chartering territory

UFT Charter School makes its case as renewal decision nears

Students from the the UFT Charter School spoke in support of the school's charter renewal Thursday night.

The reviewers who will help decide the UFT Charter School’s fate have seen the data, observed classroom instruction and studied its operations. On Thursday night, they heard from students, teachers and parents.

“It hasn’t always been easy,” said Brian C. Saunders, speaking about his autistic eighth grade son, who has been at the school since first grade. “Sometimes it’s been difficult, but along every step of the way he’s grown. He’s matured.”

Saunder’s son has a longer tenure than most of the adults in his school, which has undergone four leadership changes since 2009 and a turnover of 30 teachers in 2011. During and after those years of disarray, the school faltered, test scores plummeted, and was found to be in violation of federal law for providing inadequate services to students learning English, according to a report released earlier this year.

School officials say that there is strong evidence that the school was improving and on Thursday Saunders and two dozen others spoke about those changes.

“Numbers don’t always tell the story,” said board chair Evelyn DeJesus.

It might not make much of a difference. In New York State, charter schools must get permission from their authorizing body when its charter expires, a term that lasts five years or less. The board of trustees of the State University of New York, which originally authorized the school to open in 2005, will make its decision early next year. Renewal decisions are “heavily based on academic results,” according to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which makes recommendations to the board.

On paper, the chances for renewal don’t look good at a time when the national charter sector is calling for authorizers to crack down on low-performing charter schools. The school’s student academic performance, which the SUNY Charter School Institute factors heavily into its report, has continued to lag even after it was served with a probationary extension in 2010.

The renewal decision will be under a microscope for another reason. As GothamSchools reported in October, the school was opened to prove a point:

A decade ago, the early success of some charter schools became a case in point for a larger argument: The absence of a union contract in the schools enabled them to succeed with high-need students, proving that the presence of unions was holding other schools back, charter school advocates said.

Randi Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers, opened the UFT Charter School in 2005 to pierce that argument. By posting higher scores, the school would “dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success,” she said at the time.

SUNY, considered a national model in charter authorizing, will be issuing renewal reports for 13 schools this school year, and the UFT Charter School is the only one whose students perform worse on average than their district counterparts, even though UFT’s student population is less needy.

The decision for SUNY comes at a time when charter school advocates are calling for authorizers to close more schools that are low performing. Last month, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a member organization that represents charter authorizers, announced that it would push more of its members to “be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great ones.”

On Thursday, school officials made a case for why the school wasn’t as bad as some of the data showed. Students in the elementary grades have actually performed  better than the district average. One official said they could have scored even higher had it not for a classmate’s sudden death as testing began last April.

“We had to come in, and the fifth graders were on the floor crying,” said Executive Director Shelia Evans-Tranumn. “It was devastating and their scores reflected it.”

Evans-Tranumn, who was brought in to stabilize the school in 2010, said the school was headed in the right direction. Last year, the middle and high school grades did not have a system for identifying and serving high-needs students. Evans-Tranumn said that teachers are now regularly intervening when students fall behind.

“We’re in a constant improvement stage, where when we see something that’s not quite working for students, then we examine what it is we’re doing and try to offer them something better,” she said.

Asked if she felt confident in the school’s current principals, Michelle Boddin-White in the elementary school and Martin Weinstein in the secondary schools, Evans-Tranumn said she was not ready to make a final evaluation.

“I think part of what happens is that people get locked into positions based upon what they did last year,” Evans-Tranumn said. “I don’t think that’s how schools should run. We should look at, what are the goals this year? You don’t want the school to stay the same as last year.”

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.