Vox populi

Comments of the Week: Our story on a parent activist goes meta

As soon as our story about Leonie Haimson, the prominent parent activist who ceased being a public school parent last summer, went live on Wednesday, comments applauding Haimson’s advocacy began rolling in.

Among the first to comment was Assembly Education Committee chair Cathy Nolan, who wrote as “freshmanmom,”

I love working with leonie haimson; her dedication, research skills, advocacy and passion are very helpful to me both as a parent of a nyc public school student and as the chair of the assembly’s education committee. Leonie has a right to send her child to whatever school she thinks is best for her child, especially after fighting for years to improve the public school system for all familes.

Later, Haimson herself added a comment and urged readers to visit her blog, NYC Public School Parents, to read the post she had published before seeing our story:

Thanks for the tremendous support from those of you who commented here, on the lists or privately; your friendship, understanding and support helps keep me going!

Many of Haimson’s supporters also questioned, sometimes with ferocity, whether we should have written the story at all. We have invited Kelly McBride, a media ethicist at the Poynter Institute, to weigh in on that question and on the question of how well our story accomplished its goals. We’ll publish her ombudsman-style response next week, no matter what she says.

For now, we’ll point you to what the public editor of the Education Writers Association, Emily Richmond, wrote when she discussed our story on her own blog today, in a post that also appeared at the Atlantic:

GothamSchools does have its defenders, including Robert Pondiscio, executive director of the civic education initiative CitizenshipFirst, who wrote on his public Facebook page that:

This piece is far from a hatchet job. A high-profile, fierce public school advocate decides to send her kids to private school? That meets the basic test for newsworthy and fair. And the piece is hardly an attack. Her would-be defenders are making this a much bigger deal than it needs to be by loading up Gotham Schools comments with intemperate overreactions.

I asked GothamSchools managing editor Philissa Cramer to explain the decision to run reporter Geoff Decker’s story, and here’s what she shared with me:

We spent a lot of time thinking about whether to do this story and took the decision seriously, as we do about all stories. We decided to do it because Leonie Haimson is a very public figure — now national — who has staked her credibility on being a public school parent. She has made that part of her identity and in turn has made her identity part of her argument. Given that context, we have a responsibility to report that her identity has changed. We aren’t saying anything about whether the change undermines her credibility. We’re saying, here’s a change in the facts, and here are some ways to think about the change based on reporting about how others think about them. We also appreciated the opportunity to report about the tension between personal school choice and political belief, which is a real and difficult part of the world we cover.

I also heard from Lindsey Christ, an education reporter at NY1 News who’s been following the controversy, and she emailed me the following:

You don’t need to be a public school parent to advocate for public school parents, but when someone bases a public profile on personal circumstances, it makes changes to those circumstances relevant. I’ve been assuming she still was a public school parent, based on how much she’d previously emphasized that as a key part of her identity, perspective and authority. I could have easily referred to her as a public school parent in a story, so in that sense, it’s misleading by omission.

Christ makes an important point: If for no other reason than accuracy in reporting, the disclosure was warranted. In their online comments, many of Haimson’s supporters are framing this as a personal attack that will hurt her political influence. But why should it? Does making a decision based on the needs of her own child really negate Haimson’s many years of advocacy? If entire communities benefit from a better public education system, shouldn’t all of us have a say, whether or not we have children in those schools?

At the same time, it’s understandable that the the enrollment status of a public education activist’s children might be considered pertinent information under certain circumstances. GothamSchools makes a strong case that its reporting met that threshold. But that’s probably not going to satisfy critics intent on shooting the messenger.

At least one of our readers came to the same conclusion. Juggleandhope wrote in the comments section:

If someone read just the comments it would seem like this article must have been a “gotcha” hit job on a well-loved champion of the common good. But actually the article carefully emphasizes multiple viewpoints – including eloquent quotes from Haimson and her defenders – on the issue of her family’s educational choices. Some comments have argued that personal and political should be separated – but Haimson herself has specifically argued against this. I can understand why people feel upset that a grassroots activist has been challenged about her credentials if they feel that the scrutiny hasn’t been evenly applied. But her blog is called, “New York City Public School Parents – independent voices of public school parents” and has served as an important voice in important debates – how can questioning the foundational self-description of an important member of the discourse be irrelevant?

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.”