the ticker

Dispatches from the first day of school: Carranza hits bus depot and schools across the city

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza high-fives students at P.S. 78 on Staten Island as they leave after the first day of the 2018-2019 school year.

More than a million students headed back to school on Wednesday in New York City, marking the first first day of classes during Chancellor Richard Carranza’s tenure.

His day started well before sunrise, with a 5 a.m. visit to a Queens bus depot where the new schools chief snapped a selfie with drivers. He hopped on a yellow bus with two first graders to P.S. 377 in Ozone Park, Queens, to kick off a bustling five-borough first-day tour, a tradition among New York City chancellors to highlight the diversity of the city and their policy priorities.

Over nine hours, Carranza plans to visit a prekindergarten class in Queens, sit in on an Advanced Placement class in the Bronx, eat lunch in Harlem, stop by a charter high school in the far reaches of Brooklyn, and dismiss students on Staten Island. Mayor Bill de Blasio will join him this morning at a class for 3-year-olds that’s part of his administration’s early childhood push.

Our Christina Veiga is along for the ride and will file dispatches all day. Share your first-day-of-school pictures and observations and we’ll include them!

A QUICK BUS RIDE The chancellor usually travels by SUV but took a yellow bus to his first school on Wednesday, a 15-minute ride with first graders Miabella Salas, 6, of Ozone Park, and Salvatore McGrane, 5, of Howard Beach.

According to a pool report of the trip, Salas told Carranza her first priority for the day was to reconnect with friend she missed over summer break.  “I want to play with my friends,” she said. “And be nice to them.”

Carranza was on board with that approach, as well as Salas’s goal of working on her math skills. “Her advice is to be nice to kids today, she agrees that she should have lunch, she’s going to help her friends and she has a backpack full of school supplies,” Carranza observed. “She’s prepared and ready to go.”

The chancellor then sat next to Salvatore. It took a bit for the two to warm up to each other, as Sal was distracted by train tracks and other scenery out the window. “Sal is so over me,” Carranza joked. But they picked up steam as Sal outlined his career plans—becoming a train conductor—and spoke about how much he loved the school bus.

After dropping off his passengers, bus driver Luis Torrero looked relieved and said he appreciated Carranza’s choice to ride a bus on the first day of school.

“That was pretty cool,” he said, according to the pool report. “This is my career, this is my life, being a bus driver. So it’s definitely a good way to start the year.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza walk a 3-year-old to his first day of class in Queens.

FIRST SCHOOL STOP At P.S. 377, Carranza and de Blasio walked hand-in-hand with a preschool student, who was wearing a toy firefighter helmet, into the brick school.

In the courtyard outside, Tiffany Anastasia snapped pictures of her 2-year-old son, Luke Acevedo, who was starting preschool.

After making pre-K free and universal for 4-year-olds, de Blasio has pushed to start his signature education policy even earlier — for 3-year-olds. The mayor plans to offer “3–K” in 12 school districts by 2020 — four more than he originally planned. A full expansion will require a substantial influx of state and federal dollars.

The political fight ahead was far from Anastasia’s mind as she posed Luke with a cartoon backpack and snapped photos. She said she heard on TV news that 3-K was available in her neighborhood and signed Luke up, even though the timing of his birthday meant he’d start at only 2.

“He needs friends,” Anastasia said, adding that “it’s a given” that she’d cry after sending Luke off.

Inside, parents eased their children into what for many will be their first classroom experiences. One scene that Christina captured:

AROUND THE CITY Carranza wasn’t the only one taking selfies and grinning for the iPhone camera Wednesday. Parents, students, and teachers around the five boroughs marked the first day of classes on social media.

SECOND SCHOOL AND PRESSER In a wide-ranging press conference, elected officials and educators sung the praises of expanding early childhood education, the mayor projected optimism for scoring admissions changes at specialized high schools, and Carranza laid out some broad goals for the year.

The city’s 3-K program is available in six districts across Brooklyn, the Bronx, and for the first time this year, Queens. About 5,000 students are enrolled in more than 180 schools. The mayor estimated the program saves families about $10,000 a year.

“This was a basic matter of equity and fairness,” de Blasio said. “When kids are 3 years old and 4 years old, they can learn in a way they literally can’t learn later in life. This is this irreplaceable moment.”

Carranza called the first day of school “a momentous occasion.”

“This is our Super Bowl. This is our World Series. This is our U.S. Open, all rolled into one,” he said.

Carranza said he wants to focus on “learning and instruction” this year, calling it the “cornerstone” of the system. He also pledged to “empower and partner” with school communities; foster a learning culture in schools; and shift away from tough accountability to focus on building “capacity” among educators.

Asked about the specialized high schools debate, de Blasio said “I like our chances” when it comes to getting the legislature to approve admissions changes.

DEBATE CLASS AT A THIRD SCHOOL In the Bronx, Carranza stopped by AP classes in two schools that share the same campus to highlight the city’s efforts to bring advanced, college-level courses to more students.

In a U.S. history class at the Cinema School, the chancellor listened as students debated whether schools should arm teachers.

Just a few flights up the stairs, students in an AP psychology class had written what they wanted to learn in the next year on sticky notes. As they debated the question “What is psychology,” the chancellor jumped in to moderate another conversation about guns in schools.

“That’s only going to incite more shootings and more conflicts,” one student said.

Carranza offered his own thoughts, saying he was proud of students who walked out of class last year to protest gun violence. He asked how first responders would distinguish a school shooter from an armed teacher.

“Would that be dangerous?” he asked. “Super dangerous.”

LUNCH BREAK Next stop: P.S./M.S. 180 in Harlem, where Carranza tied a green apron around his waist and served lunch to students. The city has made lunch free for all students after years of lobbying by advocates.

Carranza grabbed a tray for himself and sat with middle schoolers, chowing down on grilled cheese, chick peas, green beans, and an apple as they chatted.

Asked what the education department could do better, the students petitioned Carranza for work and internship opportunities, and more activities that align with their interests. Then it was time for the students to pose questions. One asked Carranza about his goals.

The chancellor answered: “I want one day for people to talk about New York City public schools and never, ever mention that they’re segregated.”

LAST STOPS After lunchtime, Carranza headed to Brooklyn for a quick visit. The chancellor can’t help but linger at each stop, snapping selfies and shaking hands. That left him with little time to spend at Origins High School in Sheepshead Bay, where the “mariachi chancellor” strummed a guitar and sung in Spanish. He told the students to keep practicing and then headed to New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Mathematics and Science III, located on the same campus. Carranza visited an AP computer science class to showcase the Computer Science for All program. On the way out, Carranza shouted his thanks to the school safety agents manning a front desk.

The last stop of the day brought Carranza to Staten Island, where he high-fived first graders as classes let out. School staffers stopped him to take selfies. Carranza happily posed for photos, declared himself just as energized as when he started the day before dawn, and slipped out a side door into a waiting car.

Career-technical education

How Chicago schools are using cool classes like aviation and game design to repopulate neighborhood schools

PHOTO: Steve Hendershot / Chalkbeat
Students in a pre-law class at Chicago's Mather High fill out college applications on Sept. 19, 2018. The class is one of the school's career technical education offerings that it hopes will attract more students to enroll in the school.

Vocational education used to mean machine shops and sewing classes, programs aimed at students who weren’t headed for college. But career education has changed to fit the tastes of today’s students and the needs of the 21st-century job market, and now encompasses courses ranging from game design and aviation to architecture and digital media.

And Chicago schools are expanding their array of career-prep courses in hopes of enticing students back to languishing neighborhood high schools.

A tour of Mather High on Wednesday demonstrated how Chicago schools are viewing career education differently. It’s a means of both attracting students with training in popular subjects and using those practical classes to teach fundamental concepts — all very much aimed at sending some career-track students to college.

For example, Mather’s pre-law curriculum includes a criminology course where students learn about psychology, as well as a mock-trial element where they learn classical principles of rhetoric and argument. The pre-law program also dedicates time to helping its students submit college applications — hardly the focus of traditional trade-school curricula.

At Mather in West Ridge, second-year Principal Peter Auffant reversed a five-year slide in enrollment after expanding career-related classes. About a third of Mather’s 1,500 students are enrolled in one of its four career-education tracks, including a brand-new pre-engineering curriculum. A digital media track is slated to begin next fall. Besides more than three dozen classes, career-related offerings also include internships, such as stint working in city council members’ offices or at downtown law firms.  

“CTE allows us to provide very unique programming that students can’t get anywhere else,” Auffant said, referring to the commonly used shorthand for career technical education. “We leverage that to create stable enrollments.”

Mather senior William Doan is a case study. Three years ago, the West Ridge resident was looking at high schools outside his neighborhood — selective-enrollment schools as well as those offering the rigorous, college-preparatory International Baccalaureate curriculum, but ultimate chose to stay close to home because Mather’s pre-law program aligned with his interest in law enforcement.

“It kind of just drew me in,” Doan said. “You get a taste for the law and how it really is in the real world.”

Doan’s experience reflects a trend that’s shaping curricular decisions in Chicago and around the country. Congress this summer approved $1.1 billion to expand career education. Such offerings are among Chicago Public Schools’ most popular, according to a report released last month by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.  

Some of those programs focus on traditional vocational education, such as the building trades program at Prosser High in Belmont Cragin that Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced this month would be funded with a $12 million investment. Others like those at Mather include non-traditional offerings, described as “21st century CTE” by Jarrod Nagurka. He is advocacy and public affairs manager for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Association for Career & Technical Education, which sponsored Wednesday’s school tour.

Nearly every Chicago high school has at least one career offering, though access to the most popular programs varies across the city, as does the breadth of the programming at each school. One factor among mid-sized schools such as Mather is the administrative burden of supporting extensive career programming alongside other elective programs such as International Baccalaureate.

“To do both (IB and career education) really well you have to be larger,” Auffant said.

So Mather is pursuing a hybrid strategy that uses career-education classes to teach college-prep concepts. Teachers use real-world vocational settings to explore the academic concepts that undergird them.

“The foundation of curriculum design is backward design,” said Sarah Rudofsky, the school district’s manager of curriculum and instruction for CTE. That means consulting with industry partners about the skills graduates need, then building curricula to suit. In a pre-law course, for example, those core skills are destined to overlap with traditional college-prep coursework, but geared to a practical application.

“It’s important to us to change the conversation from ‘CTE is for students who don’t want to go to college’ to ‘This program is for any young person who wants to have some employability skills before they graduate from high school’ — applied math, applied science and applied literacy,” Rudofsky said.  



it's official

Brooklyn middle schools eliminate ‘screening’ as New York City expands integration efforts

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a Thursday press conference at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza approved an integration plan for District 15 middle schools.

New York’s Department of Education on Thursday approved sweeping changes to the way students are admitted to middle schools across an entire Brooklyn district, marking one of the most far-reaching integration efforts under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.

Along with the admissions overhaul, the city launched $2 million in new grants for other districts that want to develop their own integration plans, signaling that officials want local communities to continue to take the lead in addressing a systemic problem.

Officials also announced that an existing citywide school diversity task force will continue to advise city leaders on school diversity issues even after the group issues its recommendations this winter.  

Together, the moves dramatically ramp up the city’s efforts to integrate one of the country’s most segregated school systems — something de Blasio has only reluctantly taken on. While the mayor has been criticized for steadfastly avoiding even saying the word “segregation,” the issue has become impossible to ignore with the arrival of schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who has captured national attention for his frank calls for action, coupled with relentless activism from some parents, educators, and elected officials.

“Momentum for change is growing,” de Blasio said at a press conference at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, a sought-after middle school that the mayor’s own children attended. “What’s so powerful is that it is coming from the grassroots.”

The middle school admissions changes are the culmination of years of advocacy from critics who blamed a complicated and competitive admissions process for exacerbating segregation in District 15, which encompasses brownstone neighborhoods such as Carroll Gardens and Park Slope and immigrant enclaves including Red Hook and Sunset Park.

Under the new system, District 15 middle schools will no longer “screen” their students based on factors such as report card grades, test scores, or auditions for performing arts programs — eliminating selective admissions criteria altogether. Instead, the district will use a lottery that gives extra weight to students who come from low-income families, are learning English as a new language, or are homeless.

The aim is to enroll a similar share of needy students across each of the district’s 11 middle schools. And since class is often tied to race and ethnicity, the lottery priority could also spur student diversity on a range of different measures.

“The current District 15 middle school admissions process presents itself as a system of choice and meritocracy, but it functions as a system of hoarding privilege,” said Councilman Brad Lander, who has been supportive of the diversity push.

Advocates hope that District 15 will be a template for integration efforts elsewhere in the city. The process has been hailed for being far more inclusive — and less contentious — then the path that helped lead to the creation of two other districtwide integration plans. District 3, which encompasses the Upper West Side and part of Harlem, recently approved middle school admissions changes that give priority to students from low income families and those with low test scores. It came on the heels of a similar plan for elementary schools in District 1, which includes the Lower East Side, East Village, and part of Chinatown.

The new grants are expected to support similar work in about 10 districts, with about $150,000 dedicated to each. In District 15, the city spent about $120,000 for a planning firm that essentially served as a mediator throughout a year-long community engagement process to develop the changes that were ultimately approved . City officials expect the money to go towards districts that have already received a state grant to tackle diversity issues. Those communities span the city from Staten Island, to the Bronx, to Coney Island.

“We’re signaling we want communities to do this work and we’re going to pay for it. We’re going to invest in this work,” Carranza said.


Critics have called on the city to take a more aggressive role in leading citywide efforts to integrate schools, rather than leaving it up to local communities that may actively resist change. De Blasio, who grew up in Cambridge when Boston was roiled by protests against busing students to integrate schools, said diversity plans should reflect the unique reality of each community. But he also said he hopes that successful integration efforts will serve as an example to nudge other school districts forward.


“I think we have to maximize parent involvement, community involvement, and believe that, that will get us to a good place,” de Blasio said. “And if we find where there’s something that can be done and parents are not yet there, we’re obviously going to work hard to get them there.”

In District 15, the admissions changes are just the first step towards integrating schools in a district where students are starkly segregated by race and class. Families will still be free to apply to the schools of their choice, so overhauling enrollment policies will have little effect unless parents are willing to consider a wide range of options.

Winning over parents presents a formidable challenge since middle class and white families in District 15 clamor to get into just a few vaunted schools, and parents of color may feel unsure about venturing beyond their neighborhood. To grapple with parents’ apprehension, advocates fought to couple the admissions changes with efforts to make schools more inclusive and appealing to families.

“Our work is only starting,” said Carrie McLaren, the mom of a fifth grader in Boerum Hill, who was involved in drafting the district’s integration plan.

The city announced it would dedicate $500,000 towards new resources, training, and other supports for parents and educators to help make the plan work. A new coordinator will be responsible for helping families navigate the admissions process, and an outreach team is tasked with contacting every parent with information about how to apply to middle schools. Additionally, it will be up to a new “diversity, equity, and integration coordinator” to oversee the district’s work, which will include providing teachers with anti-bias training, social-emotional learning, and alternative discipline practices.

Advocates pushed for those measures to try to make schools more fair and inclusive of students from different backgrounds. They called for the training for teachers and support in creating classroom materials that reflect diverse cultural histories and viewpoints, as well as the overhaul of discipline practices — which often treat black and Hispanic students, and those with disabilities, more harshly than their peers.

“If we’re simply moving bodies, and not changing pedagogically or culturally, then we’re ultimately setting up students of color to be in environments where they’re not welcome,” said Matt Gonzales, an integration advocate with the nonprofit New York Appleseed.

For Laura Espinoza, a mother in Sunset Park who helped draft the District 15 integration plan, the real work lies in making sure her community schools are equipped with the same resources as those in more affluent neighborhoods. Admissions changes alone don’t solve that underlying problem.

“The solution comes through focusing on the resources schools have,” she said. “Why are they called public schools if they are given more in some areas, and less in others?”

Advocates have called on the city to focus on the distribution of resources within schools as part of its integration effort, including an analysis of arts programming and even parent fundraising — moves that Espinoza hopes become a reality and not “only words.” The city announced “targeted funding” for technology and other resources will be part of the District 15 plan.

Messaging will also be an important piece of the work ahead. McLaren said families will be responsible for reshaping narratives around what makes schools desirable, and also taking a hard look at their own school’s practices and working across communities to problem-solve when barriers to integration arise.

“As a parent, and a white parent specifically, I see my role as having to talk to other white parents… and think about how our structural inequities have fed stereotypes and bias,” McLaren said. “It all takes a lot of work, and I don’t think there are easy answers, but at least this is changing the conversation.”