moving on up

At critical moment, Merryl Tisch takes helm of state school board

The new Board of Regents chancellor, Merryl Tisch. (GothamSchools)
PHOTO: Chalkbeat Colorado
Merryl Tisch, sitting next to teachers union vice president Carmen Alvarez at the Manhattan Assembly hearing on mayoral control. (##

Merryl Tisch, a former first-grade teacher and member of one of the city’s most philanthropic families, will head the committee that oversees the state public schools, the Board of Regents, state officials just announced.

The other Regents elected Tisch to the title today at a critical moment for state education efforts. The Education Department in Albany is launching an internal restructuring, and the Regents are searching for a new commissioner to run the department.

Commissioner Richard Mills, who had served 14 years in the job, presiding over an ambitious raising of graduation standards, announced his plans to retire last year. The current Regents chancellor, Robert Bennett, of Buffalo, said he would step down from the position 10 days ago. Tisch has been vice chancellor of the board since 2007 and served on the board since 1996. Her term as chancellor begins April 1.

Though Tisch has been a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg, she has also occasionally criticized him and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein. She told the Times last year that she disagreed with Klein’s request for looser regulations on state funds. “Nobody appointed him czar,” she said. She also testified to a committee that mayoral control of the schools, which Bloomberg strongly supports, should be curtailed. I reported her testimony, which was originally secret, at the New York Sun

Yet Tisch’s plans for the state’s public schools, which she laid out in a long statement accepting the new position, sound many similar notes to the Bloomberg administration’s work in New York City. It also echoes the Obama administration’s plans for education.

She said she plans to expand the state data system so that it tracks students’ academic progress from pre-kindergarten to college. She said the Regents and the state education department they oversee will “embrace innovation with a data-driven approach.” She also voiced support for alternative paths to the teaching profession and said the state should be searching for more “excellent teachers” to work with at-risk students, including black and Latino students, those with disabilities, and students still learning English.

Tisch didn’t immediately return a phone call to her New York residence. You can read an official biography of her here, which includes a summary of Tisch’s many board memberships and her teaching experience — she taught first-grade at an elite private Jewish day school, Ramaz, and holds an Ed.D from Teachers College at Columbia.

Also today, the state Education Department announced that the counsel to the Regents and the department, Kathy Ahearn, is stepping down to pursue a new job in the private sector.

Here’s the full outline of Tisch’s plans for the state’s public schools:

Going forward, standards, accountability and innovation will be the
watchwords of this Board and the State Education Department.

As Chancellor, I will insist that we continue to raise standards for
all of our children and hold every school district accountable for their
results, while providing the support necessary to get that done.

We will reform and expand our data system to make it easier to use,
faster, and more complete, extending from pre-kindergarten through

We will embrace innovation with a data-driven approach that seeks to
constantly identify and advance policies and best practices to raise
test scores, raise graduation rates, and finally close the achievement

We will extend the call for greater accountability and higher standards
to our two year colleges so that all of our graduates are prepared to
succeed in the workplace or to achieve at a four year college or

We will continue to find new ways to recruit the best and brightest
into teaching and keep them there with an openness to alternate routes
to certification and experiments to reward excellence.

We will find new ways to increase the number of excellent teachers
working in schools with students who need extra help, including black
and Latino students, English Language Learners and students with

And we will move forward with the effort begun by Chancellor Bennett,
the Board of Regents, and Commissioner Mills to redesign the State
Education Department so that we can better support local innovation in
our highest performing districts and engage more deeply with districts
that are struggling and in need of additional support.

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

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.”