Vox populi

Comments of the (last) week: Turnaround-on-turnaround edition

Every week, we try to offer positive reinforcement to readers who have posted comments that help us meet our goal of elevating public dialogue about education. But on Friday, we were derailed by news that an arbitrator had reversed hiring decisions at 24 “turnaround” schools, undoing more than five months of Department of Education changes at the schools.

So far, our story about the arbitration has received more than 210 comments, making it the third-most-commented-upon GothamSchools story ever (behind this and this). Some of those comments do not meet our standards, but lots of them do. We’ve collected a sampling of thoughtful, substantive, and informed comments here.

Some commenters focused on the schools’ unsteady futures. “CJ” wrote,

While I agree, this was a great victory (although of course one can ask why the UFT cooperated in the first place by serving on the 18D committees which would have held up that process), one has to ask what will come next. Will the UFT throw its members under the bus by not working to put in place a teacher evaluation sysem that will protect teachers from the fury of unqualified principals of which there are so many in this system? What will happen when Bloomberg tries to close these 24 schools as he is almost sure to do now as his final parting show of disdain for the staff, parents and kids of this city? This saga is still to be written.

“Dazed and confused” speculated about a potential irony that could emerge this summer:

Does anyone have a clue as to what may happen next? I am at one of the schools. The young people were kept; the old people were tossed to the curb. I would think this now reverses itself and the old folks stay and the youngsters hit the open market. If this was not so tragic it would be hysterically funny.

“Good job Mike!” predicted the same irony in more biting terms:

We all know these schools had some dead weight in these schools. Now these teachers will be back in schools where enrollment is down and excessing will be common, mostly eliminating your younger teachers. The ratio of dead weight teachers will be at an all time high in these schools.

Why would the schools lose some teachers even if the city is not requiring them to? A user posting as “guest” explained:

I am aware what the funds were used for as I work in what was a transformation school. The transformation money was making a huge difference. Without extra funding, the school is now on its own with a budget based on enrollment. The enrollment is so low because of all the bad publicity, that the school has excessed as many as 3 teachers in every area (except sped), family workers (2), school aides (3) and secretaries (4 )and 2 AP’s.

“Burned” responded with a slightly different take but the same conclusion:

Guest: I’m glad the SIG money was making a difference in your school. In our school, we did not feel it was helping our students, and that’s the bottom line. I’m glad we both agree it is DOE’s negative spin on our schools — not loss of SIG — that is causing drop in enrollment, and excessing.

Teachers who reclaim their jobs will be returning in many cases to work under principals who told them not to come back. “Claudius” offered one picture of what this could mean:

I’ve wondered also what it would be like if the UFT won and the 80% non-rehired teachers were to return to face a principal who has now lost any credibility among his staff. All the teachers I know will be prepared to pitch right in so students especially don’t suffer as they always have shown the highest dedication. But I’m not sure I can forget the dishonesty and deceit that the principal used to make sure many fine teachers received unsatisfactory observations just before June. So the relations with the administration promises to be … awkward?

“Someone who cares” offered condolences to a group of people that some had painted as villains during the rehiring processes:

I have to say I have pity for all those 18D committees who sat and interviewed people for 6 hours a day to have it be all done in vain. What a waste of time for these people and I feel bad for some teachers in our school who chose to retire so they wouldn’t have to go through all of this. They didn’t want to retire and now they didn’t have to.

A reader posting as “guest” (not the same one who wrote about his school’s funding above) identified himself as a union representative on one of the 18-D committees. He wrote,

I was the UFT rep on one of those committees. I accept your pity, and deserve it. I was a pitiful character, sitting among enemies, passing judgment on friends, many of whom are probably fine teachers but poor interviewers. But, never mind my suffering. Reserve all sympathy for the educators who were so humiliated and demoralized by this sham process. When the news of our victory came down, our UFT office exploded in cheers, tears, and jubilation.

And when commenters asked a regular who posts as “Mr. Flerporillo” and identifies himself as a lawyer to weigh in on the future of the Bloomberg administration’s bid to overhaul the schools, here’s how he responded:

Not much to say. Right now there’s no opinion; just an award. But there appear to have been two issues: (1) whether the dispute was arbitrable and (2) the merits of the dispute. Looks like the DOE got its clock cleaned on both. The DOE might conceivably have some chance of success on appeal on the first issue, depending on the details of the arbitration provision that the union claims was the basis of the DOE’s agreement to arbitrate the dispute, but I wouldn’t bet on it. On the merits, the DOE is toast. You can’t overturn an arbitral tribunal’s ruling unless you can show the process was patently unfair, which it almost assuredly wasn’t. Game over, huge loss for Bloomberg.

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.”