few networks attend

City Council education committee chair Daniel Dromm gave Tuesday’s charter school hearing a splash of color when he donned a bright orange T-shirt and criticized Coney Island Preparatory Charter School’s discipline policy.

The school requires misbehaving students to wear a different uniform and sit separately from their peers—a policy Dromm said represents a larger problem of overly harsh discipline at charter schools.

Discipline was just one of a long list of concerns he and other City Council members raised at Tuesday’s twice-postponed oversight hearing on charter schools. They also addressed charter school policies surrounding enrollment, discipline, parent involvement, interactions with other schools on co-located campuses, teacher retention, and salaries for top officials.

But in part because the city’s largest charter networks didn’t send representatives to the hearing, the toughest questions went to Department of Education officials, whose responses were amicable but firm.

Laura Feijoo, senior superintendent in the department’s Office of School Support, repeatedly reminded council members that the department does not have authority over all city charter schools, only those for which the department was the initial authorizer. (The city stopped serving as an authorizer of new schools in 2010 but still has the authority to approve the renewal or revision of charters it authorized before then.)

In response to questions about discipline policies, Feijoo said that it’s up to charter schools to develop their own policies and share them with parents. But she indicated that the department would review discipline policies at city-authorized schools.

“I promise you I will go back and take a look at those policies and report back to you,” she said.

Feijoo also said the department supports a bill introduced by Councilman Andy King that would require it to release demographic and academic data about all co-located schools, district and charter, on a yearly basis.

Even as City Council members grilled Feijoo and other representatives from the department, many took pains not to antagonize the new administration.

“I acknowledge that you haven’t been in office very long, that much of what is in place comes from the previous administration. We want to be able to give you time to correct some of these situations to the extent that you can,” Dromm said.

The charter school landscape has changed significantly since Dromm first announced plans for the hearing in March, when it looked as if the relative freedom—and free rent—many charter schools had enjoyed under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be under threat. Dromm said he was “deeply concerned” about Success Academy’s closure for a rally in Albany and promised to use the council’s oversight powers to investigate the city’s charter sector.

Since then, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign promise to charge rent to well-heeled charter management organizations earned a sharp rebuke from state lawmakers, who outlawed that possibility in the state budget deal. De Blasio offered private space to three Success Academy schools whose co-locations his administration blocked, and a coalition of “community based” charter schools is now in regular contact with City Hall.

Several of those charter schools’ principals spoke at the hearing, wearing oval stickers identifying them as part of the coalition. After testifying, Stacey Gauthier, principal of Renaissance Charter School in Queens, said she was relieved that Dromm didn’t let the hearing “become a circus” given how polarizing conversations about charter schools can be.

Charter leaders whose schools got the most flak from Council members were more critical, though they didn’t attend the hearing. Moskowitz, who held over 100 oversight hearings during her tenure as chair of the City Council’s education committee, released a statement referring to “today’s theatrics.” Jacob Mnookin, who heads Coney Island Prep, called the hearing “a spectacle” and encouraged Councilman Dromm to visit the school and observe its school culture firsthand.

Charter schools also faced criticism outside Council chambers. Critics of charter schools, including former education committee Robert Jackson, held a rally outside Department of Education headquarters before the hearing to protest recent changes to state law.

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.