peace in the space wars

School space group offers path forward for de Blasio on co-locations

PHOTO: Jackie Schechter

Collaboration, transparency and students with disabilities are the themes of a long-awaited report from a diverse group of education experts convened to advise the de Blasio administration on how schools should share space.

The new report offers dozens of recommendations and strategies for how schools can better share space within a building. It calls for more public involvement during the planning period, suggests that schools in the same building share main offices or faculty work rooms, and says “bad neighbors” in a building should be monitored and arbiters dispatched to settle intractable disputes.

But the report is less a playbook for the de Blasio administration to use than a 13-page mission statement. And it warns that the “most urgent” school space issues — overcrowding and the presence of classroom trailers — have yet to be fully addressed. Requirements to provide facilities for new and expanding charter schools and plans to add 2,000 prekindergarten classrooms next year will further stretch the city’s capacity.

Co-locations incite some of the city’s fiercest education battles because they force schools to share auditoriums and cafeterias and divvy up the building’s classrooms and offices. Two of three city schools share space, but often the most contentious co-locations involve district and charter schools placed in the same building.

It is now the city’s decision whether to turn the group’s recommendations into system-wide regulations or simply guidelines that different schools in the same building are encouraged to follow. Even if the city does create new space-sharing rules, though, charter schools in public buildings will not necessarily be bound by them since they are exempt from most rules covering district schools.

“One of the big concerns is that charters aren’t technically obligated to follow” the recommendations, said Miriam Aristy-Farer, president of the community education council in Manhattan’s District 6 and a member of the advisory group that wrote the report, in an interview last month. “We could have all these great recommendations, but it’s up to them whether to follow them or not.”

The report suggests shorter and more concise explanations of how schools will be affected by changes, and make them available in more than just English and Spanish. It also asks that officials no longer sit silently and take notes at heated community meetings but instead respond to concerns directly.

Schools that share space should be given additional resources to coordinate schedules so that problems like extremely early and late lunch periods could be avoided, the report suggests. It also advises the city to provide examples of successful school schedules and continue to encourage schools to share Advanced Placement courses, foreign language programs, and joint extracurricular activities.

The report acknowledges that some co-location situations are more tense than others. It recommends the city create a system to monitor “high-risk co-locations” when one school is viewed as a “bad neighbor” because it resists collaboration or criticizes a school with which it shares space. When school leadership teams are unable to settle a dispute between themselves, the report also recommends that the city appoint an independent arbiter to resolve the impasses.

The report also suggests that the city should minimize changes that would uproot programs with students with severe special needs, an issue at the heart of a springtime scuffle over space at one of the schools where de Blasio nixed a space-sharing plan. Future plans should also set aside space specifically for mental health services, a nod to the de Blasio administration’s community schools initiative.

City Hall and the education department have already promised a number of reforms to the space-sharing process. Those included school walkthroughs by department officials when new co-locations are being considered, more public hearings before final co-location votes, and “campus squads” that will be dispatched to buildings with multiple schools to help resolve disputes.

The report’s release comes at a challenging moment for the de Blasio administration, which will have to quickly find space for at least four new charter schools as a result of new legislation. How the city handles that contentious process will be the first major test of the administration’s commitment to transparency and community involvement.

That law puts the city in bind: Many schools were already packed to the brim before de Blasio introduced his signature pre-kindergarten expansion and his plan to locate more service providers in schools, both of which absorb space. The new law says the city must find even more space in its cramped buildings for charter schools, or pay for more-expensive private locations.

“This law will have at least some, possibly significant, impact on space availability going forward,” Buery and Fariña wrote in their introduction to the new report.

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.