a "quiet leadership"

At the Board of Ed, Thompson neither innovated nor obstructed

In a feature today, Anna Phillips reports on what Thompson was really like while president of the Board of Education:

…That was Thompson the manager, whom former board members, colleagues, and even political rivals from that era describe as “fair,” “conciliatory,” and possessing a “quiet leadership,” that created a working majority on an often-fractious board.

“He tamed the board in a good way,” the former colleague said.

Yet those who praise him as a calm leader stop short of saying he led a reform movement in the halls of 110 Livingston St., the old home of the Board of Education. As president of the board, they say, the structure of his job prevented him from doing more than strongly nudging the chancellor to propose one thing or another.


Carranza discourages student participation in Friday’s gun violence walkout — which could come with consequences

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn walked out of class in March to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and call for stricter gun control laws.

Last month, 100,000 students streamed out of city classrooms to protest gun violence, demonstrations condoned by the mayor and education department officials.

Similar but scaled-down protests are being planned for Friday, but with a major difference — students are more likely to face consequences for walking out of their classes this time.

For the March 14 walkout, held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, city education department officials laid out clear rules meant to facilitate student participation. Anyone who left school for the scheduled protest but returned immediately afterward would not be marked absent.

This week, students who are not in school will be marked absent, according to the education department.

At his first town hall meeting with students, Chancellor Richard Carranza implored them not to walk out of class this week.

“I supported it in March,” he said. “This one — I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

Instead, Carranza said, students should focus on having conversations about the issue inside their schools. “You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

The department’s revised approach comes as activists planning the day of action worry that focus on gun control policy is diminishing as the Parkland shooting recedes into the past. That shooting has inspired a sustained protest movement led largely by students, but other topics have pushed it out of headlines in recent weeks.

Indeed, advocates are expecting a smaller turnout this time around, with about a dozen New York City schools registered on the national organizing page — including Bard High School Early College Queens and Stuyvesant High School.

One of the biggest demonstrations is expected to be an afternoon rally at Washington Square park, but other schools are opting for a day of action within their own buildings — and some students say they are prioritizing other ways of making a difference.

“We will be hosting a lunch and learn and creating kindness cards,” Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice junior Robina Afzal said in an email. “We don’t feel the walkouts are most effective. Instead we can stay in school and create a change.”

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Fifth-grade students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn are planning to walk out of school on April 20, marking the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. They will head to borough hall and deliver letters to their local U.S. representative calling for stricter gun control laws.

At M.S. 51 in Brooklyn, students will take part in a day of assemblies where they will write letters to elected officials to demand action on issues that are important to young people.

“We want to balance our walkout and take real action that might influence policy-makers, rather than making another powerful public statement,” according to a press release sent by the middle school students there.

P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is one of the few elementary schools expected to participate on Friday. The fifth grade students have assigned themselves organizing tasks, with separate working groups dedicated to poster-making, writing original freedom songs, and even a media team. They plan to march to Borough Hall, where students will stand in a circle, sing, and chant to draw attention to young lives lost to gun violence every day across the United States.

“I think we should do it outside of the school because more people can see us walking out, because this is very important,” said Bayan Clark, a fifth-grader who is helping to organize the event. “Kids get shot every single day and it’s not just in school. It’s also outside.”

Principal Jackie Allen said such social actions are woven into the school’s teaching and learning.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, students wore black armbands in solidarity with protesters who drew attention to racial profiling and bias. When President Trump proposed an immigration ban on majority-Muslim countries, they marched around their school and created posters to signal that everyone is welcome at P.S. 261.

Ever since the Parkland shooting, students have been tackling issues around gun violence, writing letters to local elected representatives and making connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We try to make sure the curriculum is relevant,” Allen said. “What’s happening in the world, it does make our way into the classrooms and kids want to talk about it.”

“We want to reflect democratic values,” she said. “We want kids to take social action and develop social awareness.”


13 candidates are competing in a historic Newark school board race. Here’s what happened when they met this week.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A group of nearly 20 protesters interrupted a school-board candidate forum this week.

The 13 candidates vying for three spots on the Newark school board had just finished introducing themselves at a forum this week when a whistle sounded from the back of the college auditorium.

With that, a column of demonstrators marched down the aisle of the auditorium on Rutgers University-Newark’s campus clapping and chanting, “The whole system is corrupt, public schools don’t have enough.”

It was a sudden jolt to an otherwise sleepy race.

The new members elected on April 17 will join the first nine-member board to have full authority over the city’s schools since 1995, when the state seized control of the Newark school system. And yet, for all its historical significance, this election season has been quieter than in the recent past.

The lower volume is partly due to the departure of state-appointed superintendents whose policies provoked a groundswell of resistance. There is also an alliance between formerly rival factions that now line up behind a single slate of candidates, eliminating some of the bitterness of past races.

Still, as Tuesday’s pop-up protest made clear, an absence of headline-grabbing battles hardly means that everyone now is happy with the schools. Once the demonstrators reached the front of the auditorium, the group of nearly 20 youth and adult activists declared a litany of school problems that they say remain even after the state takeover has ended.

“Even though we fought and won full local control,” the protesters said in unison, “we still face lead in our water, overcrowded classrooms, rotten lunches, laid-off teachers, books falling apart, schools being closed.”

The forum, which was hosted by the Newark Trust for Education, resumed after the flash protest. And while it was less dramatic, the forum also addressed a range of challenges facing New Jersey’s largest school system.

Here are some highlights.

1) The big winners: Parent engagement, community schools, collaboration.

The candidates are a diverse bunch made up of community activists, school workers, parent leaders, and at least one veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. Yet many of their ideas overlapped.

Proposals echoed by several candidates included: More parent involvement in schools, greater support for students’ social and emotional needs (whether through extra guidance counselors or “community schools” that provide social services), teachers and classroom materials that better reflect students’ cultural backgrounds, and more cooperation — between families and schools, the district and charter sectors, even board members.

“It seems like a lot of times everyone is from a different walk of life where they’re bumping heads,” said Khalil Hannah. “We need to come together and build a consensus.”

2) The big loser: The school-enrollment system.

When the candidates were asked which district policy they would immediately review if elected, there was near-consensus: enrollment.

Called “Newark Enrolls,” the system allows families to use a single online tool to apply to up to eight schools anywhere in the city — including district and charter schools. It grew out of a controversial overhaul in 2013 dubbed “One Newark,” which replaced the tradition of students attending their nearest school with a citywide enrollment lottery.

The overhaul provoked an outcry after many students were sent to schools far from their homes or separated from siblings. Since then, the district has revised its matching algorithm. This school year, 95 percent of incoming kindergarten students and 70 percent of incoming 9th graders received one of their top three choices, according to the district.

But the candidates said on Tuesday that the system remains deeply flawed.

“My major concern is restructuring and revisiting the enrollment,” said Jameel Ibrahim, one of at least 10 candidates to say the city’s enrollment system must be improved or replaced.

While they agreed on the problem, the candidates had much less to say about how they’d fix it.

3) The frontrunners: One slate has a leg up.

The forum mostly avoided an uncomfortable reality of the race: Three candidates have a major advantage.

Yambeli Gomez, Dawn Haynes, and Asia Norton are part of a slate called “Moving Newark Schools Forward,” which is backed by a powerful coalition made up of the mayor, a North Ward councilman, and the charter-school sector. Since the alliance formed in 2016, its candidates have swept each election.

No one mentioned that political arrangement directly on Tuesday, though some appeared to allude to it.

“You want to vote for people who are unbossed, unbought, and unbiased,” Yolanda Johnson said in her closing statement. “You want to vote for people who are not afraid to go up against the powers that be — people who are not entangled or attached to any political agenda.”

For their part, the slate members said little about their shared agenda or how they had won the support of three distinct power centers, each with its own constituents and priorities. Instead, they vowed to work as partners if elected.

“Me, Asia, and Dawn are three different people, and we represent a lot of different points of views,” Gomez said in her closing remarks. “But we’re willing to collaborate and work together because the most important thing is our students.”