get with the program

Schedule issues reign at some but not all ex-turnaround schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students exited John Dewey High School today where people said scheduling issues were disrupting their learning.

Most years at John Dewey High School, scheduling mistakes were scattered and quickly corrected, students say. But this year, they say, entire programs are wrong. And they say that so far, little has been fixed.

“All of our schedules are messed up, and a lot of the classes we want to take we can’t,” said Darlene Tinsley, a senior at the Brooklyn high school.

“I passed my classes in summer school, and they gave me all sophomore classes. I’m supposed to be a junior,” said Debra Galindez. “I heard everything was done in mid-August and they didn’t really look at anyone’s transcripts.”

Over at High School of Graphic Communication Arts in Hell’s Kitchen, Jamie Striharsky, a senior studying photography, said disorganization reigned on the first day of school, with many students scheduled for classes they did not request — including one calculus class with so many students it filled three classrooms.

“There were 90 something kids,” she said in a phone interview last week. “As of now, I don’t even think there’s a teacher for the class. there was a security guard, and to be honest they were just like, ‘let’s move the kids out, the first 30 come here, the next 30, come here.'”

It’s not what the city planned for Dewey and Graphics, two of dozens of struggling schools the city had selected to undergo an overhaul process known as “turnaround.” Starting in January, Department of Education officials threw themselves into revamping the schools’ names, staffs, and programs. But after an arbitrator ruled that the city’s hiring plans violated its contract with the teachers union, many changes were reversed or revised.

Last week, the schools opened for the new year with their old names intact but some new features after months of confusion. For example, Dewey lost a handful of teachers, including at least two guidance counselors, and several classes ballooned in size, students said. Some students and teachers said the changes have made September’s regular challenges much more acute — and they worried the issues could set a negative tone for the rest of the year.

Some were especially alarmed by a 52-page staff handbook with a host of mandates that got distributed by Kathleen Elvin, who took over for Barry Fried as Dewey’s principal in February. The handbook tells teachers they must revamp their bulletin boards monthly and make phone calls to all students who are absent, in addition to fulfilling many other responsibilities. Teachers union officials said they were reviewing the handbook to make sure that all of the mandates are permissible under its contract with the city.

The Department of Education’s training for principals of the would-be turnaround schools focused on how to build better teaching staffs and shake up school cultures that weren’t conducive to student achievement. Elvin did not immediately respond to requests for comment today, but teachers at Dewey said that more attention should have been given to student schedules so that the first weeks of the year wouldn’t be lost to tumult.

“It seems like there was no preparation for programming the school,” said one teacher, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal.

Not all of the turnaround schools reported problems. At Long Island City High School, programming hasn’t been a problem, according to Geraldine Caulfield, a culinary arts teacher who opposed the overhaul plans. Last year, the school struggled to place students in the proper classes for months, resolving programs only in November.

“As far as I know, we’ve had none of these problems,” she said. “Everybody’s coming in with a new attitude. In a meeting today [administrators] said we would only have to make minor program changes.”

And Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that scheduling issues were usual in the early day of a new school year.

“It is unfair to a school to say that if a student or several students have a programming glitch then there are massive problems,” he told reporters tonight. “Within the fifth day, you’re going to hear changes. We have until October 31st to finalize our registers because you have an ebb and flow of students in and out of the schools, and it is a constant challenge. It goes with the territory.”

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.