changing tides

College Board ends school-support program amid shifting goals

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The College Board’s website still features the College Board Schools program, which ended after the last school year amid the group’s evolving priorities. About a dozen city schools lost support and funding due to the shift.

At the Preparatory Academy for Writers in Queens, being a College Board School meant tablet computers for students and weekend visits to Boston’s elite universities.

For Palisade Preparatory School in Yonkers, just north of New York City, a partnership with the maker of the SATs and the Advanced Placement program meant top-notch teacher training and a chance to collaborate with educators from the city — not to mention the iPads and college visits.

And at South Bronx Preparatory, the fact that a national organization had helped found their small school sparked pride in their alma mater.

“When kids say, ‘a College Board School,’ they feel something,” said South Bronx Prep Principal Ellen Flanagan.

Then, in June, the nearly decade-old College Board Schools program was quietly canceled. The schools lost the support and funding that they had been getting, in some cases since 2004.

“I feel like we’ve been thrown away and abandoned,” said Cynthia Schneider, principal of a former College Board School in Queens, World Journalism Preparatory.

The dozen city schools that had been part of the program, as well as schools upstate and in Baltimore, learned about the change in a June 3 letter from the program director, Helen Santiago.

Santiago explained that the College Board had “not been able to find a way to effectively deliver on the promise of this program at scale” and asked the schools to stop identifying themselves as College Board Schools. “The term no longer carries the meaning it once did,” she wrote.

The shuttering of the schools program came nearly a year into new leadership at the College Board. David Coleman, a former McKinsey & Company consultant and a chief craftsman of the Common Core standards, which New York and 45 other states have adopted, took over the test-making company in 2012. He said his focus would be on boosting equity and achievement in all grades, rather than simply on the college admissions process for which the College Board had become known.

In May, the organization laid off more than 100 employees as it restructured to reflect the new priorities.

John McGrath, the College Board’s vice president of communications, said the schools program had run its course and the organization had decided to invest its resources elsewhere.

“We have to make difficult resource-allocation decisions everyday,” McGrath said. “In the case of this program, we fulfilled the obligation we set out to do.”

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South Bronx Prep advertised its College Board affiliation on T-shirts. Now that the College Board has ended its schools program, the school has been told to stop advertising the relationship.

The College Board Schools program launched in 2004 to help districts create small middle schools and high schools that would push students to college. It began with grant money from the Gates Foundation — at the time a major sponsor of small schools — and later received Dell Foundation funds.

Eventually, 20 College Board Schools opened in New York, Maryland and Colorado. (West Leadership Academy in Denver is the only school still affiliated with the program, since it recently opened and remains under contract with the College Board.)

College Board staff were deeply involved in the schools’ design, going so far as help hand pick some school personnel, principals said.

They also offered coaching, leadership retreats and data-tracking support to the schools’ teachers and administrators, and helped them provide SAT prep, college counseling and intensive advisory sessions for students.

And then there was the money: $100,000 per school in few-strings-attached funding for their initial start-up years, then thousands more in later years, which could go towards technology, teacher training, college visits and more, according to principals.

“It really was a fantastic partnership,” said Palisade Prep Principal Michelle Yazurlo.

Still, the schools occasionally questioned parts of the program, as well as the College Board’s role in it.

The schools were encouraged to buy and adopt College Board’s academic curriculum, SpringBoard, even though some found it lacking, according to three principals.

And when one College Board-founded school, the Prep Academy for Writers, started to flounder, the program pulled out – until a new principal arrived and turned around the school, after which the program returned, according to the school’s current principal, Charles Anderson.

“The teachers here don’t think of the College Board as a support organization,” Anderson said. “They think of it more as the bad guy sometimes.”

Anderson and other principals speculated that the College Board’s decision to end the schools program was motivated by money.

“Once the [grant] funding went away, it seemed like the College Board didn’t have a huge stake in it,” Anderson said. “It was never really a financial [asset] for them.”

Schneider said she suspected that under Coleman, the College Board’s focus was narrowing to its most lucrative, marquee products – namely, its tests and AP program. “What they’re changing it up for is products and money,” she said.

A former College Board official, who asked to remain anonymous because the official was not authorized to speak about the program publicly, said that while the organization always keeps one eye on revenue, its decision in this case likely had more to do with impact.

“It was a lot of money invested in just a tiny number of schools,” the official said. “It makes sense for the College Board to focus on broader ways to have an impact on more children.”

Whatever its motives, the College Board’s decision has left a void at the schools.

Gone are the quarterly school counselor meetings at the College Board headquarters, the hands-on “implementation managers,” the brand-name partnership.

Without the funding, Anderson’s students take one-day trips to upstate New York or New Jersey schools, rather than weekend excursions to Massachusetts colleges.

South Bronx Prep’s Flanagan said she would “scrap around” to find the college-visit money – perhaps by postponing plans for a new Smart Board or laptop cart.

What really bothers her, she said, is the broken relationship between the College Board and her school.

“Our kids experience a lot of loss,” she said. “This is one more loss.”

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.”