meet the new boss

After 23 years, Canada stepping down as Harlem Children's Zone CEO

After 23 years at the helm, Geoffrey Canada is stepping down as CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, he announced Monday.

Anne Williams-Isom, the organization’s chief operating officer, will replace Canada on July 1, though Canada will remain president.

Over his tenure, the charismatic Canada has become synonymous with Harlem Children’s Zone, earning praise — and donations — from a broad spectrum of politicians and celebrities. The Harlem Children’s Zone, which offers comprehensive social services to families in a 97-block area and operates two charter schools, grew dramatically under Canada’s leadership and the charter school-friendly Bloomberg administration.

In front of hundreds of assembled staff members and students on Monday, Canada described his journey from experiencing Harlem as a young boy heading to church, when it appeared to be a neighborhood falling apart and where adults seemed to have “thrown in the towel,” to a recent Saturday afternoon sitting in the school’s newly-constructed gym watching students play basketball.

“This has been a love affair for me, Harlem Children’s Zone. And it’s a deeper love affair than most folks would know,” Canada said.

Williams-Isom, a lawyer, came to Harlem Children’s Zone in December 2009 from the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, where she worked for 13 years. Her challenge now will be to continue the organization’s trajectory, though Canada said today he will continue to be a visible presence and was not taking on another job.

“Anne knows what I do. Every day, there’s not one but two or three major crises that involve life or death of our children and families. Sometimes five. The calls come constantly. And the buck stops here, as it always has, and should always,” he said.

“That’s just going to be the way you live. And boy, have I been pleased,” Canada said of Williams-Isom’s commitment.

Williams-Isom will also be tasked with forging a new relationship with the city.

In addition to providing a comprehensive network of social services in central Harlem, Harlem Children’s Zone includes three charter schools. Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of well-financed charter school operators and school co-locations, but has pledged to expand the community-school model. Long before opening its own schools, the organization also prioritized early childhood education and after-school programs.

Canada’s choice of venue for the announcement illustrated one of those tensions.

He made the “state of the agency” address in the organization’s newest school building, located inside the St. Nicholas Houses and constructed with financial support from the city’s facilities matching grant program. The city’s latest capital plan indicated that de Blasio will shift the funding for that program to create additional pre-kindergarten seats.

But Williams-Isom played down any concerns about working with the city, and after the speeches introduced Jennifer Jones Austin, a co-chair of de Blasio’s transition team, as her best friend.

“For us, it’s never been about charter or non-charter—it’s about what works,” she said, and promised more collaboration with other public schools in the area.

After his speech, Canada said he and de Blasio see eye to eye on equity issues facing children. But he offered a measured critique of de Blasio’s positions on charter schools.

“I think to some degree this rhetoric has to calm down a little bit,” Canada said. “When you’re not mayor, I think it’s easy to pick and choose among kids. Once you’re mayor and they’re all your kids, I don’t know how you do anything other than say, I embrace this system. That’s what I’m counting on him to do.”

And though Canada has recently spent time warning college students across the country about the problems with the country’s entitlement spending policies, he has no ambitions to attempt to extend his fight against poverty on the state or national stage, he said.

“I think it’s a national problem, but it has to be solved locally,” he said. “I’m not sure how you get that national focus to make real impact at a local level.”

Correction: This story originally misstated the number of charter schools that Harlem Children’s Zone operates. It is two schools across three sites. 

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.