meeting rundown

What’s on deck at the March Regents meeting? A lot of charter school business.

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regents Luis Reyes and Beverly Ouderkirk go over some paperwork at July's Board of Regents meeting.

New York’s top education policymakers are set to discuss a slew of charter school issues at their meeting this week.

The Board of Regents will decide whether some charter schools should remain open and vote on changes to others, such as increasing enrollment. Additionally, a state work group that has been tackling issues of diversity and integration will meet, and the board is scheduled to discuss its plan to evaluate and support schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Assuming the charter school votes aren’t contentious, the meeting is shaping up to be a fairly quiet one. (Although, there’s always the possibility of a surprise at the last minute.)

Here’s what we know about the items so far:

Charter schools

Twenty charter schools will be discussed, in some capacity, by the board on Monday.

For six of the schools authorized by the board, Regents will formally decide whether the schools are performing well enough to stay open. Others are asking for enrollment increases or a name change. Another set of schools whose charters are up for renewal on Monday’s agenda is overseen by the city’s Department of Education. The Regents can either accept the city’s recommended actions or suggest changes.

Though these votes are typically straightforward, any discussion of charter schools by the boardprovides more insights into how the state’s top education policymakers view them. In the past, Regents have sent mixed signals about charter schools. At their meeting in November, for instance, the board took the unprecedented step of rejecting two charter schools that the state education department suggested approving. But at the same meeting, they approved five different schools, bringing approvals to the highest number in four years.


The Regents “Research Work Group” is slated to meet on Monday. Though no official materials are posted, the group has been tackling issues of integration and diversity. At the last meeting, this work group started outlining potential ideas to address school segregation. They included convening a conference to discuss school integration research and bringing together the state’s civil rights groups to address the issue.

Every Student Succeeds Act

On Monday morning, the state will likely provide more insight into a new rule that will soon require schools to disclose how much money they spend on students.

The requirement is part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and it is also at the core of a brewing state budget debate. While ESSA requires schools to disclose financial information, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to go a step further and give state officials the power to reject local budgets if they do not provide enough money to the neediest schools.

The state’s budget director, Robert Mujica, released a statement on Sunday that seemed intended to justify the governor’s proposal. “The question is not overall state spending. New York State leads the nation in spending,” Mujica said in part of his lengthy statement. “The fundamental question is how much do poor schools receive versus richer schools?”

But New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has already come out forcefully against the governor’s proposal. The state’s website says only that officials will provide a “recommended approach and time line” for the law’s “fiscal transparency requirements,” but Elia may also use the time to address the governor’s budget proposal.

Extra credit

The board is also scheduled to vote on a new teacher certification area that is specific to computer science, discuss funding for pre-K programs that serve students with disabilities, and provide an update on the state’s work to ensure data privacy.

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.