change of plans

City to engineer 65 new co-locations for storm-affected schools

On school staff members' first day back after Hurricane Sandy, Assistant Principal Todd Gerber was one of several staff members at Brooklyn's William E. Grady High School to help custodial staff assess damage to flooded classrooms and offices. (Courtesy of Grady)

The Department of Education is on track to open all but 65 schools in their regular locations on Monday, one week after Hurricane Sandy hit the region, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said this afternoon.

But 65 schools are in buildings so severely damaged by the storm that the department must engineer co-location plans for them in just days, he said. The approximately 38,000 students in those schools, which the department has not yet named, will not begin classes until Wednesday.

Tonight, department officials said, teachers and principals at the schools would learn where they will reopen, and on Monday, school staff will work to prepare the new sites, all located inside other schools. Between now and then, officials will create new bus routes, sometimes to transport students great distances; move equipment and books; and negotiate space-sharing arrangements among schools that had until last week thought they had things figured out.

“Normally what we do over the course of over say a few months [is being] done over a few days,” Walcott said in a phone call with reporters this afternoon.

“This is something that normally we don’t turn around in this quick a fashion at this level,” he added. “This is a major turnaround in a very short period of time.”

One of the most challenging logistical pieces to put in place, he said, would be student transportation. The department runs 7,700 school bus routes each day, and a portion of them would have to be revised to bring students to different neighborhoods. Some students will have longer rides, he said, high school students will have to navigate a new path on public transportation.

Wednesday, the first time that bus drivers will follow the new routes, is “seriously going to be a challenging day,” Walcott said.

The department also faces a steep challenge in informing families located in the most devastated parts of the city that their children will be attending school in a new location. Walcott said the department would call, email, and send text messages to affected families, and he said officials would be stationed at each of the damaged school buildings on Monday to redirect students who arrive.

“There’s going to be some folks who may not get it,” he said. “I am sensitive to that.”

The new arrangements could also potentially involve significant changes in what happens inside individual classrooms. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, students at some schools that were temporarily housed together had their schedules shortened, and department officials said today that could happen again.

“It is something that could be an option if there really is not enough space to run parallel schedules,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said today. “It has not reached the point where we need to do that yet, but I would not rule it out.”

The 65 severely damaged schools include those with significant flooding, damaged boilers or roofs, destroyed electrical systems, and other serious problems induced by Sandy. They include two charter schools, according to city officials.

The number of schools expected not to be operational next week declined slightly from Thursday, when the city said 79 schools in 44 buildings were too damaged to open. Today, Mayor Bloomberg said the number of heavily damaged buildings stood at 40. In one change, Walcott said, Lehman High School in the Bronx had secured an emergency boiler to replace its damaged one.

Department officials said it was possible that other schools currently considered too damaged to open could be repaired before next week.

As of Friday afternoon, another 184 schools were waiting to have their power restored, many in Lower Manhattan, Walcott said. If ConEd restores power according to the timeline it has set out, most of those schools should have power by Monday, and Walcott said department staff would check each of the schools’ electrical systems over the weekend.

The department is also working on plans to support students whose homes and families might have been disrupted by the storm. Schools will offer counseling services to affected students and staff, and Polakow-Suransky said officials were also working to prepare materials “for kids who for whatever reason aren’t able to be in school” in the coming days and weeks.

The good news, Walcott said, is that most city teachers made it to school today, their first workday since the storm, even though some of them did not know until early this morning where they would need to report. Of 1,300 schools that had responded to an attendance survey by 4 p.m., 80 percent of teachers had made it to school today.

Walcott said he regretted not being able to get the information out sooner, but that the situation on the ground had changed quickly and continued to change today.

“I know the timelines we want to get information out were not hit yesterday,” he said. “I apologize to all of our staff.”

Two other logistical issues are complicating the reopening of schools. The first is that Tuesday is Election Day, so students will again have the day off. Some charter schools housed in district space had planned to hold classes, but Walcott said he decided today to bar them from doing so. He said safety agents for all buildings would be needed to man polling stations, which are located in schools.

In addition, eight large high school buildings are set to open next week with a different sort of co-location: between schools and homeless shelters.

Starting Monday, the High School of Graphic Communication Arts will house both students and New Yorkers displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

At one of the shelter sites, Manhattan’s High School of Graphics Communication Arts, which has suffered acute problems of its own this year, teachers said their principal was petitioning the department to change the plans. The building is crowded with people evacuated from their homes or from hospitals that lost power, they said, and the school was increasingly in disarray.

Walcott said he had not yet visited the schools that are housing emergency shelters. But he promised that students and people who are being given shelter would be isolated from each other in the school buildings, which all have multiple entrances and floors. He said he would work with officials from other city agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services, to address “issues that are real or perceived to be real” inside school buildings and that he would not allow students to be placed in unsafe situations.

“If it’s not sanitary then it will be sanitary,” Walcott said. “If there’s a determination that a threshold is there that I am not comfortable with, then I will say that.”

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.