rapid response

Student injured in New York City terror attack returned to school the following day

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photo Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo stand in front of the school bus mangled in Tuesday's attack.

On Tuesday, a man sped a pickup truck down bike lanes in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and wounding over a dozen others before ramming into a yellow school bus, temporarily trapping two students inside.

On Wednesday, one of those students, a 16-year-old who had suffered minor injuries, insisted on returning to school. He wanted to keep his perfect attendance record.

But there was a problem: “The bus actually didn’t pick him up, thinking he wouldn’t be there,” said schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who told the story Thursday at a press conference near the site of the attack. So the boy’s mother called for a car to take him from Brooklyn to his Manhattan school.

“When I spoke to him yesterday,” Fariña continued, “and this is something I’m never going to forget in terms of my experience as chancellor, he said to me: ‘I told myself I’m going to be fine because a lot of people want to help me.’ That’s what New York is all about.”

Fariña added that the other student who was on the bus had gone through surgery but was “on the mend.” Two adults on the bus, including the driver, were expected to recover.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Fariña applauded the response from a handful of schools in Lower Manhattan to what has been described as the deadliest act of terror in New York City since 9/11. The schools swiftly moved into “shelter in place” mode, a protocol where classes are supposed to continue as scheduled, but staffers seal the entrances and exits.

“I think they handled a very tough situation exceptionally well,” de Blasio said.

Tuesday’s attack ended just as some students from Stuyvesant, one of the city’s elite specialized high schools, were leaving for the day.

Several students said they watched as the accused attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, emerged from his truck holding what were later found to be a paintball gun and a pellet gun, before being shot by a police officer.

“I saw everything,” said Hadi Moukdad, a Stuyvesant freshman.

When the gunshots rang out, Moukdad said it was unclear where they were coming from, so he fled. Other students who had also left for the day ran back to the school only to find themselves locked out. One ducked into a nearby building.

Officials considered closing Stuyvesant the day after the attack, but ultimately decided to keep it open.

“I thought it was important to send the same message that the rest of the city was sending,” de Blasio said, “that we would not be deterred by terrorism, that we would continue our work as normal.” The mayor noted that one Stuyvesant teacher injured in the attack made it to work the following day.

Still, when students arrived Wednesday, many were visibly shaken. Some teachers invited them to reflect on what had happened, while others carried on classes as normal. One group of students wore black in solidarity with those who had been killed.

“It was a really weird atmosphere — no one really knew what to say,” said Ethan Shenker, a freshman who could see the attack unfold from his classroom and later met with one of the trauma counselors the city made available. “I’ve been trying to keep it out of my head.”

As the attack unfolded, Stuyvesant teacher Annie Thomas was in the middle of a class centered on Amy Tan’s book “The Joy Luck Club,” she told the New Yorker. The discussion stretched on for three hours while students waited to be evacuated.

Later, Thomas reflected on what it means for her Muslim students in particular to live through such acts of terror.

“Especially after 9/11, every time I see that something is a terrorist incident, and someone has said ‘Allahu Akhbar,’ I feel a pit in my stomach, because terrorism is the evil opposite of what Islam is,” she told the magazine. “So many of our kids here at Stuyvesant are Muslim, and they fear being tarred with this kind of thing.”

Across Chambers Street, P.S. 89 Principal Veronica Najjar didn’t miss a beat after she received word of the attack, according to the New York Times.

Her students had just been dismissed, so the school’s staff helped pull them back into the building. Najjar, who helped guide her school through the 9/11 attacks, explained that the most important thing is for the adults to stay calm and speak to students truthfully, without divulging too many upsetting details.

“We just make sure that we’re giving kids the facts that are not overly explicit or overly graphic,” she told the Times. “When you stick to the facts with kids, without giving them any embellishment or emotion with it, they are usually very satisfied. They just want to know that you’re being truthful with them.”

During Thursday’s press conference, Fariña said the staff members at all four schools in the vicinity of the attack had responded exactly as she had hoped.

“Teachers stayed until every child was home, until every parent got listened to, until everyone was deemed safe,” she said.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

testing testing

McQueen to convene third task force as Tennessee seeks to get testing right

PHOTO: Creative Commons/timlewisnm

For a third straight year, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will convene a task force to examine Tennessee’s testing program in the wake of persistent hiccups with its TNReady assessment and perennial concerns about over-testing.

McQueen announced Monday the members of her newest task force, which will assemble on Dec. 11 in Nashville and complete its work next July. The group includes educators, lawmakers, and parents.

At the top of the agenda: evaluating the first full year of TNReady testing for grades 3-8 and the second year for high schoolers, the latter of which was marred by scoring problems for a small percentage of students.


Five things to know about the latest brouhaha over TNReady


The group also will look at district-level “formative tests” that measure student progress to help teachers adjust their instruction throughout the school year. The goal is to support districts so those tests align with TNReady and the state’s newest academic standards.

The transition to online testing and concerns about over-testing will be on the minds of task force members.

This marks the first school year that all high schoolers will take TNReady online since 2016, when a new platform buckled on its first day. State officials are more confident this time around under a phased-in approach that began last school year with 25 districts. (Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019.)

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Candice McQueen

On over-testing, McQueen has highlighted 11th-grade as a concern. The junior year of high school is intense as students explore their post-graduation options while taking the ACT college entrance exam, the state’s end-of-course exams, and for some, Advanced Placement tests. All are high-stakes.

McQueen told Gov. Bill Haslam earlier this month that the upcoming task force will seek to strip away tests that don’t align with Tennessee’s priorities.

“We’re looking for testing reductions … but also setting a path toward (our) goals, which is a new test that’s aligned to new standards that really matter,” she told Haslam during budget hearings.

During its first two years, task force work has led to a number of changes.

Recommendations in the first year resulted in the elimination of a test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as the shortening of TNReady tests for math and reading.

In the second year, the task force contributed to Tennessee’s education plan under a new federal law and slimmed down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders.

Members of the third task force are:

  • Candice McQueen, Tennessee commissioner of education
  • Sara Morrison, executive director, State Board of Education
  • Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairwoman, Senate Education Committee
  • Rep. John Forgety, chairman, House Education Instruction and Programs Committee
  • Rep. Harry Brooks, chairman, House Education Administration and Planning Committee
  • Rep. Mark White, chairman, House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee*
  • Wayne Blair, president, Tennessee School Board Association*
  • Barbara Gray, president, Tennessee Education Association
  • Dale Lynch, executive director, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents*
  • Sharon Roberts, chief strategy officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education*
  • Audrey Shores, chief operating officer, Professional Educators of Tennessee
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition and senior director of education policy & programs, Conexión Américas*
  • Lisa Wiltshire, policy director, Tennesseans for Quality Early Education*
  • Shawn Kimble, director, Lauderdale County School System*
  • Mike Winstead, director, Maryville City Schools
  • Jennifer Cothron, assessment supervisor, Wilson County Schools*
  • Trey Duke, coordinator for Federal Programs and RTI2, Rutherford County Schools*
  • Michael Hubbard, director of performance excellence, Kingsport City Schools*
  • LaToya Pugh, iZone science instructional support manager, Shelby County Schools*
  • Bill Harlin, principal, Nolensville High School, Williamson County Schools
  • Laura Charbonnet, assistant principal, Collierville High School, Collierville Schools*
  • Tim Childers, assistant principal, L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools*
  • Kevin Cline, assistant principal, Jefferson County High School, Jefferson County Schools*
  • Kim Herring, teacher, Cumberland County High School, Cumberland County School District*
  • Jolinea Pegues, special education teacher, Southwind High School, Shelby County Schools*
  • Stacey Travis, teacher, Maryville High School, Maryville City Schools*
  • Josh Rutherford, teacher, Houston County High School, Houston County School District*
  • Cicely Woodard, 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, West End Middle Prep, Metro Nashville Public Schools*
  • Virginia Babb, parent, Knox County Parent-Teacher Association
  • Jennifer Frazier, parent, Hamblen County Department of Education*
  • Student members will be invited*

*new members