decision 2012

Teachers and students use Election Day to aid with Sandy relief


At Leon Goldstein High School of Sciences in Manhattan Beach, today’s professional development day is personal.

Perched on the water’s edge at the Kingsborough Community College campus, the school narrowly avoided serious flooding when Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhood last week.

When students returned on Monday, the school surveyed them about their families’ needs in the wake of the storm. Today, instead of hosting Election Day teacher training sessions, the school has been transformed into a disaster relief center, according to Kit Wainer, a teacher there.

“Teachers are making runs directly to the homes of students who filled out a questionnaire saying that they need food,” Wainer said.

In other parts of the city, parent associations are converting their usual Election Day bake sales into fundraisers for hurricane relief. And teachers are swapping planned professional development sessions for volunteer service.

(What’s happening today at your school? Let us know in the comments.)

It’s a switch that the Department of Education is facilitating, though not outright encouraging.

“Many school staff members have expressed a desire to volunteer at a shelter or other organized relief effort for Hurricane Sandy instead of attending the professional development activities at their school,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told principals by email on Monday afternoon. “If you give permission, staff members who wish to volunteer may do so tomorrow rather than report to school.”

Wainer, who is active in the MORE Caucus, a minority faction within the union that called for schools to use today to do outreach to their students, said he had heard from one teacher whose principal had refused her request for permission. But many others were receiving it.

The UFT organized contingents of teachers were already planning to help clean homes and deliver food and water in Staten Island, Rockaway Beach in Queens, and Coney Island in Brooklyn. To avoid having their absence marked against them, teachers who volunteer have to get a form signed by a site supervisor saying that they really pitched in.

While teachers labored inside or out of their school buildings today, students and parents went to work for hurricane relief in the lobbies. At many of the hundreds of schools that serve as polling sites, parent associations regularly hold bake sales to take advantage of the throngs of voters who crowd into the buildings.

Four years ago, schools were hoping that record voter turnout would translate into record bake sale revenues. This year, with turnout again expected to be high, some schools decided to devote their proceeds to hurricane relief.

A trio of Williamsburg schools held a bake sale to raise funds for a damaged school in Rockaway Park, Queens.

In Williamsburg, P.S. 84 has “adopted” P.S. 317 in Rockaway Park, Queens, where a former administrator is now principal, and P.S. 110 and P.S. 34 nearby have joined the extended family. Today, families from all three of the Brooklyn schools contributed to a multi-site bake saleto raise funds for P.S. 317, whose students will resume classes tomorrow at August Martin High School.

“For all the work we grownups have been doing, there hasn’t been much opportunity to involve our kids, especially the younger ones,” parent leader Debby Koenig wrote on her blog. “I wanted to include [my son], to show him how important it is to help others, so I came up with this scheme and the response has been amazing.”

Bake sales can be a significant source of revenue for parent associations, and some balanced their own needs with the needs of Hurricane victims. At P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, bake sale proceeds went to a scholarship fund to help low-income students at the school, but there was also a jar for Sandy relief donations. At M.S. 88 in Park Slope, 25 percent of bake sale proceeds were being earmarked for hurricane relief.

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.