transition time

From March: At uncertain moment, Tisch is mum on her future as Regents chancellor

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch poses with outgoing Regents members after a contended appointment process ushered in new members critical of Tisch's agenda. Tisch said she plans to step down from the board next year.

A week after losing two more allies in state education policy, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she’s unsure of her own plans for the future.

“We’ll talk about it in a couple of months,” Tisch told reporters on Monday when asked if she would seek reappointment when her term ends next year.

“Serve out my term?” Tisch said, when asked about her shorter-term plans. “Absolutely.”

Tisch, who has overseen the body that sets New York state education policy since 2009 and served on it since 1996, said such discussions were premature in an interview Tuesday. But her noncommittal response adds to the uncertainty looming over state education policy, following months of leadership changes that has left Tisch — a driving force behind the state’s new teacher and principal evaluations and the introduction of Common Core standards — more isolated.

Lawmakers last week voted to replace two Regents, James Dawson and Robert Bennett, who supported the ambitious education-policy changes Tisch has overseen. Their replacements are among a new wave of more skeptical appointees.

Also missing from Tisch’s corner is John King, who stepped down as education commissioner in December and who for six years guided a series of aggressive policy changes, including a statewide expansion of charter schools.

“It’s a shot across the bow of the accountability regime promoted by Tisch and King,” David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College, said of last week’s Regents election.

The Regents are now searching for King’s replacement. Meanwhile, the final dollars from the $700 million federal Race to the Top grant that spurred the state’s reforms in 2010 are likely to be disbursed this year. Many of those changes are now in their second year of being implemented statewide, and the education policy debates have shifted to the legislature as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pursues an aggressive series of changes to teacher tenure rules, evaluation methods, and the state’s role in overseeing struggling schools.

Tisch also lost an important ally in Sheldon Silver, who controlled the Regents selection process and stepped down as Assembly Speaker earlier this year after being indicted on corruption charges. Tisch and Silver were lifelong friends, and his fall was seen as a loss of some protection for the Regents against criticism from Assembly members.

Tisch said she wasn’t interested in discussing her plans on Tuesday, which included an emotional final meeting for the Regents being replaced. (Harry Phillips, a third Regent, voluntarily resigned.)

“We’re just all recovering from this Regents [selection] round,” Tisch said.

At the meeting, Regents exchanged hugs and shook hands with the members of the departing trio, who each spoke briefly and received standing ovations from the other members and observers. The three had a combined 67 years of experience on the board.

“Unlike Harry, I’m not leaving because I wanted to leave,” said Dawson, who represented nearly 100 school districts north of Albany, in a teary goodbye. “I’m leaving because of New York state politics.”

Bennett, who represented school districts in Buffalo and Western New York, left offering praise for the board’s leadership, but questioned whether other members were too easily influenced by outside groups. His reappointment was opposed by the teachers union in Buffalo.

“I know we’ve got two great leaders in the vice chancellor and the chancellor who have a great history and are here for the right reasons,” Bennett said. “There may be some members on the board that are carrying the water of certain constituencies.”

A number of Assembly lawmakers who would likely have some say in whether Tisch is re-elected offered praise for the chancellor this week. Catherine Nolan, chair of the education committee, said the replacement of Regents members last week was not a referendum on Tisch’s performance as chancellor.

“I hold her in the highest regard,” Nolan said. “It was in no way about the leadership.”

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.