as expected

After protests, panel approves charter school co-location plans

Protesters opposing Department of Education proposals brandished hand puppets before the Panel for Educational Policy.

In the start of what has become an annual ritual, the Panel for Educational Policy Wednesday night listened to hours of rowdy public comments opposing the city’s policy of placing charter schools inside existing school buildings, then signed off on plans to do just that.

The panel gave the go-ahead to a Success Charter school co-location in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, an affluent neighborhood where many parents and elected officials have said the school is not wanted.

Panel members Gbubemi Okotieuro, of Brooklyn, and Patrick Sullivan, of Manhattan, each raised issues about the co-location plan for the Success Charter school, which did not originally apply to open in the area.

Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education official in charge of new schools, said the department had determined the neighborhood had experienced an “explosion of kindergarten enrollment” and needed more elementary schools.

“It was made clear to us by SUNY that the charter school could be opened in District 15,” Sternberg said, referring to the state organization that authorizes charter schools, which approved the Success Academy school for nearby District 13 or 14.

Sullivan was the only panel member to vote against any of the plans, casting a “no” vote on the Cobble Hill co-location and abstaining from several other votes.

The panel also approved plans to open a charter high school in the old Boys High School building and a second Success charter school in P.S. 59, both in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It also signed off on a plan to expand Esperanza Preparatory Academy, a dual-language school in East Harlem that shares a building with a citywide gifted school, TAG Young Scholars, whose parents had opposed the change.

The four-hour meeting was the first of what is sure be a series of contentious meetings where the panel, whose members are mostly appointed by the mayor, will likely approve plans for dozens of school closures and co-locations. In February, the panel will vote on proposals to close or shrink 25 schools.

At Wednesday’s meeting, which the department relocated from Midtown Manhattan to Newtown High School in Queens, dozens of protesters were bused in early by the teachers union and took up the center of the auditorium. Nearly 100 people signed up to speak and the majority of them used their two minutes to criticize the panel and the DOE.

The protesters, who included many teachers, used hand puppets to mock what they called the “Panel for Educational Puppets,” used the “human mic” to broadcast their opposition, and regularly interrupted speakers and panel members with whom they disagreed.

“I’m here on principle,” said Marissa Torres, a fifth-grade teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn, which is located near the new Cobble Hill charter school. “I see myself as an advocate for parents. Public education is the last bastion of space where poor, working-class parents of color can walk in and demand their rights.”

The majority of the protesters didn’t stick around for the vote. About two hours into the public testimony section of the meeting, they stood up and marched out, chanting “Shame!” as they left.

A small, loosely-affiliated group of charter school parents from Brooklyn also attended and spoke out in support of charter school options. The parents said they were being organized by a new parent advocacy group called Families for Excellent Schools. The organization is a spin-off from Democracy Builders, a parent organization that is run by Seth Andrew, head of the Democracy Prep charter school network.

“The mission for Families for Excellent Schools is to assist and support and train parents to advocate for aggressive education reform,” said Kathleen Kernizan, a parent organizer whose children attend charter schools in the Uncommon Schools network.

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.