push back

At schools’ anti-Cuomo protests, thousands sing and shout

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Sarah Quinter, an artist and educator who graduated from City-As-School in 2004, speaks to demonstrators gathered at Washington Square Park to protest Gov. Cuomo’s proposed education policy changes.

Updated, 7 p.m. – Dozens of protests small and large broke out at schools across the city Thursday as teachers and parents pushed back against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education policy changes.

Chalkbeat spent time at three of Thursday’s rallies, where educators railed against the idea of tying teacher evaluations more closely to student test results, raising the charter-school cap, and placing consistently low-performing schools in the hands of outside groups. Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook were buzzing throughout the day with photographs of students, parents and educators holding signs and locking hands throughout the city. (A spokeswoman for the city teachers union said they received photos from 300 schools.)

At Brooklyn’s P.S. 10, the protest was marked by big names and some musical flair.

P.S. 10 Principal Laura Scott leads students and parents in song to protest Cuomo's policies.
PHOTO: Sarah Darville
P.S. 10 Principal Laura Scott leads students and parents in song to protest Cuomo’s policies.

By 8 a.m., the block in front of the school was packed with parents, students, and teachers, many of whom had brought homemade signs. (One included Gov. Cuomo in a “Where’s Waldo” hat.) As parents gathered, Principal Laura Scott led a schoolwide singalong of “We Are the World” with new, anti-testing lyrics.

“We have kids to teach, stop emphasizing tests,” they sang. “It’s time we all unite and put children first.”

[Watch a video of the musical number]

They paused to listen to city teachers union President Michael Mulgrew and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who noted that she had lived in the neighborhood for almost 25 years.

Students and parents rally outside of District 15's P.S. 10 in Brooklyn.
Students and parents rally outside of District 15’s P.S. 10 in Brooklyn.

“This is what public education is,” Weingarten yelled into the crowd, as passing cars honked in support. “This is a school Cuomo should learn from, and be at.”

P.S. 10’s principal Scott and the school’s teachers have been critical of the outsized emphasis placed on state tests. At least one speaker noted that the school had such high parent turnout because most were not working multiple jobs and many had flexible schedules. They were there to speak for others, she said.

The rally at P.S. 2 in Chinatown against Gov. Cuomo’s education proposals began this frigid morning as Rachel Torres’ four children nibbled on donuts.

While they waited outside the entrance of the Henry Street school for more parents and teachers to arrive, Torres explained that the governor’s plan to weigh test scores more heavily in teacher evaluations would put even greater pressure on teachers to limit their lessons to tested material.

“I don’t think teaching to the test is right,” she said, a Dunkin’ Donuts box in one hand and a stroller handle in the other. “They should be teaching real-life things that mean something.”

P.S. 2 parents and students lined up along the metal fence outside the school Thursday morning.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
P.S. 2 parents and students lined up along the metal fence outside the school Thursday morning.

Just then, as if some secret tardy bell had sounded, parents and children appeared and lined up along the metal fence outside the school. Teachers trickled out of the building and handed out signs scrawled in English and Chinese characters. Before long, the line stretched the length of the building.

Catherine Holleran, the school librarian, noted that the state still owes the city billions of dollars from the settlement of a landmark school-funding lawsuit. At P.S. 2, the shortfall means that she had to raise $6,000 from private donors to update the library’s book collection, she said.

“This is what teachers have to do,” she added. “Cuomo is sitting on the money, and he won’t give it to us.”

Students, parents and educators formed a giant ring around the lot in the schoolyard at P.S. 2.
Students, parents and educators formed a giant ring around the lot in the schoolyard at P.S. 2.

Then the group — children toting bright backpacks, parents and teachers gripping coffee cups — marched down the block and around to the vast schoolyard behind the building. There they formed a giant ring of perhaps 200 bundled-up students and adults.

Parent Dorris Moreira-Douek said she joined the rally to push the state for more funding, since the school needs updated textbooks, computers, and Internet service — “the staples to run a classroom,” she said. But she also wanted to show her fourth-grade daughter that there is “politics in the day to day,” and that she must get involved.

“If you don’t ask for it,” she said, “you’re not going to get it.”

Just as suddenly as the rally started, it came to an end. Students rushed to class and parents headed to work — except for a few who lingered outside, peering into classroom windows to watch their children start the school day.

Alexandra Alves, a first-grade teacher whose students are all still learning English, said after the rally that it was a pivotal event for the school community.

After the rally, students rushed back into class and parents headed off to work.
After the rally, students rushed back into class and parents headed off to work.

Many P.S. 2 parents are Chinese immigrants unfamiliar with public protests and citizen activism, she said. At a recent parent meeting, teachers not only explained the debate over state education policy and funding, but also the whole idea of debating such things, she added.

“We talked about how in America we have freedom of speech,” Alves said, “and these are some of the things that citizens do to empower their communities and make positive changes.”

The teachers’ words seemed to sink in. Thursday’s rally was filled with parents who had rarely if ever participated in public protests, Alves said, but they had come to P.S. 2 to take that leap.

“It was a really big moment for the school,” she said.

After school let out Thursday afternoon, about 100 City-As-School students and educators marched from their Manhattan high school to Washington Square Park chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Cuomo’s plan has got to go,” and “stakes are high, test scores lie.”

Vincent Davi, the UFT representative for City-As-School, speaks outside of the Manhattan high school.
Vincent Davi, the UFT representative for City-As-School, speaks outside of the Manhattan high school.

Demonstrators from City-As-School – one of more than two-dozen city high schools with state permission to tie graduation to a student’s portfolio instead of Regents-exam scores – garnered attention from passersby as they marched through the West Village carrying banners and signs. Being escorted by close to 10 New York Police Department motorcycle officers and a handful of officers on foot, the group attracted even more listeners when it landed at Washington Square Park.

“We want to send a message to the governor that teachers are not the reason why education is not working,” said Vincent Davi, the school’s teachers union representative. “It is not the worker that should be blamed. We need support from Albany.”

City-As-School students and educators marched to Washington Square Park Thursday.
City-As-School students and educators marched to Washington Square Park Thursday.

City-As-School teacher Marcus McArthur said there would be negative repercussions from further tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. Students at the school, which is a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, still must pass the English language Regents exam to graduate.

“Tying their evaluations to the test scores, it’s going to destroy our relationship with our students,” McArthur said. “That has nothing to do with the work that we do and it’s going to lead to people not focusing on the students that really need help.”

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.