Hoping for Hubs

No action yet on de Blasio's community schools plan, but advocates stay hopeful

PHOTO: New Settlement Parent Action Committee

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to turn 100 schools into full-service community hubs is among his most ambitious education proposals, and a popular one among advocates and educators. But so far it has seen little action.

Advocates recently called on the city to spend $12.5 million next year to transform 25 schools into such hubs, which could offer medical and social services, art and fitness programs, tutoring and more to students and their families. Instead, the mayor’s $73.9 billion budget directs hundreds of millions dollars to pre-kindergarten, after-school programs, arts education and other school initiatives, but sets aside no funds for community schools.

But in a sign of the goodwill between the new mayor and community-based education groups, which clashed with the Bloomberg administration on most education issues, advocates have not picketed outside City Hall or lobbied lawmakers to resist the mayor’s budget plan. Instead, they are continuing to meet with city officials, drum up local support, and identify potential community schools, all out of faith that the new administration will live up to its word.

“We’re not at a point where we’re concerned,” said Natasha Capers, a parent member of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a consortium of advocacy groups that called for the community schools funding. “I fully feel like this is a priority for them.”

Community schools partner with nonprofits and city agencies to provide an array of services during the school day, in the evenings, and on weekends. Some offer homework help, sports leagues, dance classes, adult education, and free counseling, health, dental, and vision services. Roughly 100 city schools provide such services, coordinated by groups such as the Children’s Aid Society and the United Federation of Teachers.

When he was the city’s public advocate planning to run for mayor, de Blasio accepted the UFT’s invitation to visit a much-heralded community school in Cincinnati. As mayor, he has promised to double the number of community schools in the city by the end of his first term. He tasked Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, who previously headed the Children’s Aid Society, with overseeing the plan.

Buery is also directing the city’s costly and complex expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, which have devoured much of the administration’s attention to date. But recently he has met with members of CEJ at City Hall to discuss the community school plan, and last week he and the Chancellor Carmen Fariña toured a community school in the Bronx and chatted with parents about the plan.

For their part, CEJ members held a series of outreach events last week in low-income neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn where they asked parents and school leaders what services could benefit their schools and what local groups might provide them. Parents and students in the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, a CEJ member group in the Bronx, staged a rally to declare their support for community schools.

CEJ also released a report last week calling on the mayor to make good on his promise by rolling out the first batch of community schools this year and by providing $500,000 to each school. Group members said city officials have indicated that they are still in the planning stages and have not committed to a timeline or funding targets.

Marti Adams, a City Hall spokeswoman, said the mayor is committed to developing the schools by 2018 and that “initial conversations are currently underway.”

The city has not created its own community schools before, so the initiative may take more planning than the pre-K or after-school expansions, said Jane Quinn, director of the National Center for Community Schools, which was created by the Children’s Aid Society. She added that city officials are currently engaged in “hardcore planning” around the initiative.

The Children’s Aid Society’s 16 community schools in New York have budgets of between $400,000 and $1.5 million, depending on the size of the school and the services they offer, Quinn said. About two-thirds of the money comes from city, state, and federal funding streams, such as Medicaid or after-school grants, and the rest is obtained from private sources, she said.

Quinn said it is unclear whether there are enough local service providers in the city’s high-needs neighborhoods to support 100 new community schools. But there is no question the city will have to need to devote resources to the plan to get it off the ground, she added.

“I think if the city really wants to adopt this as a preferred reform strategy—and I think they do—it’s definitely going to cost some money,” she said.

Angel Martinez, whose three children attend public schools in the Bronx, said schools desperately need more resources to address students’ many social and emotional needs. She said the previous administration’s strategy of creating new schools did not solve the underlying problem of unmet student needs. De Blasio’s community schools plan has the potential to change that, Martinez said—if he carries it out.

“He did promise 100 community schools,” said Martinez, who is a member of the Parent Action Committee, “and we are holding him accountable to that.”

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.