enduring damage

Four months after Sandy, education department waits on FEMA

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Chancellor Walcott testifies at a City Council hearing on Hurricane Sandy recovery.

Like many of the New York residents whose homes were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Education is waiting on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Before the department can apply for FEMA funds to make repairs at a given Sandy-affected school, or to reimburse the department for funds already expended to carry out repairs, FEMA representatives must first make a site visit to the school.

But in over four months since the hurricane hit, FEMA has visited only eight out of 50 schools.

“We have the money to work on the schools,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, referring to the $200 million in emergency capital funds Mayor Bloomberg announced in November would go towards paying for repairs on schools damaged during the hurricane.

But some repairs require FEMA funds to carry out. For example, the department quickly installed temporary boilers in schools whose heating systems were destroyed by the storm, but many of those schools still need permanent boilers.

So far, the Department of Education has spent $110 million and the School Construction Authority has spent $65 million on emergency repairs.

“We have our plans in place to do the necessary work, but it’s a joint operation [with FEMA] because we need to be reimbursed,” Walcott said. “We need to follow their protocol for the proper reimbursement, and we’re going to adhere to that. So our goal is to do it in an expeditious fashion, but at the same time there is a process we have to follow.”

At a City Council Committee on Education hearing on the Department of Education’s response to Hurricane Sandy, city council members congratulated Chancellor Walcott on the departments’ response to the storm and pressed him on when remaining damage caused by the storm will be repaired. Council members asked about specific issues affecting their regions, such as when certain academic and athletic facilities would be restored and when schools could expect new permanent boilers.

The timeline for many of those repairs depends in part on FEMA, said Lorraine Grillo, President and CEO of the School Construction Authority. The timeline also depends on the scope of the work, department spokesperson Erin Hughes said.

The department used emergency capital funds to do what was needed to get Hurricane-affected buildings operational, but it needs FEMA funds to fully restore the buildings.

“So in essence it could be months?” asked Councilman Robert Jackson, who chaired the hearing.

“We hope it will be months,” said Lorraine Grillo, President and CEO of the School Construction Authority, suggesting that it could take much longer for FEMA money to come through.

“We’re in the process of figuring out what FEMA will provide and what it will require as far as documentation,” she said.

Grillo said she expects required documentation to reach “literally three feet of documents for each school.” The School Construction Authority is scheduled to meet with FEMA representatives tomorrow, Grillo and Walcott said.

During the hurricane, 50 school buildings were “severely damaged,” approximately 300 school buses were destroyed, and almost 75,000 students from 61 schools were displaced and in need of relocation, Walcott said today.

All of the damaged school buildings were ready to house students again by Jan. 7, and most schools reopened at their original locations within a month after the storm.

Officials said the physical repairs would solve only one kind of damage Sandy inflicted on city schools. Students still face academic and mental health challenges because of the storm, they said, and new efforts to address those issues are just getting underway.

The Department of Education announced plans today to roll out a series of new programs that will provide long-term support students in the 39 schools hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Resources for the new programs will come from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a non-profit focused on improving city services through public-private partnerships. The fund has pledged upwards of $2 million in hurricane relief funds.

$715,000 from the Mayor’s Fund will go towards expanding online and afterschool learning options such online regents preparation programs and afterschool time with teachers at 13 iZone schools.

A far larger sum, $1.3 million, from the Mayor’s Fund will go towards expanding counseling and mentoring programs in thirty schools. “As the long-term impact of the storm and a more comprehensive picture of its effect on students’ well-being have emerged, it has become apparent that students need non-academic support,” the department said in a statement.

Red Hook resident Gladys Munez knows that firsthand. She told the council that her son Jonathan was doing well at the beginning of the year, she said, but now he’s struggling to sleep and focus in school. Walls in her fourth-floor apartment came down during the storm, and her bathroom is still destroyed, Munez said.

Jonathan missed about a month of school after the storm, Munez said. Students across the city face similar losses in class time, compounded, for some, by time lost to the bus strike.

Munez said her son’s teachers have told her that he is unresponsive in class and that she first noticed changes when Hurricane Sandy hit.

“When he saw the water coming up, he panicked, and because I panicked, he freaked out even more,” Munez said. “His teachers try to talk to him, but he won’t talk to them.”

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.