bed-stuy restoration

Boys & Girls leader steals the show at lively pre-closure meeting

In a fiery, off-the-cuff speech delivered to supporters on Tuesday, outspoken Boys and Girls High School Principal Bernard Gassaway reiterated charges he has leveled for years: The city is keeping him from turning around his long-struggling school.

Just that afternoon, he recounted, he confronted and sent away an unwanted teacher assigned to him by the Department of Education.

“They sent a nut job here,” Gassaway said, to cheers from the crowd who turned out a meeting held by the department as part of a process to determine whether the school should close.

“But that’s what they think about kids,” he added as part of the 11-minute address. “You don’t think that’s not done intentionally?”

With a 37 percent four-year graduation rate and a 2.4 percent college-and-career-readiness rate, Boys and Girls ranks as one of the lowest-performing schools in the city and has for years. Demand for the school has also waned, as enrollment has dropped 40 percent — from 2,000 to 1,200 — since 2010.

Department  officials have publicly pledged support for Gassaway and last spring spared the school from undergoing a grueling turnaround proposal that ultimately failed in courts earlier this year. But after another year of low performance — and an “F” grade on its latest progress report, the second in a row — the city is taking a closer look and will soon decide if it should receive the same fate as other comprehensive high schools that have shuttered under the Bloomberg administration.

The school’s status under Gassaway has been unsteady for years, but he has enjoyed the support of the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, including many influential political, business, and religious leaders. The school’s advisory board includes City Councilman Al Vann, State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, Regent Lester Young, Rev. Conrad Tillard and Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation President Colvin Grannum.

That support was on display Tuesday night. Vann, Robinson, Young, and Tillard joined U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and about 200 others to voice their opposition to closing the school.

“There’s a lot of history here. This is part of who we are as a community and a people. You can’t close that,” said Vann.

Dozens of speakers laid out familiar arguments for why the school should be saved. Many of them said other school closures in Brooklyn and Queens had caused a large concentrations of high-need students at Boys and Girls.

“We now have to bear their burden,” said Anthony Jones, a graduate who now works with the school’s track team.

“It’s not the school that’s failing at all,” said Deanna King, a student. “It’s the people who sit there and bring 1,800 students who are terrible and bring them into our school.”

Since ex-Chancellor Joel Klein handpicked him to lead the school in 2009, Gassaway has publicly stated a desire to get rid of teachers that he considered subpar, and recently he has begun criticizing the city for not helping him do that. Still, many teachers have left under his leadership, he said, adding, “I’m feeling more optimistic with the staff we have in place now.”

Supporters said changes Gassaway has made would take some time to have an impact. Vann said younger students will be the first to enjoy the real benefits of the reforms, which include a partnership with Long Island University, where students earn college credits.

About 25 sophomores are part of the program’s first cohort. One of them, Armando Dunn, enrolled in the program so that his mother would allow him to attend Boys and Girls and join the basketball team. Both of his older sisters had attended ultra-selective city high schools.

“I can’t send you to a school where I see statistics saying that it’s failing,” Lisa Dunn recalled telling her son.

Now, Lisa Dunn is president of the school’s parent association and said she believes Gassaway should have more time to turn the school around.

Principals of schools facing closure usually keep a low profile at the city’s “early engagement” meetings, which are run by district superintendents. But after about 90 minutes of testimony, Gassaway appeared in front of the stage and addressed the crowd.

Gassaway began by saying he was done assigning blame.

“What we can’t do, and what I may have been guilty of in the past, is we can’t point fingers,” Gassaway said. “There are powers that be that would love to have me stand up here and bash this group or bash that group. I’m not going to do that.”

But soon Gassaway was ripping the department for its deployment of teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of teachers who lost their jobs through budget cuts or school closures. Gassaway said that just hours earlier he was involved in an incident with an ATR teacher who had refused to resume teaching until a disruptive student was removed from the class.

“I looked at my kids. I tell them, ‘don’t fight’, so I couldn’t fight,” Gassaway said. “But I said to myself, let me get him out of here.”

“He’s not coming back,” Gassaway added, to cheers.

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.