marked absent

Large crowd expected for rally, but many charters still staying home

Thursday’s much-hyped charter school rally in downtown Manhattan is estimated to draw thousands of students, parents, teachers, and political allies in support of their education policies. What it doesn’t have, for a third straight year, is full representation of the city’s ever-growing charter school sector.

The city’s four largest charter school organizations are expected to turn out a majority of participants, while most other charter schools are sitting the rally out. Those decisions are a reflection of the diversity of the city’s charter sector, which this year consists of 197 schools and 6 percent of public school students, and also to continued disagreement about how schools can most effectively achieve their political goals.

“We believe that a more productive approach is to expend our efforts in working collaboratively with the city and DOE to bring the necessary changes into fruition,” Renaissance Charter School Principal Stacey Gauthier said.

Dozens of schools are still expected to attend, but most will come from the same networks: Success Academy, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP. Success Academy’s 32 schools will be closed for the first half of the school day and reopened for the afternoon to accommodate for the rally (A spokesperson said that no student learning time was missed). Achievement First’s 17 schools in Brooklyn will stay open, but a spokesperson for the network said it expects to send 1,200 students and families, mostly from its middle and high school grades. At the 21 Uncommon Schools, rally attendance isn’t required and staff members have the option to attend or stay at school.

But in interviews with non-participating school leaders, a variety of reasons were cited for their absence. Some said the decision was educational, while others said they weren’t asked for input around the event. Several others said they weren’t invited to attend. And others, like Gauthier, reprised concerns that a massive rally seen as an attack on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña would be inappropriate.

The concerns are not new. Fractures within the city’s charter schools sector, often seen as a monolith, first burst into public two years ago when school leaders and advocates said they would not participate in a similar rally because some believed the political aspirations of Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz were as much a part of the agenda as a show of force on behalf of the entire sector.

Underneath the public squabbling were divided positions on enrollment policies, how co-locations should be handled, and how large a role charter schools should play in public education.

Those issues, of course, aren’t yet settled. This year, in an effort to distinguish themselves from the city’s large charter management organizations, several charter schools have banded together as the Coalition for Community Charter Schools. They say the group agrees that charter school enrollment should mirror those of nearby district schools and has sought to work closely with the de Blasio administration.

The leaders of most of the coalition’s school leaders who are a part of the coalition said this week that they weren’t opposed to tomorrow’s charter school rally, but wouldn’t be taking part.

Sonia Park, executive director of Manhattan Charter School, said her school would be “supporting from afar.” Park said she didn’t want to take students out of class or ask her parents to take time off of work to attend.

Vasthi Acosta of the Amber Charter School in Harlem, which drew a high-profile visit from Fariña and de Blasio last month, said her priorities would be elsewhere on Thursday.

“I think it’s really early in the school year and we’re trying to focus on our instructional work,” said Acosta.

Crowd estimates for the event have been a moving target that is mostly pointed up. The final tally, unlikely to be independently verified, will probably land close to or exceed last year’s total of 17,000, an important mark that some in the charter sector see as more important than displaying a unified front.

“If you don’t have a platform, then the whole point is to show momentum,” said a charter school advocate not involved in organizing the event.

Officially, organizers say the rally is being designed to put pressure on Fariña and de Blasio, who have been criticized for not articulating a clear plan for the city’s low-performing schools. But sights are also set on issues that need to be settled by the state legislature: raising the number of charter schools allowed to operate in New York state and increasing state funding for charter schools.

In a nod to those priorities, at least four Democratic state lawmakers, including Brooklyn Assembly Member Karim Camara and Senate co-leader Jeff Klein will headline the event, according to Families for Excellent Schools, which is organizing the event.

Acosta said she’s on board with many of the big-picture policies that the charter school sector is seeking this year, particularly extra facility funds for schools in private space. But there is another reason Acosta said she didn’t really compelled to air those concerns at Thursday’s rally.

“We weren’t even invited,” Acosta said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported how Success Academy had scheduled it school days to make time for the rally.

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 [email protected]

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.”