panic attack

As dust settles after strike threat, questions about city's urgency

School buses at Coney Island in 2008.

For Simon Jean-Baptiste, a veteran school bus driver who belongs to Local 1181, the city’s announcement Friday that his union could go on strike at any moment was news to him.

“It’s the city that we heard that from,” Jean-Baptiste said today.

Jean-Baptiste, a former vice president in the union, said he had no idea there was any kind of citywide strike threat until he first heard about it from media reports prompted by a last-minute press conference called by Mayor Bloomberg on Friday. Bloomberg warned that Local 1181’s leadership opposed the city’s plans for a new contract for pre-kindergarten bus drivers because the city would not guarantee job security for experienced drivers. As a result, he said, an “immediate” strike was possible.

At the same time, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a comprehensive plan to principals for how they should handle a strike should it occur.

Hours later, Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello said in a statement that a strike over seniority rights was “likely” but not imminent. Today, Cordiello said in a statement that the union was beginning to weigh its options.

“We do not want to strike, but we have been forced to keep our options open by cost-cutting proposals by Mayor Bloomberg,” he said.

As buses rolled up to schools on time this morning, and with no strike imminent, some are questioning the urgency with with Bloomberg and Walcott presented the threat.

The prospect of a school bus strike didn’t even register at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting Thursday evening, even though the group is responsible for voting on all busing contracts.

A PEP member, Patrick Sullivan, said he suspected that the Friday hype was meant to “demonize” the bus drivers union in order to turn public opinion against its demands.

“I think it’s appalling, really,” said Sullivan, a frequent critic of DOE policies. “[City officials] clearly had a whole plan of action planned and the next day they went out to the press and all of a sudden a strike was imminent. It seems the goal of it was to make parents afraid.”

Jean-Baptiste said union members would likely discuss the contract issue for the first time at a delegates meeting Tuesday evening.

“What is striking to me is that the city is panicking about whether there will be a strike, but the union never mentioned anything like that,” he said. “I think the city is spreading fear.”

That’s a view that Sam Pirozzolo, a parent leader on Staten Island, home to many of the bus contractors that do business with the city, expressed in an op-ed on Saturday. After speaking to union officials and quickly realizing that the threats were not as urgent as the city said, Pirozzolo wrote that he saw the press attention as meant “to instill fear throughout the city that a school bus strike was imminent.”

It isn’t the first time the bus drivers’ union has threatened to strike. It happened in 2006 and again when members authorized a strike last year (an actual strike hasn’t taken place in New York City since 1979). But this appears to be the first time in recent years that the city has worked to defuse a strike threat before union leaders even issued it publicly.

Education officials said the press conference was a direct response to what the bus drivers union had told them directly: that the drivers would strike systemwide.

“The purpose of the press conference was to inform parents about contingency plans and how they can prepare,” a DOE spokeswoman said.

Principals we contacted about the bus strike warnings offered a muted response, with one saying that the warnings were intense but not a distraction.

“It came amidst so much other business that it was hard to get too excited about,” emailed the principal, who works at a neighborhood school where few students ride school buses. She said her school had received Walcott’s letter and additional information about the threat three times.

“It did seem like a large reaction, but I guess I’d rather that they had a plan in place ahead of time than be left improvising after the fact, particularly in instances where there actually is advance knowledge.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.