school lottery pick

An NBA star urges hard work, but parents worry it's not enough

Amar'e Stoudemire speaks to students, teachers and parents at Learning Leaders event.

Standing on stage at New York University’s Skirball Center this morning, six-time NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire warned the room full of students that their chances of becoming a professional basketball player were slim.

“What is your second option?” said Stoudemire. “What is your plan B?”

Reading was a good start to figuring out the answer to that question, he said. Stoudemire, promoting his new young adult book for middle school students, was speaking to Learning Leaders, a group that trains volunteer tutors and parents and deploys them into schools for support.

There is another elite pool with similarly daunting odds that faces students here in New York City. Black and Hispanic students make up 70 percent of the city’s student population, but they represent just 12 percent of students at the city’s eight specialized high schools, and the proportion of students of color at the most elite of the schools is even lower.

The disparity is at the center of a federal civil rights complaint that was filed this week charging that the schools’ entrance exam is fundamentally unfair.

After the event, Stoudemire said he wasn’t familiar with the issue and declined to comment. But there were plenty of parents and Learning Leaders who were familiar with the imbalance.

Executive Director Jane Heaphy said that real high school choice is hard to come by for many families that her group works with. She said it is easy to feel stymied by a lack of resources that is often necessary for one-on-one tutoring and prep courses.

“Can you make it without those things? Yes,” Heaphy said. “Is it a lot harder? Yeah, and those things help.   That’s a real equity issue.”

Jessica Nathaniel, a grandmother who said her granddaughter was hoping to get placed in a selective high school or, ideally, a scholarship to a private boarding or Catholic school.  But Nathaniel, who is black, said the 6 percent acceptance rate for black and Hispanic students was troubling.

“It needs to open up so that more of our children of color can get into these high-performing schools because some of them are very discouraged,” Nathaniel said. “They’re told that they can’t apply or that they don’t have the grades. I think there should be more of an opportunity for them.”

Chancellor Dennis Walcott appeared with Stoudemire briefly, but he had to leave early to attend an event  to announce the expansion of a public library program in schools. Walcott said at that event that he disagreed with the criticism about the schools’ admissions policies.

Amar'e Stoudemire and Chancellor Dennis Walcott together at an event today at New York University.

“I really am fine with the standards,” Walcott said.

Walcott also said his hands were tied by state law, which required specialized schools to limit entry criteria to a standardized test.  The group that filed the civil rights complaint, NAACP LDF, says the law applies only to the three schools that were open in 1972, not to the five schools the Bloomberg administration opened and designated as specialized.

“The reality is we do have a state law that’s been in place since 1972, so we need to put that out there very clearly,” Walcott said. “Were following the state law.”

Legislation by state Assemblyman Karim Camara has been proposed that would add more assessments to the admissions process, but Walcott declined to respond to the legislations. Instead he touted the city’s own efforts to attract more low-income students to prepare for and take the admissions test. Known as the DREAM initiative, the city is working with 2,600 low-income middle school students to prepare for the admissions test. Eighth graders participating in the program will take the test next month.

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.