parting words

Bloomberg lauds small schools on his final visit as mayor

Mayor Bloomberg spoke to students at Bard High School Early College Queens on his last school day as mayor.
Mayor Bloomberg spoke to students at Bard High School Early College Queens on his last school day as mayor.

On the last school day of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years in office, an educator gave him an unexpected gift.

Bloomberg was speaking to students at Bard High School Early College Queens, a small selective school with a 96-percent graduation rate where students leave with associates’ degrees. He told them that “small, innovative schools like Bard” had helped drive up graduation rates across the city.

“You are some of the luckiest kids in the world,” Bloomberg said.

As he was leaving, Principal Valeri Thomson shook his hand.

“I want to thank you for the small-school movement,” she told the departing mayor in an unprompted endorsement of one of his signature education policies.

Then she scurried off to teach a class on the biology of non-infectious diseases, and he continued on his five-borough valedictory tour.

The more than 200 new small schools the administration created — part of a national small-school movement — reflected its commitment to school choice and competition. That approach had plenty of critics, not least because its flipside was the closure of many large high schools.

Repeated studies have found that the city’s small schools give students a better chance of graduating — a point that Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who accompanied the mayor to Bard, touted Friday.

“A lot of great small schools came into existence under this administration and they’re flourishing and students are getting a great education,” he said.

The most recent study, by the independent research group MDRC, found that students who were randomly chosen to attend one of the city’s nonselective small high schools graduated in four years 70.4 percent of the time, compared to 60.9 percent of the time for similar students in other schools. The 2013 study was funded by the Gates Foundation, which poured millions into the city’s small schools before ending its giving in 2008, citing lackluster college readiness rates.

An earlier study found that some of the small schools’ gains tapered off over time. That 2009 study, by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, said that the closure of large schools, which the small ones replaced, created “collateral damage” as an influx of students overburdened the remaining large schools.

Bard Queens student Omar Ferreira said he benefitted from the personal attention of a small school.
Bard Queens student Omar Ferreira said he benefitted from the personal attention of a small school.

David Allen, Bard’s assistant principal, said the city’s small school-drive had spurred many excellent schools, but that simply creating a small school is no “slam dunk.”

“I think it gives opportunities,” he said, “but it also gives some challenges.”

For instance, Bard Queens has thrived since it opened five years ago, largely because of its early-college program and its support from Bard College, Allen said. But it has also had to overcome obstacles in the building it shares with two public high schools and a community college, Allen said — namely, a shortage of space for gym class and science labs.

Omar Ferreira, 17, said he had entered Bard devoted to history, but became enthralled by the school’s math and science classes, where he said he received personal attention. After he finished two semesters of calculus-based physics at the school, a Bard professor agreed to add a third semester just for him and one other student.

Next fall, he will begin classes at the University of Chicago, where he plans to study physics.

“I feel definitely ready,” he said.

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.