who rules the schools

Despite differences, Buery seeks support from charter schools on mayoral control

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

The de Blasio administration is making nice with some of the city’s charter school leaders just in time to seek their support for a legislative priority that has so far eluded them: renewing mayoral control.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery was the featured speaker at a Tuesday event hosted by the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, a group of independent charter schools whose relationship with the de Blasio administration had recently soured. In his speech, Buery praised the coalition’s advocacy work and encouraged a renewed partnership with the city, then asked the audience to take a long-term view of the city’s needs.

“Whatever you believe about Mayor de Blasio’s views on education, whatever you believe about Chancellor Fariña, one thing I think we can all agree on is that we don’t want to go back in time,” Buery said, referring to the period before the mayor was granted control of the city’s schools in 2002. “That whoever is in charge, having a system where the mayor is clearly in charge, where the mayor is clearly accountable for results, is the best system for transparency and accountability and therefore can drive results.”

Charter leaders on Tuesday said they largely agreed with Buery. “There’s just no point in going back,” said Steve Zimmerman, who heads the coalition. “It shouldn’t be contingent on whoever’s in office.”

“I believe this is bigger than just who the mayor is now,” said Jeff Ginsburg, executive director of East Harlem Tutorial Program, which operates the East Harlem Scholars Academies network, whose schools are not coalition members.

When mayoral control was last due to expire in 2009, supporters of charter schools played a starring role in helping then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg get the law renewed. The Robin Hood Foundation, which provides charter school start-up funding, supported a lobbying campaign headed by then-Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada, who pointed to Bloomberg’s encouragement of charter schools as a reason for his support.

The shift is a symptom of the de Blasio administration’s fractious relationship with the charter sector. Last year, charter advocates helped derail de Blasio’s plans to charge rent to co-located charter schools, and as recently as a month ago, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz and James Merriman of the New York City Charter Center were saying the mayor’s policy ideas should cause state lawmakers to think twice about extending his power.

Merriman said in a statement that his support for mayoral control has not wavered with the new administration, but that passage remains closely linked to allowing more charter schools to open in New York City. The state’s current cap on charter schools allows for another 25 to be authorized to open in the city, and charter leaders say it’s important to lift the cap now to allow for the sector to continue to grow.

“We supported mayoral control under Mayor Bloomberg and we support it under Mayor de Blasio but are mystified why the mayor won’t support eliminating the charter cap, and in so doing, make the path to mayoral control renewal much easier and outcomes for kids better,” Merriman said.

Buery did not mention the cap in his remarks on Tuesday, and reiterated the mayor’s opposition to lifting the cap in a brief interview.

“We think there’s lots of great work to do, lots of great opportunities for the sector to continue to flourish and grow, but we’re not in a position where we need to raise the cap to do that,” Buery said.

Most of the charter schools at the event are independent without plans to replicate and expand, unlike the city’s charter management organizations, the largest of which, Success Academy, has 32 schools. But speakers said they supported lifting the cap for political reasons.

“Whether we get it this time or not, I think we need to continue to push for it because a movement that’s capped is a movement that eventually dies,” said Stacey Gauthier, principal of the Renaissance Charter School in Queens.

Buery did note one area that the de Blasio administration is making an effort to give charter schools what they ask for. After leaders of the coalition helped him understand how important it is for charter schools in private space to have access to facilities funding, Buery said, the city has not sought to impede a state law that requires the city to provide that funding to new and expanding charters — even though it will cost over $30 million over the next two years alone.

“We’ve been going out of our way to make sure the process has not been contentious,” Buery said, referring to legal appeals that schools must file to receive the funding. “That it’s speedy and collaborative, and it really feels like, as much as possible, we can get money out to schools that need it.”

His request for charter leaders’ support is the latest case of the Blasio administration has reaching beyond its political base to portray mayoral control as an issue with wide-ranging support. De Blasio has also cited the endorsements of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and dozens of prominent business leaders. (De Blasio’s reliable ally, the United Federation of Teachers, officially opposes the current mayoral control setup but has stayed quiet during the lobbying effort.)

Buery’s appearance came a day after the heads of several nonprofit organizations that run or support charter schools — Harlem Children’s Zone, Harlem RBI, New Visions for Public Schools, and Civic Builders — signed onto a letter meant to “strongly urge” state lawmakers to make mayoral control permanent. At minimum, they wrote, mayoral control should be renewed for three years, as the Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have proposed. (The Republican-controlled Senate has proposed a one-year extension that would weaken mayoral control and be paired with a law that raising the charter cap.) Forty-five organizations signed onto the letter in all.

“We have seen that mayoral control makes possible the coordination and focus that is necessary to achieve ambitious large-scale reform: expanding pre-k to serve every child who needs it by September; launching Community Schools that meet students’ social, emotional, and health and mental health needs; and focusing resources and accountability on the city’s most struggling schools,” the letter reads.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”