public relations

In new ad campaign, city's charter sector aims to explain itself

On each side of the split screen, a girl with long hair and a puffy white coat walks to school, where she works on a writing assignment, raises her hand to answer a question, watches the clock, and walks past a bulletin board plastered with student work.

Then the divider disappears and the two girls leave the building hand in hand to stack blocks on a crowded playground.

As the scene plays out, a voiceover narrates. “Like most children in New York City, these two second-graders attend different schools in the same building. They both love science, their favorite color is green. They both want to be doctors, or astronauts. Can you tell which child attends the district school, and which the charter school?”

Because of the city Department of Education’s policies about filming inside buildings it owns, both girls actually attend the same school, Our World Neighborhood Charter School in Queens. It’s a creative liberty that the New York City Charter School Center took when creating the television ads that make up the first phase of a new campaign to sway public opinion in charter schools’ favor.

The ad campaign comes at an important moment. Encouraging charter school growth has been a hallmark education policy of the Bloomberg administration, and most of the Democratic candidates for mayor have signaled that they would not be as friendly to the privately managed schools.“The Bloomberg approach to charter schools was one of the fundamental mistakes of this administration,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at a forum in Brooklyn last week.

The Charter Center, a nonprofit that advocates for the sector and assists individual schools, argues that de Blasio’s take does not reflect public opinion. Officials say the ad campaign is in part a response to a survey finding that many New Yorkers say they support charter schools — but that many others say they do not know enough to be able to form an opinion. Other people have misperceptions about charter schools, they said.

“What we’ve tended to see in polls about charters is a lot of people still don’t know that charters are public schools,” said CEO James Merriman. “This is meant to inform them that there are benefits and not just controversy.”

Of the ads, which can all be seen at a single website with the address, some are aimed purely at letting New Yorkers know that charter schools can be an option for families. But others face some of the most persistent criticisms of charter schools head on.

Two of the ads focus on co-location, the sometimes divisive policy of letting charter schools operate inside public school buildings. The ad with the two girls ends, “As long as it’s a great public school, it shouldn’t matter.” Another ad finishes, “Sharing space works — and it’s what makes New York City great.”

The ad campaign is planned to unfold over multiple years, organizers say, and in multiple forms of media. Right now, the four 30-second spots are airing on local television networks — an ad buy that Merriman said cost “in the low six figures.” The group is also working on a series of print ads that will feature charter school leaders and appear in local newspapers in the coming weeks. There will also be a direct mail campaign to people who have expressed interest in charter schools in the past, and some of the ads will appear in Spanish-language media.

“I don’t think anyone has done this before — a public awareness campaign talking about charters with this magnitude,” said Petra Tuomi, the charter center’s director of marketing and communications.

Merriman said the campaign was meant to provide insurance at a time — during and directly after the mayoral election — when criticism of charter schools is likely to get increased airtime.

“I think when a new mayor comes in, whoever he or she may be, I think they’re going to understand that charters are a key component of moving the system forward. I’m not really worried, frankly, that anyone is going to go around trying to dismantle charters,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s a mayoral campaign and campaigns are loud, and we just want to make sure that parents — as we say, who may or may not know — are hearing from us directly about what charter schools are about.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”