decisions decisions

Peninsula Prep Academy to stay open at least into the summer

A charter school that the city is trying to close will likely stay open well beyond the end of the school year while a judge reviews the case.

The city announced in January that it would not renew the Peninsula Preparatory Academy’s charter when it expires on June 30. But just as has happened at Williamsburg Charter High School, another charter school facing closure, parents and the school board at PPA have fought back in court. In March, PPA won a temporary restraining order, allowing the school to hold its lottery for next year and begin enrolling students. Principal Ericka Wala said today the school received 125 applications for 50 kindergarten seats and has already filled those seats.

On Thursday, Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwan of the Queens County Supreme Court extended the restraining order indefinitely while she reviews the case. An additional motion was filed by parents who charge that their due process rights were violated by the Department of Education’s handling of the closure procedure. Advocates for Justice, the nonprofit law firm that is usually opposes charter schools in litigation, filed the motion on behalf of 98 families from the school. Pineda-Kirwan said today that she would need at least 60 days to decide the case but could take as long as 90 days, a scenario that would push the case into late August.

The decision puts the school in a thorny place as it attempts to plan for the next school year. Wala said that only two of the school’s 54 teachers have told her they won’t be returning next year, but that number is sure to grow the longer the school’s status is in limbo.

As of now, the school is also without a home for the 2012-2013 school year. After learning that PPA was headed for closure this winter, the landlord of the building where the school current operates informed Wala that he would not be renewing the lease.

“This is an issue that we’ll have to deal with as we move forward,” Wala said. The decision today, she added, “is just one of the hurdles we have to get over.”

The city announced plans to close Williamsburg Charter High School and Peninsula Prep Academy on the same day in January. But both schools have fought back in court and have so far scored small victories. On Tuesday, a judge extended a lifeline to Williamsburg Charter High School until at least next week, when lawyers on both sides hope for a final decision about the school’s fate.

A decision for Peninsula Prep, an elementary school, is less urgent. Because elementary-aged students enroll in schools based on where they live, it will be easier for the DOE to place students into nearby schools. In the event that a judge rules against Williamsburg Charter High School, the DOE will need to hold a mini lottery with a smaller pool of high schools to accept underclassmen in the the 900-student school.

Both charter schools arrived at their fate for different reasons. Williamsburg Charter High School ignored warnings by the DOE to divorce itself from its troubled founder, Eddie Calderone-Melendez. Calderone-Melendez was arrested last month for alleged financial improprieties that connected back to his handling of the network that oversaw Williamsburg Charter.

Peninsula Prep, on the other hand, was cited for failing to meet several academic outcome measures that were part of its charter agreement with the DOE, which authorized the school. But the decision to close the school was criticized because it left hundreds of parents who lived on the isolated Rockaways Peninsula with few quality district school options. Hostility to the decision played out at public hearings and in protests at Tweed.

That hostility was still apparent in the courtroom today.

PPA’s students “come from areas in the Rockaways which are disenfranchised, segregated, isolated, and ill-serviced,” Wala said. “Many of the local public schools struggle through these conditions, which perpetuate an overall lower academic performance for the Rockaways.”


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.”