Tisch Talk

Top state education official criticizes city’s school networks

During a panel discussion Monday, Merryl Tisch said that "networks have basically failed children" who are English-language learners or who have special needs.
During a panel discussion Monday, Merryl Tisch said that “networks have basically failed children” who are English-language learners or who have special needs.

The next mayor should “reconsider” the current system of school-support networks, State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said Monday, adding her voice to a chorus of critics – including mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio – who have questioned the signature Bloomberg education policy.

“Me, if I were going to take over the school system, I would look heavily to change the networks,” Tisch said during a panel discussion hosted by the nonprofit group, PENCIL.

“I think the networks have basically failed children who are [English-language learners],” added Tisch, who is due to defend the state’s education policies at a state senate hearing Tuesday. “They have failed children who have special needs.”

Under the $90 million network system, principals choose from about 55 Department of Education or nonprofit-run support providers, which assist schools with teacher training, budgeting and more.

The networks emerged as part of a major school-system overhaul under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that shifted power from district superintendents to individual principals, who became more accountable for student performance.

Proponents argue that the network system enables principals to partner with like-minded leaders, regardless of geography, in the process eliminating the patronage system that thrived when superintendents held sway.

But critics charge that some networks do little to aid their member schools, while separating schools from their communities and cutting locals out of the decision-making.

Earlier this year, de Blaiso, the Democratic mayoral candidate who enjoys a commanding lead in the polls, said he was “dubious about whether this current network structure can be kept,” adding later that parents need “to be able to talk to someone at the district level.”

The Republican candidate, Joe Lhota, has not commented publicly on the issue. His campaign staff did not respond to a request for his position Monday.

During the panel talk and in a follow-up interview, Tisch praised much of Bloomberg’s education agenda, such as his support of charter schools, and urged the incoming mayor to “choose from the wonderful smorgasbord of things this administration has done.”

But she singled out the networks as a policy with a mixed track record, saying they had been “hit or miss” in boosting schools, leaving some principals feeling “very lonely and abandoned in their work” – particularly the work of educating students with special needs.

She added that she had yet to find a small-sized support provider that could adequately serve every school in a network spread over multiple boroughs.

“Networks needs to be reconsidered – how they work and how they’re managed,” Tisch said in the interview.

Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy schools chancellor who led the design of the networks, forcefully defended the system in an interview, saying it was at the “center of the reforms” under Bloomberg that raised the graduation rate by 30 percent.

“It’s wonderful that people in authority offer opinions that aren’t aligned with the data,” he quipped when told of Tisch’s comments.

Nadelstern said the networks stamped out the corruption of the district system – where politicians would dole out jobs and school seats as gifts – while also slashing costs, since each network employs about 15 people, compared to some 120 staffers in the old district offices, he said.

He also argued that networks allow educators to collaborate across economic lines and that network staff visit schools much more often than superintendents’ staffs did.

The education department also considers the networks a major advancement over the old districts, even going so far as to hire a consulting firm this year to devise ways to keep the system in tact under the next administration.

Erin Hughes, a department spokeswoman, said Monday that networks “replaced a corrupt, patronage-ridden district structure with teams of professional educators, and turning back the clock would be an injustice to our principals, teachers and students.”

She also said the department added nearly 70 new network coaches and supervisors in the past couple years to aid schools during the special-education overhaul.

Tisch did not recommend specific changes to the network system, but another panelist did.

Ernest Logan, president of the city principals union, said that oversight of schools’ budgets and personnel should be returned from networks to superintendents, which would provide clarity to principals.

“People need a boss,” he said.

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.