Collaboration Celebration

Fariña celebrates collaboration as Learning Partners gets set to expand

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has been touting her signature school-collaboration program since April. But the enthusiasm reached new heights this week, as teachers and principals from 21 schools gathered to celebrate the 10-week pilot program at the Brooklyn Marriott on Monday night.

“Carmen, this is a genius plan,” said Christina Fuentes, head of the city’s new Office of Inter-School Collaborative Learning, in her opening remarks.

Fuentes went on to congratulate principals for instituting a variety of changes over the course of the pilot version of the Learning Partners program, which groups schools into triads to share ideas. The program will expand to 72 schools this September, and is an outgrowth of one of Fariña’s guiding principles: that collaboration, not competition, is the way to improve schools.

“I still don’t know what your school report card is,” Fariña said during the event to a table of educators. “I never checked because I don’t care.”

Before the event, the Department of Education released statistics showing that almost all of the participating schools said they plan to make changes in the next academic year based on their experience. How exactly classrooms will be improved—and to what measurable extent—remains to be seen, given the short length of the pilot program.

One English teacher at a co-located school in the Bronx said she had found it helpful to simply communicate with the schools she shares the building with. “Isolation doesn’t work,” she said.

Other educators said they were excited to have been given the chance to visit other classrooms, but acknowledged that it’s not always easy to apply the lessons learned, especially when one school has more resources than another.

The event’s celebratory atmosphere was in line with one of Fariña’s stated priorities as she shifts the department away from the Bloomberg era: to publicly praise schools that are doing well, rather than focus public attention on where the system is struggling. At Panel for Educational Policy meetings, parent town halls, and in emails to principals, she has noted schools that she says are flying under the radar but succeeding with students.

Fuentes, who oversees the Learning Partners Program, did the same on Monday night.

“Way to go, you’re so courageous,” Fuentes said to one principal. “That’s really brave,” she said to another school leader, praising his integration of technology into his school. (The principal, who broke his leg recently, also rolled up to the podium in a wheelchair and stood up to address the group.)

Much of what teachers shared had to do with school atmosphere and culture. For Grace Ballas, a first grade teacher at P.S. 159 in Queens, the takeaway was seeing real teacher collaboration at her host school, P.S. 503 in Brooklyn.

To better apply those lessons to her school, Ballas said she is planning to participate in a book club reading of “The Power of Protocols.” The literacy coach at the same school with Ballas, Allie Myers, explained that it could help teachers trust one another.

“Trust that their opinion matters,” Myers said. “That it’s OK to disagree. That it’s OK to take risks.”

At the end of the remarks, before the triads broke into groups to present what they had learned, Fariña joked with the crowd about the program.

“There is no pressure, but this is my signature program,” Fariña said, amid laughter. “I said, there was no pressure!”

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.