litmus test

City Council's hearing on co-locations airs persistent concerns

Department of Education officials Marc Sternberg and Paymon Rouhanifard address questions at a City Council hearing on school colocations.

Persistent concerns about school space-sharing got a fresh airing today at a City Council hearing about the Department of Education’s approach to co-locations.

The process by which multiple schools are placed in a shared building is at times controversial, most frequently when the department has proposed moving a privately managed charter school into an existing school’s building. It is also a cornerstone of the city’s efforts to expand school choice by opening hundreds of small schools.

Who decides where and when schools should share space could prove to be a litmus test for Democratic mayoral candidates, but so far, likely candidates have been hesitant to say where they stand. At a policy breakfast earlier this week, three of the candidates said they would consider giving district parent councils more of a decision-making role in school closures, openings, and colocations, but none said specifically that he would want the councils to be able to veto city plans.

Several State Assemblymen recently proposed a bill that would endow the councils with veto power. Separately, City Councilman Al Vann is drafting a city resolution that would call on the state legislators to amend the city’s school governance law to give the parent councils the ability to vote on both co-locations and school closure decisions.

At today’s City Council hearing, Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson argued that co-locations disrupt learning and exacerbate unequal distributions of resources.

“Problems can arise such as overcrowding, unsafe hallways, inadequate resources, friction over shared space, and a climate of mistrust and conflict,” Jackson said in his testimony. “Schools have to compete for use of common areas such as cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums, playgrounds and hallways. Scheduling becomes a nightmare.”

Jackson and several other city council members enumerated challenges at a handful of city schools where teachers and families have complained recently of colocation woes — among them the Spring Creek School, Brooklyn Community Arts and Media School, and P.S. 9. But Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg and other Department of Education officials said that conflicts, when they exist, quickly fade away.

More than half of city schools — over 800 in total — share space with other schools, Sternberg said, but “we’ve talked today about just a half dozen. Regardless of the configuration of the school, when the adults show up to do school, the noise goes away.”

In response to the charge that colocated schools are squeezed for space, Sternberg referred councilmembers to the Blue Book, the city’s directory of building utilization data, and added, “Every school gets its fair share of space.”

And when Councilwoman Margaret Chin raised concerns about tension between school leaders at the Henry Street campus, which is preparing for Manhattan Charter School II to move in, Sternberg said, “We trust [all principals] to manage their schools, buildings and partnerships to put students first.”

Leo Casey, the teachers union vice president for high schools, was among the advocates and Community Education Council members who submitted testimony criticizing the current colocation process. In an interview, he told GothamSchools that he would like to see the city adopt a more judicious review process before proposing a colocation.

“Right now they throw the principals into untenable situations and then say it’s their responsibilities to make the best of it,” he said. “There clearly is another way to do it. We have great campuses in New York City. Julia Richman Schools includes three regular high schools, one transfer school, an elementary school, a D75 special needs program, and they all benefit from each other’s presence.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”