Urban Dove's website features a clock that is counting down to the first day of classes at the nonprofit's new charter school.
For most of this spring, Urban Dove Team Charter School’s story followed a familiar trajectory.
When the Department of Education offered the charter school space in a public school building, the community erupted in opposition. Politicians stepped in, principals went to the press, and parents protested — all with the goal of keeping the charter school out. Then the city signed off on the co-location anyway, and tensions started to die down.
That’s when Urban Dove’s story took an unusual turn. Despite getting free public space — a hotly sought-after commodity — Urban Dove signed a lease this month to spend some of its scarce per-pupil funding on private space. Next month, the transfer high school will open on one floor of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Brooklyn Tabernacle Church.
It was a rare move for a charter school offered a public building. Most charter schools prefer to open in buildings owned by the city to save money and time spent negotiating with landlords, according to James Merriman, director of the New York City Charter School Center. Plus, money for real estate comes from charter schools' operating budget — meaning the more they spend on space, the less they have for teachers, supplies, and programming.
Urban Dove’s founder and principal each declined to share the terms of the lease. But they said undertaking the significant expense made perfect sense for the school, which will serve students who have already fallen behind before they turn 16.
Pace High School's Chinatown school building
Until last week, Tejiana Lee, a senior at Pace High School, didn’t have to start her day until 10 a.m. After three years with a heavy course load, she was enjoying the late start her two consecutive free periods were giving her.
But now she must arrive at the school 45 minutes before the regular day begins to log time in the weight room.
Lee is one of dozens of second-semester seniors whose schedules were jolted last week when they found out the school had not required them to take the correct number of gym courses. State and city regulations require high school students to be enrolled in physical education classes for seven semesters, but Pace had scheduled them for only four semesters and still counted the requirement as complete.
Simply put, "the school granted students more credit than allowed," said Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman.
So until the recent schedule change, most seniors were not actually on track to graduate in June. Now, they are scrambling to enroll in a variety of P.E. classes – and creative alternatives – that began this week.
Some, such as Lee, are enrolled in P.E. classes before and after the school day. One student, Chrystal, said she's making up one P.E. credit through her part-time job as a dance instructor and plans to earn another by joining Pace’s flag football league in March. Another senior, Michael Thompson, said he's getting credit by going to his local gym and showing up to school on Saturdays.
“We’re mad, but there’s nothing we can do about it. I just have to put on my tough face,” Lee said.
Teacher Christian Ledesma leads his running group at P.S. 244, one of four schools to win a national fitness award.
City children have shed pounds faster than children anywhere else, according to five years of health data released today.
Mayor Bloomberg brought Chancellor Dennis Walcott and a team of commissioners and elected officials to P.S. 218 in the Bronx to announce, over the cafeteria salad bar, that obesity rates among elementary and middle school students have declined in the last half-decade. They touted an array of recent efforts to boost students' health.
But the Centers for Disease Control, which identified the trend, said it could not say that interventions in schools had driven the decline in obesity.
In the 2006-2007 school year, 21.9 percent of children in kindergarten through eighth grade were obese. Last year, that figure was 20.7 percent. In contrast, according to the CDC, children's obesity rates are stagnant nationally.
The decrease spanned all racial and economic groups, but obesity rates for black and Hispanic children fell by less, according to the CDC, which released the data in its weekly report today. And still, one in five New York City children is considered obese.
A family firewall around discussing school issues has Chancellor Dennis Walcott taking a hands-off approach to managing trouble at a chaotic Queens school.
Walcott's daughter, Dejeanne Walcott, is a physical education teacher at Queens Metropolitan High School, where an organizational crisis has caused schedules to shift frequently and left some students without instruction, including in physical education classes.
After last night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, where he vowed that the problems would be solved, Walcott said he had first heard about the troubles at the school "a couple weeks ago." He said his top deputy, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, had heard complaints around the same time.
But Walcott would not say whether his daughter mentioned the issues to him, emphasizing that he and Dejeanne try not to talk shop.
"My daughter and I have established a protocol with each other with respect to business," he said. "We try not to mix our respective lives as far as education is concerned."
Chancellor Dennis Walcott took a break from parent town hall meetings, protests and policy speeches this morning to visit Central Park and greet more than a thousand public school students for a citywide running event.
Walcott is three days away from running a race of his own – the New York City Marathon – and took the chance to hype healthy lifestyle habits as one way to boost student performance in the classroom.
"As far as wellness is concerned, that's what makes for a student to be able to perform in the classroom," Walcott said. "And that's our goal."
The event was one of dozens hosted annually by the New York Road Runners in partnership with the Department of Education as a way to encourage running in the public school system. For more than six years, NYRR's Mighty Milers program has provided equipment and training resources to teachers who want to start running programs in their school. It now counts more than 50,000 students, including ones from The Active Learning Elementary School, which we wrote about in June after it won a national award for its health-conscious curriculum.
"Running is becoming the sport of choice for New York City schools," said NYRR President Mary Wittenberg. "It's easy, it's accessible, it's affordable. That's what we're teaching, even when there's limited resources."
James Horan is used to being creative, after spending years teaching physical education at an elementary school without a gym or outdoor space of its own.
Now, like many other city teachers, he’s going to need to use that creativity to find another position.
Horan was recently excessed after teaching for four and a half years at PS 68 in Ridgewood, Queens. Even though the school's population has been shrinking for years, Horan thought his job was safe because it wasn’t included in the list of projected layoffs that the city circulated in February.
When layoffs were averted, he joined the cheers — only to be told one month later that budget reductions made his position too expensive for the school to maintain. The city has not yet released details about how many teachers shared Horan's fate this year, but after three straight years of cuts, the number is sure to be significant. Principals eliminated nearly 2,000 positions last year.
“I just find it very frustrating,” Horan said. “Now that I’m excessed, it’s just very unexpected. Until June, everything’s great. I would have planned differently.”
Horan came to PS 68 as a first-year teacher in the spring of 2007, teaching 30 to 50 students at a time in an empty classroom that served as the school's gym. The school hadn’t offered physical education in at least three years, he said, and he bought the program's only supplies himself using Teacher’s Choice funds. (Those funds were also eliminated this year.)