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.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.