the road to city hall

Quinn says city schools need collaboration, not competition

City Council Speaker and mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn visited a school with UFT President Michael Mulgrew at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

In her first major education policy address, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn signaled that she would depart in significant ways from Mayor Bloomberg’s approach to running the city’s schools.

Instead of pitting schools against each other, as Bloomberg’s policies have, Quinn said she would push them to collaborate. Instead of directing funds to pricey consultants, she said she would look for solutions within the system. And where Bloomberg spurred rapid growth in the city’s charter school sector, Quinn said she would keep the sector at its current size.

But on other issues, Quinn suggested that she would take a cue from the Bloomberg administration. For example, she said she would improve “customer service” to help families resolve problems but said only that she would “engage parents in relevant decisions and keep them in the loop.” One of Bloomberg’s first school policy changes, back in 2002, was to add parent coordinators to each school. But he has drawn sharp criticism for excluding parents from policy decisions.

Quinn’s ambitious list of education proposals includes extending school days, coordinating city services to provide comprehensive health and social services in schools, boosting literacy instruction, slashing some state testing, and buying a million tablets to replace textbooks.

Quinn put the price tag for her proposals at about $300 million, which she said could mostly be covered by redirecting resources from elsewhere in the education budget. The tablet shopping spree, for example, could be covered using the $100 million that the city spends annually on textbooks, she said.

In an effort to redirect ideas as well as resources, Quinn said she would assess what individual schools are doing well and figure out how to replicate their success elsewhere. She said she has already recruited Columbia University to head the “Systemwide Success Study,” which would look at both district and charter schools. If more schools copied programs in place at Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, she said, fewer large high schools would need to close.

“There’s nothing wrong with New York City schools that can’t be fixed with what’s right about our schools,” Quinn said.

Quinn’s promise to treat school closure only “as a last resort when all else has failed” was welcome news for the teachers union, which has fought vehemently to keep schools open. “I want to applaud Speaker Quinn for a speech that was full of great ideas,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

Quinn’s proposal to create “community schools” that offer social services to their students is another union priority. All of the Democratic candidates for mayor joined UFT officials to tour community schools in Cincinnati last year, and Quinn spoke glowingly of her visit to a school where students could get a dental exam, have their eyes checked, or receiving counseling on site.

Some of Quinn’s proposals are already in place in other forms: the Parent University she proposed has a lot in common with Parent Academy, which Bloomberg launched in November, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already launched a push to extend the school day. Quinn said she would start the longer days at the 100 schools with the highest percentage of poor students.

And two proposals Quinn said would reduce schools’ focus on testing wouldn’t actually be up to her, if she were mayor. She said she would eliminate “field testing” of state test questions and increase the number of schools where students create portfolios instead of taking Regents exams to graduate, but those decisions are up to the state. Quinn said after her speech that she had begun talking to state education officials about expanding the number of portfolio schools.

David Bloomfield, a professor of education policy, said he thought Quinn had taken substantial steps to distance herself from Bloomberg on education. “Her veiled criticism of the failure of the Bloomberg administration to coordinate city services was important,” he said.

Claire Sylvan, the executive director of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, which runs 17 schools, mostly in the city, said she liked the idea of spreading schools’ best practices but thought it would be hard to execute.

“We went from three schools to 17. I know how hard it is,” she said, adding that she hopes that educators, not just researchers, would help conduct the Systemwide Success Study.

Quinn said she supports charter schools as “laboratories of innovation” but would not seek to grow the charter school sector. “I think the level we’re at is a good level,” she said, a shift from her position last year. But Quinn she would not charge charter schools rent, which some have proposed. “If you make charter schools pay rent, that’s the end of charter schools,” she said.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said he did not think Quinn would actually stand in the way of charter school growth. “We’re pretty confident that anyone who becomes mayor will come to understand that it isn’t about the particular size of charter schools sector or district schools,” he said. “You want to expand the kinds of schools that are working.”

Kim Sweet, the director of Advocates for Children of New York, which represents students with special needs, said she was disappointed but not surprised that Quinn did not mention special education once. “It doesn’t tend to be something that mayoral candidates jump into right out of the box,” she said, noting that Quinn has spoken out on behalf of students with disabilities in the past.

But, Sweet said, “I was really happy about her emphasis on collaboration and coordination. I think we’ve had a system focused on competition and there’s a lot to be gained by an administration that focuses on bringing people together.”

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.