school closure season

Impassioned students paint dismal picture at Gompers hearing

Brandishing whistles and hand-written signs, dozens of Samuel Gompers High School students protested at the school closure hearing Thursday.

The regular English classes that Carla LaChapelle teaches all have at least 30 students this year.

Last year, Miguel Estrella said he studied for the United States History Regents exam using a textbook that stopped at the Cold War.

LaChapelle and Estrella were among nearly 100 students, alumni, teachers, and activists at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School Thursday evening to challenge the city’s plan to close the school. They said inadequate resources and a flood of high-needs students led to a failing grade on the progress report that the city uses to assess schools.

Dozens of student speakers organized by two groups, Sistas and Brothas United and the Urban Youth Collaborative, steered the rowdy, three-and-a-half hour long hearing at the South Bronx campus. Many speakers refused to follow protocol the Department of Education has set for the closure hearings that would cut public comments off at two minutes each.

Along with a smaller handful of alumni and teachers, they painted a picture of Gompers as a warehouse for special education and high-needs students that has long suffered from inadequate funding.

Nearly 30 percent of Gompers students receive special education services, compared to about 17 percent of students citywide. And 84 percent of Gompers students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Gompers was labeled “persistently low-achieving” by the state last year, when it graduated just 41 percent of its students on time. City officials said the lagging graduation rate, which places Gompers in the bottom 1 percent of city high schools, and other measures led to the closure decision.

Students and teachers did not dispute the low scores but argued that the city has allowed the school to languish without aid despite years of no progress. Last year, a student protest called on the city to assign Gompers additional federal aid after 33 other low-performing schools were awarded extra funds.

LaChapelle, who has been teaching English and self-contained special education classes at Gompers for her entire 11-year teaching career, said a class size “explosion” in recent years has made it difficult to give students individualized attention. She also said the school’s budget is so tight that she spends hundreds of dollars annual out of pocket to purchase classroom supplies, books, and computer software.

The closure news, she said, has only made her job of reaching the students tougher.

“A lot of students here have given up on the future,” LaChapelle said. “We’re trying our best to reenergize them.”

Estrella, the top student in this year’s senior class, said the closure proposal has cast a shadow over his successes at Gompers. With help from teachers at the school he applied to some of the nation’s top-tier private colleges, he said, to applause from the audience and city officials. But overall, he siad, “the DOE is still failing the students.”

“My chemistry class has more than 25 students,” Estrella told me. “More teachers for more students would have been better. Then they could have given me the extra one-on-one time I needed.”

The Panel for Educational Policy, which has never rejected a city proposal, is set to vote Feb. 9 on Gompers’ closure along with closure or truncation plans at 24 other schools. The city plans to replace the school with a new transfer high school and a charter high school operated by the nonprofit New Visions.

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.