After sandy

22 schools shut for 7th straight day; no buses for some students

Students in 22 city schools will miss a seventh straight day of class on Wednesday while the Department of Education continues to restore buildings damaged and disrupted by Hurricane Sandy.

And thousands of other students will have to make their way to school on their own because the department does not have enough buses to move all of the students who need transportation.

After calling local private bus companies and petitioning the state and federal emergency relief organizations, the city has rounded up more than 100 additional buses to join the 7,400 that ran on Monday, officials said this evening. But still, buses will serve students at fewer than half of the 43 schools that are so severely damaged that they must be moved. Those schools, which together enroll about 20,000 students, are opening for the first time on Wednesday.

A major problem, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said this evening, is that the department’s transportation hub, located in Long Island City, still does not have power. The department can only add new routes, not make the ones it already operates more efficient, while the computer system that programs the city’s 7,700 school bus routes is down, he said.

“We don’t have access to any of that,” he said. “Everything we are doing at this point is by hand.”

Families are finding out today whether their children will have a ride to school. Students and parents at schools without busing will be given Metrocards — but only after they make their way to their closed schools first. The department will reimburse families for the trip.

For high school students, who do not typically get bused, the department will provide Metrocards, and students who live on the Rockaways, where public transportation still has not been restored, will be able to take school buses to their relocated schools. But because of the bus shortage, they will have to wait until 10 a.m. to board buses that have already run one route.

High school students who live in the Rockaways but attend schools that survived the storm unscathed might have an even harder time leaving the peninsula: Polakow-Suransky said he did not know whether the department planned to bus them at all.

In buildings that will begin co-locations on Wednesday, principals and teachers from the host and relocated schools worked together today to plan how space and supplies will be shared. Where possible, teachers brought materials from their damaged schools to the new sites, and Polakow-Suransky said the department had given each school extra funds for supplies.

That planning process will get underway tomorrow for 13 Queens schools — with 6,000 students — that still do not have power and must be relocated. Polakow-Suransky said it was “unlikely” that most of the schools would have their power restored before Thursday, when students are expected to report to new locations.

The other nine schools, enrolling 7,000 students, that will not reopen to students until at least Thursday are located on three high school campuses that have been used as shelters since the storm.

One of the campuses that cannot reopen tomorrow is John Jay High School in Brooklyn, where Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference that about a dozen evacuees had come down with “what we believe to be a stomach virus.” The department expects that its four schools will be able to open on Thursday, after a vigorous cleaning. But one of the schools, Millennium Brooklyn High School, is choosing not to wait: Its website instructs students to report Wednesday to nearby P.S. 321.

Two other buildings that have served as shelters will not be ready to reopen to students on Wednesday because the city is reducing the number of evacuees staying in them. At Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, there are still 800 evacuees, and George Washington Campus in Manhattan received a new influx of people needing housing today, Polakow-Suransky said.

Students at five other campuses that have been used as shelters will return on Wednesday, most to buildings that still house some evacuees. Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts, where teachers decried conditions in the building last week, has been closed as a shelter site.

And among the schools in operation tomorrow, 35 still will not have heat. Department officials said they are providing warm meals and urging students to bundle up against the cold, which has become bitter this week.

Polakow-Suransky said the schools that are closed for an additional day will have to make the time up in the future, posing a scheduling challenge that grows as the days without classes stack up. But he said the department was trying whenever possible to urge students to learn outside of school.

And with a potentially damaging northeaster bearing down on the city, he emphasized that the department’s recovery has proceded swiftly given the magnitude of destruction after Sandy. On Sunday, more than 200 schools were without power and 65 schools were expected to have to relocated.

“Obviously the reason that we’re moving heaven and earth and why we’re pushing so hard to get these schools open is we want to have students in school,” Polakow-Suransky said.

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.”