In letter, Fariña asks schools to model ‘positive relationships with law enforcement’

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Much as she advised in the wake of a grand jury decision about Eric Garner’s death earlier this month, Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants schools to find a way to use the tragic deaths of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday as learning opportunities.

Rafael Ramos, one of the officers killed, was a school safety officer on Staten Island — at the Rocco Laurie School, named for a policeman murdered in a similar incident in 1972 — until 2012.

In a letter to staff Monday, Fariña shared a recollection from that school’s principal, Peter Macellari, and thanked school safety officers for their role in keeping schools safe. She also said Saturday’s tragedy should bring about a dialogue in school communities about “what positive relationships with law enforcement look like.”

Advocates have long argued that safety agents too often strike an unnecessarily combative tone when it comes to school discipline, and some have pushed to involve communities in training the agents. Fariña has promised to revamp the city’s discipline policies, although she has not yet made any changes.

The full letter is below:

Dear Colleagues,

The tragic shooting deaths of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu over the weekend have shaken the City and are having an impact on our school communities as well. As you may have read, Officer Ramos served as a school safety agent at the Rocco Laurie School on Staten Island for three years until becoming a police officer in 2012.

As educators, it is our job to educate and build community; school safety agents are integral to both of these missions. I want us to take these officers’ senseless deaths as an opportunity to foster dialogue and engage in conversations with community members, including our local precinct officers. Let us model what positive relationships with law enforcement look like.

Peter Macellari, the principal of Rocco Laurie, knows the good safety agents do in our schools and keenly feels Officer Ramos’ loss. “He will always be remembered by my staff as being a gentleman,” Principal Macellari said this morning. “He was a quiet man who came to work each day with a smile on his face. The students adored him because he always treated them with respect and never over-reacted to anything. He always talked about his sons and his dream of becoming a member of the NYPD. Needless to say, in his time as a member of the Rocco Laurie family, he touched all of our lives.”

Principal Macellari and his staff held a moment of silence this morning for both officers killed in the line of duty. Let us all take a moment to reflect on these officers’ sacrifice and embrace the season’s message of peace and good will to all people.

Thank you for ensuring that our students learn in safe, secure classrooms—and for fostering positive relationships between our students and the public servants who put their lives on the line for our children, and all of us.



that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.