active listening

Supporters, opponents clamor as PEP backs charter co-location

Led by a trio of PEP "puppets" produced for the occasion, dozens of protesters marched around Brooklyn Technical High School at the start of the first March PEP meeting.

After hearing nearly two hours of public testimony in support of a charter school slated for Williamsburg, a member of the Panel for Educational Policy said she worried charter school supporters’ voices were being drowned out.

Lisette Nieves, a mayoral appointee to the citywide school board, defended her plan to vote in favor of the school’s co-location proposal against the suggestion that vocal community opposition to the plan should sway panel members’ votes.

“Even in our last meeting we had about a third who were in support of seeing change … so when I keep hearing that there’s only one large group feeling one way, I know there’s dissent that’s not allowed to speak,” Nieves said. “I can vote with complete confidence to support the co-location because at the end of the day I know that I am too impatient and will not accept that young people who look like me … to be in a school that’s not high quality.”

About 100 parents and students who attend schools in the Success Charter Network came to the panel meeting to advocate for the network’s plans to open a new school inside Williamsburg’s M.S. 50. That plan has drawn vocal opposition, particularly among the neighborhood’s Spanish-speaking community, that has included both a guerrilla sticker campaign and a lawsuit.

The plan also drew a spirited protest outside the panel meeting.

“We are boycotting the meeting! It is a puppet panel!” declared a ring of protesters organized by the advocacy group Southside Community Schools Coalition during a rally outside Brooklyn Technical High School, where the panel was meeting. The protesters were referring to the fact that the PEP has never rejected a city proposal.

Earlier in the day, the Southside coalition and other Williamsburg residents filed suit charging that the Success network had failed to gather support from within the community and should lose the charter for the school. Arthur Schwartz, the Advocates for Justice lawyer who filed the suit, told the protesters that the PEP’s vote to locate the school in M.S. 50 could be reversed if he prevails in court.

Joined by another group of teachers and City University of New York students calling themselves Occupy the Department of Education, roughly 80 protesters marched around Brooklyn Tech chanting, “Education is a right,” just as lines of Bronx and Harlem Success Academy students, teachers, and parents —  clad in the network’s trademark bright orange shirts — began forming at the entrance.

By 6:15 p.m. close to 100 parents and children dotted the auditorium, and one after another testified about their desire for the Success network to expand. Most were from the network’s Bronx and Harlem schools. Some spoke Spanish and required a translator. A few identified themselves as Brooklyn parents.

“I’m asking the panel to give us more space,” said Ijeoma Ohuabunwa, a Bronx Success Academy 2 parent. After her testimony she told me her son Emmanuel has thrived since entering kindergarten at the school last year.

“I want the school to grow because the school is great with my son,” she said. Success Academy representatives “told students we could come speak in favor of parents’ choice, and I registered three weeks back.”

The panel also approved the relocation of Bronx Success Academy 2 to a building occupied by P.S. 55 in the Bronx.

Vanessa Bangser, the principal of Bronx Success Academy 2, told panel members the ability to opt out of one’s neighborhood elementary school was an important right for both parents and educators.

“I made the decision to switch to an organization I believed in,” she said. “That’s why I support parent choice.”

Sarah Porter, a parent whose two sons attend P.S. 132 in Williamsburg, was one of just a couple of dissenting voices in the stream of pro-Success testimonies. She told the panel that her community does not support the creation of the school or its co-location with M.S. 50. The vast majority of protesters had already left Brooklyn Tech without speaking, but Porter said in an interview that she wanted an oppositional voice to go on the record.

“People in the room need to know why people aren’t here,” she said. “Our community met with [Chancellor Dennis] Walcott, and he essentially said, ‘too bad.'”

Nine of the panel’s 13 members attended the meeting and only Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s appointee, voted against the Williamsburg Success co-location plan. Noting the lawsuit against the school, he asked the panelists to consider whether Success Academy is “the right solution” for Williamsburg. None responded at the time, and Nieves’s comments came later, just before the vote.

Before the meeting closed, two Department of Education deputies detailed an amendment to revise the capital plan, which passed without much discussion. The panel also approved several changes to public schools admissions regulations.

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.