All hands on deck

Disorganization, transit woes stymie many teachers' school prep

Teachers from schools in Chelsea relocated to LaGuardia High School's auditorium on the Upper West Side this morning.

For most city high school teachers, today was a lesson in how to make do with less.

All were asked to return to school for the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit, in order to prepare for the schools to reopen to students next week. But many did so without their usual subway routes, and without internet or access to their classrooms or school buildings.

And for the ones who were not told to relocate to other school buildings, the task of the day was to decide which parts of the curriculum to re-arrange or cut to make up for five days worth of instructional time, and how to address the emotional needs of students effected by the hurricane. Some school communities were organized and had ambitious plans for the day, but others were more scattered.

The education department’s last-minute instructions to displaced staff did not include specifics on what today would look like. After commuting for up to three hours on foot, bus or by bike this morning, many teachers arrived at schools uncertain of how they should use their time.

Hundreds of teachers were relocated to large school buildings like LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts and the Martin Luther King campus because their schools lacked electricity or experienced flooding. Some said they tried to make the most of their first day back to work in a week, even though the vast majority lacked the supplies they needed.

“We have no access to computers, and no materials here,” wrote one teacher who was relocated to Art and Design High School in Midtown East on twitter. “Our principal and my AP won’t make it in today.”Catherine Burch, the principal of Harvest Collegiate High School in Union Square, said she had ambitious plans for her staff as they waited in the auditorium of LaGuardia High School for directions alongside groups of teachers from other schools.

“We have a full agenda,” she said. “We have an initiative to do a January intensive, which is two weeks of studying one thing in depth. Our main goal is to plan that, and it’s cross curricular. One is on computer programming, I want to do a Cold War one. So that’s our big goal.”

Burch said most of her students are from Manhattan and the Bronx and have not lost internet access, so she has stayed in touch over email.

“I emailed all students just saying ‘I hope you’re okay,’ and ‘let’s look at the causes behind this,'” she said. “I gave them a link to the EPA site on climate change so many of them said they were looking at that.”

Other school groups stationed at LaGuardia for the day were less organized, and less optimistic.

“What are we doing today?” one teacher shouted across a row of seats to her principal after Harvest Collegiate’s group left the auditorium in search of an empty classroom.

Teachers from the High School of Economics and Finance receive instructions from a supervisor after learning that electricity has returned to their downtown building.

“Well, it’s going to be ping pong at 11, and then we’ll just make it up as we go along,” the school leader replied, sarcastically.

Many relocated teachers said they are trying to make the best of a bad situation, but are not able to get much work done without their usual classrooms, computers, or materials.

Andrew Ahn, an English teacher from the City-As-School High School in the West Village, made the trip to the Upper West Side in an hour by bike from his home in Queens.

Ahn said his fellow teachers spent much of today discussing how to reschedule assignments and exams. The school runs on an eight-week marking period schedule, he explained, and students may return to school unprepared to pick up where they left off, seven weeks into the cycle.

“We’re talking about extending the first cycle and shortening the second cycle,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to be productive if we’re not back in our building. I think there’s just some planning we can do, and thinking about scheduling.”

“We’re not really sure why we’re here,” said Rachel Pitkin, a social studies teacher at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School. Because of flooding, it is likely her school community will be relocated on Monday, but she does not know where yet. “Today might have been valuable for those of us who were able to come together, but this could have been done in a different way, if that was the only goal of the day. But we didn’t know what the goal was.”

“A lot of our students and families are from Chinatown, and Staten island, so our school community has been hit really hard,” Pitkin added. “Some teachers live in Long Island and Hoboken, and they don’t have anything.”

Without supplies, some teachers used today to discuss how to address the hurricane and its aftermath with students in lessons on Monday, and what supports to offer to students who may have been forced to leave their homes.

“We talked about what the kids could possibly need. A lot of our kids are from the Lower East Side and are without water,” said a teacher from P.S./M.S. 34 who did not want to be identified. “I know it was scary.”

But one of his colleagues was less optimistic as they walked around the Upper West Side looking for lunch. “No, absolutely nothing is getting done,” she said.

Grace O’Keeffe, a math teacher at Hudson High School, wrote on twitter that her colleagues spent the day at Martin Luther King contacting students and developing a new curriculum for advisory groups to teach students about the hurricane.

Sheriene Sultan, an assistant principal from the International High School at Lafayette, wrote that she and staff were planning a pizza lunch for building custodians.

Christine Fryer, a social studies teacher from the Martin Luther King High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice said her goal for the day was to figure out what assignments to reschedule, and what lessons would have to be tossed out because of the loss of instructional time.

“The French Revolution is out the window,” she said.

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.