school rule

De Blasio defends parent input under city’s mayoral control structure

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Parents and teachers speak at an April meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy to consider the co-location of Success Academy Bronx 3 in a building with three district middle schools.

Updated — Mayor Bill de Blasio dug in his heels on the issue of mayoral control on Wednesday, urging state lawmakers to renew the law without making changes that would weaken his power over the city’s schools.

De Blasio was back in Albany to pressure lawmakers to renew the law that grants the mayor control over New York City education policy, which expires at the end of June. De Blasio said the current structure has allowed the city to implement its most important education initiatives, from the expansion of pre-kindergarten to the transfer of more power to superintendents.

The mayor has said he supports the three-year extension passed by the Assembly last week, while the state Senate late on Wednesday introduced its own one-year renewal that comes with significant checks. But de Blasio was not ready to accept any proposals offered in recent weeks that would limit his oversight in exchange, including those calling for more community control over school-space decisions.

“I think our current approach is working and I think it’s very inclusive,” de Blasio told reporters between meetings with state leaders in Albany. “I do think there’s many good and constructive ways to hear the voices of parents, and we’re doing that right now.”

A bill introduced by State Senator Jeffrey Klein this week would extend mayoral control for five years. But it would also reduce the mayor’s control of the city’s 13-member Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on co-location plans, new contracts and changes to the school regulations, by adding two members appointed by the city comptroller and the public advocate.

Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, is recommending that the mayor lose his majority rule altogether by allowed the mayor to appoint just seven of 17 panel members. She has also recommended that the Department of Education’s contracts be approved by the city comptroller, not the panel, and that elected parent councils have the final say over co-location proposals in their districts.

“No, I do not think CECs should have veto power over co-locations,” de Blasio said, referring to James’ proposal to bolster district Community Education Councils. “I think that would be a mistake.”

De Blasio said his administration has gone to great lengths to encourage parent involvement, pointing to an extra 40 minutes each week that teachers must spend interacting with parents under their new union contract. He also said he has encouraged independence from the people he has appointed to the panel, some of whom have voted to delay or nix some co-location plans.

But James, who earlier this year held a series of forums to solicit feedback on mayoral control, said she regularly heard from “parents who feel disempowered.”

“Parents want a seat at the table,” James said.

The landmark mayoral-control legislation dismantled the city’s 32 local school boards in 2002 and granted then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg control after more than three decades of decentralized rule. When the law last expired in 2009, lawmakers eventually extended mayoral control by six years, but not before adding a new checks and balances. One change, which required the city to hold public hearings and study the impact of school closures or co-locations before they can be approved, ended up derailing the Bloomberg administration’s agenda for a year.

It’s those kinds of legislative tweaks that de Blasio is looking to avoid this time around. Giving up contract oversight could hinder the city’s ability to quickly approve funds for its thousands of pre-K programs each year, for example, especially if that power would be ceded to Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has scrutinized the city’s pre-K deals.

De Blasio’s stance represents a shift from how he talked about mayoral control over the last six years as a city councilman and public advocate, when he was an outspoken opponent.

“We saw parents come out in huge numbers every month, whatever was on the agenda,” de Blasio said of his time on District 15’s school board. “Because they understood that it was their opportunity to hear what was going on and address actual decision-makers, unscripted. No rules; they could ask any question they wanted, demand answers. And I thought it was very healthy for the system.”

De Blasio has recalled that time differently over the last few months.

“If it’s not renewed, we’re going to go back to chaos and corruption,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “It’s as simple as that. I’ve experienced it firsthand. You know, I saw what that system was like. I was involved. It was a horribly dysfunctional system.”

That evolution has exposed de Blasio to criticism from some allies: “Mayor de Blasio is not different from any other elected official who refuses to relinquish power,” James said.

After meeting with reporters, de Blasio spent about 45 minutes with new Senate Republican majority leader John Flanagan, whose support the mayor needs.

“What I care about is, is there an open door? Is there a real substantive dialogue? And I think today was a good example that yes, there is,” de Blasio said.

Flanagan has said he wants to tweak the mayoral control law, but offered few specifics until after meeting with de Blasio on Wednesday. Legislation he has introduced includes a one-year extension that also raised the charter school cap, from 460 to 560 schools, and would require the state legislature to approve of the city’s operating budget.

The mayor will have some bipartisan backing as negotiations heat up. Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island, said he “firmly” supported mayoral control, though he said he’s not opposed to just a one-year extension. Earlier in the day, de Blasio said that idea would turn mayoral control into “a political football.”

“For me, it’s just a matter of making sure that every year we have mayoral control,” Lanza said. “How we get there is less important to me.”

Mayoral control is one of several education issues that remain before the legislature before the session ends on June 17. Also on the table are proposed tax credits to subsidize private-school enrollment, raising the charter school cap, delaying changes teacher evaluations, and providing tuition assistance for undocumented students.

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.