Take Two

Report: City to resurrect special district for struggling schools

The education department is looking to resurrect a special district designed to support struggling schools, according to a news report, a signal that the new administration is holding to its pledge to flood the lowest performing schools with resources before it considers closing them.

The city is forming a plan to group about a dozen struggling high schools under a single district superintendent and offer them special support, according to the New York Post. Another cohort of elementary and middle schools would be kept separate but also receive extra support.

Chalkbeat could not confirm the report, and the Department of Education did not respond to questions on the plan. The United Federation of Teachers, which championed the now-defunct district that the new plan reportedly draws from, declined to comment.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s major school-improvement plan so far has been a partnership program that would group especially strong schools with schools that are weaker in specific areas to share effective practices and ramp up training for all teachers.

The new teachers contract also contains several provisions meant to boost schools, such as more time for professional development and extra pay for teachers who take on additional duties or work in hard-to-staff schools. Fariña has also promised to give greater assistance to middle schools.

But Fariña has yet to describe how the department will approach long-struggling schools that need intensive support. She has been critical of school closure, a signature tactic of the Bloomberg administration that Mayor Bill de Blasio has denounced, and said the department will not issue A-to-F report card grades in favor of more nuanced metrics.

De Blasio’s 2013 campaign platform called for an “early warning system” to identify schools that need immediate help and a “Strategic Staffing Initiative” that would replace the principals of the most challenged schools and send in a team of experienced administrators and teachers. The struggling-schools district would incorporate elements of de Blasio’s plan, according to the Post.

If the department established such a district, it would harken back to one that former Chancellor Rudy Crew created in 1996 to turn around 10 struggling schools, which eventually grew to include 58 schools before former Chancellor Joel Klein dissolved it in 2003.

Schools in the so-called Chancellor’s District received a slew of supports: smaller class sizes, longer days and years, new curriculum materials, more professional development, and extra staff. Teachers who worked in some of the schools received bonus pay. As those supports were rolled out, the Chancellor’s District schools eventually spent $2,400 more per student than the city’s other struggling schools.

The District schools achieved some limited success, with fourth-grade students’ reading scores outpacing those of other schools on the state’s list of struggling schools, according to a 2004 report. That report did not evaluate the 10 high schools in the program.

The UFT and others celebrated those results and pointed to the District as an alternative to school closure. But critics said they did not justify the amount of resources devoted to the schools.

Eric Nadelstern, an education department official under the Bloomberg administration, said the past program amounted to “micromanaging” low-performing schools, rather than overhauling them. He said that in the current administration were to group together low-performing schools it would conflict with its other strategy of partnering high-performing schools with others.

“Putting all your lowest-performing schools in the same jurisdiction is a terrible idea,” he said. “It’s like a remedial class for principals of schools.”

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”