mass appeal

Sea of parents and advocates take to streets for charter schools

IMG_5679A political rally turned out thousands of parents, students, and staff from the city’s most prominent charter schools for a march across the Brooklyn Bridge and a plea for support from whoever next occupies City Hall.

Dressed in neon yellow shirts and carrying signs to summarize their demands, crowds began assembling in Cadman Plaza around 7:30 a.m and swelled as one chartered bus after another dropped off a new group from a different corner from the city. A stage on the west end of the park blasted music and personal testimonies from teachers, parents, and school leaders invited to speak.

Dozens of schools from at least 11 charter networks were represented at the rally, according to organizers. They estimated that 17,500 people attended.

As the crowd waited to funnel onto the bridge’s walkway — a process that lasted more than two hours because of the mass of participants — parents were unified when asked why they attended.

“We love the school and we just want to make sure the next mayor gets the message,” said Aaron Lieberman, who has two children who attend Harlem Success Academy.

Organizers sought to hammer home a broader message about the role of charter schools in New York City’s school system, which is that parents should be able to choose where to send their child to school.

“It’s only politicians who care about charters or districts,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder of the 20-school Success Academy charter network, which appeared to make up a majority of parents in the crowd. “It really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is a school of excellent quality.”

There was nary a reference to the names of candidates vying for City Hall, though Republican Joe Lhota greeted families at City Hall and made clear his support for their schools. But the pleas appeared to fall on deaf ears of Lhota’s opponent, Democrat and frontrunner Bill de Blasio, whose campaign pledges have stirred fear among supporters of charter schools in New York City, which have thrived under Mayor Bloomberg.

De Blasio doubled down on those pledges on Tuesday, saying through a spokesman that “believes that well-resourced charter networks should pay for the use of school space, as charter schools do across the country.” He’d also stop co-locations, an arrangement that has afforded schools free space inside city-owned school buildings, “until we can better assess their impact.”

Both changes would affect a majority of the city’s charter school sector. Over 60 percent of the city’s 183 charter schools are housed in city-owned buildings, and more than half of the city’s 50 proposals for new schools and co-locations involve charter schools.

Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, a national charter school network with several schools in the city, said he hoped the rally would show how much support there is for charter schools’ continued growth.

“The reason we have 70,000 kids in charters today in New York City, the reason we have 50,000 kids on wait lists, is because we’ve had access, as public schools serving public school families, to the public facilities,” Levin said, referring to free rent afforded to charter schools in city-owned buildings. “Changing that access would significantly reduce the growth in the number of seats available in New York.”

Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately managed and the vast majority do not employ unionized teachers, one reason they are so divisive. Most have longer school days and year and they typically out-perform their district school counterparts on state tests. On last year’s state tests, Success Academy’s proficiency rates — 82 percent in math and 58 percent in English — was significantly higher than city rates, which were under 30 percent in both subjects.

But charter schools serve fewer high need students than the average charter school, and critics accuse the schools of having policies that dissuade low-performing students from staying enrolled.

They also say one reason that charters have been able to thrive is because of private support from wealthy backers on their school boards, one reason de Blasio has pledged to charge those schools rent.

In response, Moskowitz asked if the policy would be applied for district schools with well-heeled parent groups and foundations that raise money.

“To suggest that because charter schools get some amount of philanthropy to support public education that they pay rent is ridiculous,” she said. “There are district schools in the city of New York whose PTAs raise considerable sums. Are the politicians going to call on them to pay rent?”

Success parents and students, whose participation was urged by Moskowitz and enabled in part because she closed down her schools for the duration of the rally, dominated the rally. Some parents indicated that Moskowitz’s doomsday predictions about the possible fate of charter schools under a new mayor had gotten through.

“I want them to keep the schools open,” said Charlene Porterfield, a Harlem Success Academy 3 parent. “I’m not sure who’s trying to close the schools, but I’m willing to fight.”

De Blasio, who criticized organizers of the rally for using inaccurate scare tactics, has not said he’d close any charter schools. But his plan to put a moratorium on future school proposals could affect Success’ plans to expand its schools into the middle and high school grades.

That would be a shame, Success Academy parents said. Angel Cornejo said she had a “bad experience” in a district school when her son entered kindergarten. She enrolled her son in Bronx Success Academy 3 this year and said she’s seen a big difference.

“He learned more in one week than an entire year at his old school,” Cornejo 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.