preemptive strike

Many are gearing up to defend schools the city might close

Metal detectors greet students at DeWitt Clinton High School. This photo is taken from a documentary about the school by alumni Danny and Bill Schechter. Click the picture to watch.

As the Department of Education begins holding meetings at the high schools officials are considering closing, some of the schools are tapping into decades-worth of alumni ties and institutional memory to defend themselves.

Representatives of Boys and Girls High School, Juan Morel Campos Secondary School, and DeWitt Clinton High School have put out press releases encouraging families, community members and the press to attend the department’s “early engagement” meetings at their schools this week.

At the meetings, which are typically closed to the public, superintendents and other department officials will listen to teachers, families and administrators describe their schools’ strengths and the challenges they face. The meetings are a required first step in the process by which the city initiates school closures under state law.

The department typically recommends closure for about half of the schools that undergo early engagement each year, but the process by which officials narrow down the preliminary hit list is murky. School communities are expected to make the case that their schools should stay open, despite low graduation rates and other issues, and demonstrate that they have the capacity to make dramatic improvements.

Teachers at DeWitt Clinton High School, a large school in the West Bronx, said they received little information from the department about their meeting, which is set to take place Thursday evening, but teachers union representatives encouraged them to turn out in force.

In a press release, veteran teacher Alan Ettman nodded to the 115 year-old school’s history as a strong school with famous alumni, but warned of its burgeoning problems.

“Just 13 years ago, Clinton was ranked among the top 100 high schools in the country,” he wrote. “But over the last four years, its story has been simplified to a narrative of decline, a result of many factors such as ineffective governmental policies and reliance on statistical calcuations that favor small schools over large, comprehensive ones.”

The school’s struggles, he wrote, are reflective of the high-needs students it enrolls and the budgetary constraints all schools are facing. Of  this year’s 950-some ninth graders, the release says, more than 100 were considered long term absences in eighth grade, meaning they rarely showed up for classes, and more than 100 failed a majority of their eighth grade classes and require remediation.

Jeff Levine, a dean who has worked at Clinton for 15 years, said in a phone interview that the expansive Bronx high school, which serves close to 4,000 students a year, has taken a turn for the worse since he began teaching in the 1990s.

“When I first came here it seemed like a pretty good school, he said. But now, “It seems the caliber of the students has gone down. You find that a lot of them have been involved in gangs… there’s a lot more English language learners, a lot more special education, and I’m told that many students are homeless and living in shelters.”

Student attendance was once higher than it’s current rate, 77 percent, he said, and students were allowed to leave campus to buy lunch. Now Clinton’s is a closed campus, and everyone who enters the school must pass through metal detectors.

Levine said he suspects that Clinton has received more high-needs students over the years who would have historically enrolled at other large Bronx schools, like Columbus High School, that have since been closed.

He said the school’s main challenges center around its high-needs students—19 percent are English Language Learners, and at least 75 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch—but it has been making an effort to help them. Three years ago, he said the school created a special program for the most challenged students, who now receive extra attention from teachers.

“I think it can improve. Maybe a few years ago when the gang situation occurred, It looked like things were shaky, but since that time we created this program, and it seems that that helped,” he said. “Overall the environment is pretty good, i think the kids like going here, a lot of them are enthusiastic about the school.”

Paula Collins, a music teacher at Juan Morel Campos, another school undergoing early engagement, sent out a press releases encouraging the media and community members to attend the hearing this evening. In the release, she said the school struggles because of its “fragile population”— a quarter of its students are English language learners and a quarter need special education services, and about three quarters receive free and reduced lunch.

And Bedford-Stuyvesant community activist Jitu Weusi directed reporters to a Facebook page announcing “Bed Stuy Stands With Boys & Girls High School,” and urging people to attend its Tuesday night meeting. So far more than 90 people, including alumni, have RSVPed to the meeting.

“The nerve of them to openly try to close a school with a long and honorable history in the black community,” one invitee wrote on the event page. “[Boys and Girls is] a school that so many committed black educators walked through and taught at, a school that should be nurtured and supported.”

DeWitt Clinton Press Release- Dec 6 Hearing

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.