Nine things you need to know about last night's PEP meeting

Nine takeaways from last night’s raucous Panel for Educational Policy meeting, for those who don’t have time for 5,000-plus words and minute-to-minute updates:

1. The city’s agenda was unsurprisingly approved. But the bloc of borough presidents’ appointees has hardened into constant opposition. Last year, some borough presidents’ appointees voted to support at least a few of the proposed phaseouts. Even Patrick Sullivan, the appointee of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, cast a rare “yes” vote on the city’s proposal to close the high school grades of Frederick Douglass Academy III in the South Bronx.

That didn’t happen last night. Sullivan, Gbubemi Okotieuro of Brooklyn, Wilfredo Pagan of the Bronx, and Dmytryo Fedkowskj of Queens voted against every single closure proposal before them. Sullivan and Pagan even abstained on two votes for proposals to grow schools rather than shrink them. And in a surprising move, Diane Peruggia, the appointee of Staten Island’s conservative borough president, James Molinaro, cast a “no” vote — against the first-ever closure of a Staten Island school, P.S. 14.

Only one plan won unanimous support: the plan to expand Brooklyn’s P.S. 8 to include a middle school, something parents in Brooklyn Heights had been asking for for years.

2. Protesters were divided on strategy and the teachers union’s lost out. Three different groups planned protests and two of them faced off outside and inside Brooklyn Tech. Protesters affiliated with the Occupy movement, many with no connection to the city schools, sustained a “people’s mic” for hours, shouting over official speakers and panel members.They even tried to prevent others from testifying and as their numbers dwindled, their protest devolved into an expletive-laden series of personal attacks. Their goal — ultimately unsuccessful — was to shut the meeting down.

The UFT, on the other hand, had rented space at nearby P.S. 20 to hold an alternate meeting, the “People’s PEP.” The idea was to march from Brooklyn Tech to P.S. 20 instead of heading inside for the city’s meeting — a plan that caused a teacher activist to argue strategy with a union vice president outside the meeting, which can be seen in this video.

Citing police intervention, the union aborted its march almost immediately, and instead the union members were shepherded into the nosebleed section of the auditorium where seats were remaining.

The confusion cost at least some people a chance to speak on the official record:

There’s Donna Hamlet, president of the parent association at Far Rockaway’s P.S. 215, which could close, tells Jessica that she rode a UFT-sponsored bus from Far Rockaway to Fort Greene. When she received a laminated pass to speak at the “People’s PEP,” the alternate meeting the union had planned, she thought she had signed up to speak in the regular meeting. By the time the march was cancelled, the PEP’s official sign-in list was closed.

3. The protest was largely one-sided. In the past, charter school advocates had staged their own rallies in favor of charter schools during the meetings, making for some tense confrontations and, occasionally, striking reconciliations. But last night, without charter school co-locations on the agenda and with massive protests planned, most defenders of the mayor’s agenda stayed home.

A notable exception was a group of about 30 parents, most with children in charter schools, who stood silently in the back and held up signs that said “Better Schools Now!” Many of them testified as well, defending the city’s decision to close low-performing schools while in most cases carefully avoiding “pro-charter” language. They repeatedly said that they were speaking out because they believed quality schools should be available to every student, and that closing struggling schools was the way to do it.

4. Activists aren’t the only ones with volume in their arsenal. The Department of Education piped the official proceedings through a robust amplification system that made speakers’ voices audible over the shouting. Panel members were also supplied with headphones that channeled official testimony right into their ears. Most of them wore the headphones during the peak of protest, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky barely took his off all night.

5. More resistance doesn’t mean more time debating the issues. Last night’s meeting was the shortest panel vote on closures since the state started requiring the panel to sign off on closures in 2010. That year, the vote on 22 school closures took place close to 4 a.m. In 2011, the city divided the 25 closure votes over two meetings in the same week: One lasted until nearly 3 a.m. and the other stretched past 1 a.m. By midnight last night, the votes were complete and the auditorium had been cleared. The public comment period, which in the past has made up the bulk of the meeting, attracted only 125 speaker sign-ups and lasted only until a little after 9 p.m.

One reason for the shorter public comment period is that protesters affiliated with the Occupy movement actively dissuaded people from using the city’s official speaker system. Another reason is that many people affiliated with the UFT did not get a chance to sign up. Panel member Patrick Sullivan offered a third suggestion: “I think they’ve kind of given up on public comment because they know everything is decided,” he said as the panel began its discussion.

6. Chancellor Dennis Walcott was on good behavior, but it didn’t win him any friends. Last night was Walcott’s first panel vote on closures since becoming chancellor last April. His predecessor, Cathie Black, sometimes needled parents during public hearings (though not at last year’s closure votes, where she barely opened her mouth). Her predecessor, longtime chancellor Joel Klein, spent much of panel meetings typing on his BlackBerry, to attendees’ frequent chagrin.

Walcott, who has championed civility in education debates, gazed intently at the speakers and appeared to be listening, if dispassionately.

“I understand the emotions involved,” Walcott told reporters after the meeting’s conclusion. “But sometimes we have to make tough choices that people find unpopular.’”

7. A large police presence provided a chilling effect and, at times, confusion. Half a dozen police vans were parked outside Brooklyn Tech well before any protesters arrived, and the school’s lobby was filled with officers all night. At one point, shortly after 8 p.m., a large number of protesters left the auditorium and entered the lobby — where the officers tried to bar them from reentering the meeting, in violation of city policy and the state’s open meetings law.

Jessica reported at around 8:15 p.m.:

After school safety agents try to stop the group from reentering the auditorium, the chant turns to, “Let us in!”

The protest in the lobby grows rowdier. Jessica reports that the floor is even shaking.

Afterwards, the police presence ramped up inside the auditorium, too. From 8:40 p.m.:

After leaving for about 20 minutes to occupy the lobby, protesters have returned to the auditorium with an invigorated energy. The police presence is stepping up its intervention, too: Geoff reports that about two dozen armed officers have formed a barricade between the media pit and the front-row seats, where the protesters begin.

8. For some people, the debate was anything but ideological. Much of the protest took aim at the format of the meeting and the way the Bloomberg administration formats and executes school policies. But for some attendees — families caught in the closure crosshairs — the bottom line came down to where their children would attend school in September.

Here’s just one example:

After her son was bullied at KAPPA VII last fall, Eleanor Pettway testified, the city offered him a transfer to the Academy of Business and Community Development, where he is in the sixth grade. The city removed KAPPA VII from the closure list on Wednesday (along with Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing and Visual Arts) but ABCD could be closed tonight. Unlike the other schools on the chopping block, ABCD would not phase out but instead would close at the end of the year.

“I asked the DOE to transfer my son for safety and he was transferred to ABCD. Now it’s being closed,” Pettway said. “It’s not fair. He doesn’t deserve that.”

Pettway said her son is “the happiest he’s been since he left elementary school” and hasn’t had any problems with bullying at ABCD.

9. The following phase-outs and co-locations were approved:

These schools will be phased out:
Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School, Bronx
Gateway School for Environmental Research and Technology, Bronx
Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers, Bronx
Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School, Bronx
Aspire Preparatory Middle School, Bronx
Satellite Three Middle School, Brooklyn
P.S. 019 Roberto Clemente, Brooklyn
P.S. 022, Brooklyn
International Arts Business School, Brooklyn
Middle School for the Arts, Brooklyn
General D. Chappie James Elementary School of Science, Brooklyn
The Anna Gonzalez Community School, Brooklyn
Legacy School for International Studies, Manhattan
Washington Irving High School, Manhattan
Manhattan Theatre Lab High School, Manhattan
P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott, Queens
P.S. 14 Cornelius Vanderbilt, Staten Island

This school will close in June:
Academy of Business and Community Development, Brooklyn

These secondary schools will have their middle grades phase out:
Academy of Scholarship and Entrepreneurship, Bronx
Frederick Douglass Academy IV Secondary School, Brooklyn
P.S. 298 Dr. Betty Shabazz, Brooklyn
Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School, Brooklyn

These co-locations will move forward: 
New high school 08X561 on the Adlai Stevenson Campus, Bronx
New high school 10X565 at Grace Dodge High School, Bronx
New middle school 11X556 in Aspire Prep’s building, Bronx
P.S. 8’s middle school on the George Westinghouse Campus, Brooklyn
New middle school 13K351 in Satellite III’s building, Brooklyn
New school P.S. 414 in P.S. 19’s building, Brooklyn
New middle school 16K681 in Frederick Douglass Academy IV’s building, Brooklyn
New high school 17K745 on the Wingate Campus, Brooklyn
New middle school 17K722 in Middle School of the Arts’s building, Brooklyn
New middle school 23K423 in P.S. 298’s building, Brooklyn
New school P.S. 446 in the Chappie schools building, Brooklyn
New middle school 32K562 in the Anna Gonzalez Community School’s building, Brooklyn
New high school 02M534 in Legacy School for Integrated Studies’ building, Manhattan
The Academy for Software Engineering in the Washington Irving campus, Manhattan
New high school 02M533 in the Washington Irving campus, Manhattan
Special Music School’s middle school on the Martin Luther King Campus, Manhattan
New school 27Q362 in P.S. 215’s building, Queens
New school 31R078 in P.S. 14’s building, Staten Island

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 [email protected]

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.”