making it work

Red Hook principals scramble to find space for damaged school

Teachers from the Red Hook Neighborhood School meet in the school's library during an Election Day professional development session.

Principal Rochel Brown hadn’t slept much since Friday, when she and her teachers began assessing the toll Hurricane Sandy took on the Red Hook Neighborhood School’s community.

The news she received then was grim: Several teachers lost their homes and cars in the storm, which was particularly devastating to Staten Island and Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods, where many teachers from her school live. And many more families were unreachable because of power outages in the area.

To top it off, she and Shahara Jackson, principal of the Summit Academy Charter School, which shares the Huntington Avenue school building with the Neighborhood School, learned they would need to make room for another school—P.S. 15, a Red Hook school so damaged by the storm that it cannot reopen yet—by Wednesday, when its students and teachers will be temporarily relocated.

Brown told reporters this afternoon that she is managing “as smoothly as possible,” given the circumstances. The other principals nodded in agreement.

“Once we went through the planning phase, we met as a building council and determined where [P.S. 15’s] students are going to be going and which clasrooms we would need to make readily available in a very short turnaround time,” Brown said. “We want them to feel as ‘normal’ as they can possibly feel, entering a new building in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.”

To make it work, Brown said she has adjusted everyone’s schedules and temporarily forfeited the use of speciality classrooms like art and music. Instead of sending students from classroom to classroom for their non-core subjects, on Wednesday the teachers will travel between classrooms to hold lessons. Some classes may also be consolidated, meaning class size will temporarily double.

Brown and Jackson said the lost week of classes will be tough to recover from, but they have been trudging forward.

“Our teachers were able to post assignments to Jupiter Grades for our scholars to access so they could have a seamless transition once they return,” said Jackson, whose students are in grades six through 12. “We have an advisory system so all of our teachers are responsible for nine to ten scholars, and they were able to contact them and remain in touch with them to make sure they were reading over the break.”

“Losing a week is always detrimental to children,” Brown added. “As you know we’re implementing the New York State Common Core Standards, and we don’t want to lose on that. We’re implementing professional development today with our staff.”

And the state exams, she said, “are never the last things on our minds.”

Some of the 43 schools relocating tomorrow lack basic classroom supplies, but Peggy Wyns-Madison, the principal of P.S. 15, said moving trucks delivered supplies from her old school to the new one this morning, so she will not have to make do without.

“Every classroom is stocked with resources from our math curriculum, reading curriculum, writing curriculum, so it’s going to feel as close to possible to the new normal,” she said. “We’re happy we were able to get those resources into the building today.”

After a visit from schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the principals walked reporters through the school’s pristine computer lab and library, which would likely  serve as make-shift classrooms for multiple classes at once tomorrow.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told reporters in a phone call later that day that he is satisfied with the effort principals like Jackson and Brown have made to accommodate new colleagues who have been displaced.

“The schools that are hosting are being incredibly generous. They are going out of their way to make the resources they have available,” he said. But those resources, he added, “do not always match up with what’s needed.”

Wyns-Madison said she is grateful to be at the Neighborhood School, noting that many families were uprooted by the hurricane and would welcome the stability it offers, even though it isn’t their usual location. The two schools are about half a mile apart.

“Safety is always a major concern for us, so the most important thing was to think about the families and the type of conditions they were under, to make sure we didn’t add to the issues that they were wrestling with,” she said.  “We wanted to make sure they would attend a school that was within hopefully walking distance.”

Wyns-Madison said she still has not been able to reach all of her families, many of whom last power or cell phone service, but met with some in person today as they arrived at the school, which is a polling site, to vote.

The Department of Education posted a document on its website outlining ways teachers can address the outsized challenges students may be facing, and how to incorporate news about the hurricane into their lessons tomorrow.

Walcott’s advice to teachers was to help students who may have been traumatized by the hurricane think about their experience in a broader context. And all the better, he said, if hurricane lessons are aligned to the Common Core, the state’s new and high-stakes curriculum standards.

“They can talk about the students experiences, they can either share their own experiences, they can talk about the schools’ experiences and use that as a proxy of what happened last week,” he said. “Especially if it fits into the Common Core, and really having the students express themselves and talk about it.”

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.