education mayor

3 things we know about Thompson's schools view; more we don't

Comptroller Bill Thompson. (Via Azi's Flickr)
Comptroller Bill Thompson. (Via ##'s Flickr##.)

My former colleague Jacob Gershman is very good at raising subjects everyone is talking about but nobody says in print. He did so with today’s piece on Comptroller William Thompson Jr., who is making school issues a big part of his mayoral campaign — without clarifying his positions on some of the main school issues of the day.

Gershman argues Thompson possesses a “carefully cultivated irrelevance.” But there is stuff we do know about where Thompson stands on education issues, though much of the facts raise more questions than they answer.

First, we know that he’s said he favors retaining control of the school system if he becomes mayor. It’s unclear exactly how much control he’d like to give himself (a big empty space, as we pointed out), but he’s said repeatedly that he supports the mayor having primary authority. “I may be in a shrinking group of those who support it,” he told a committee in testimony that was supposed to be off the record but which I obtained when I was at the New York Sun.

We also know the two main points of attack Thompson has selected for criticizing Bloomberg’s school efforts: He criticizes the mayor on transparency, which he says is so poor that even his office struggles to understand the school system’s finances, and parental involvement. Both of these are safe issues; they’re exactly the points conceded by one of the most prominent mayoral allies on schools, Geoffrey Canada, and they avoid the nastier battlegrounds of school closings, accountability, and charter schools.

And like mayoral control, the parental involvement point raises more questions than it answers. What would Thompson do to give parents more say? Would he suggest that parents sit on a central board of education? Would he favor making positions on a central board directly elected by all city voters? Would he favor a return to community school boards? The latter is probably out of bounds, but what is in bounds — what Thompson would actually support — is not clear to me.

Finally, we know that the quietness of Thompson’s service as Board of Education president did not distinguish him much from others who held the job. According to David Bloomfield, the Brooklyn College professor who served as general counsel to the Board, most Board of Ed presidents kept low profiles. Bloomfield argues that was probably for the best for Thompson. “After a particularly volatile period under [chancellors Joseph] Fernandez and [Ray] Cortines, when there was a great deal of strife between the board and the chancellor, that might have been the best policy,” Bloomfield said.

James Vlasto, a consultant who worked at New Visions for Public Schools while Thompson was at the Board of Education, and who before that served as an adviser to Chancellor Joseph Fernandez, said that the job of board president mainly required work conducted outside the public eye. “His job was to be the mediator between the other members of the board and the mayor. And he did fairly well,” Vlasto said. “He is not going to come up with curriculum changes or how to run the buses, how to feed the kids, tell the teachers how to teach. That’s not his job. That’s the chancellor’s.”

Of course, now that Thompson is running for mayor, tackling those questions is his job. We’d obviously be happy to interview the comptroller about his detailed education plans. Stay tuned.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”