community input

For de Blasio, a blueprint for launching community schools in the city

PHOTO: Facebook/New Settlement Community Center, Photo by Charles Chessler
M.S. 327 and P.S. 555 in the Bronx are housed in a state-of-the-art building where they provide support services and extra-curricular programs for students and their families. The city is planning to help 128 more schools offer similar services.

The Department of Education and the city’s new “Children’s Cabinet” could both be headed for an overhaul if Mayor Bill de Blasio follows a new slate of suggestions for supporting community schools, one of the mayor’s central education priorities.

The 81-page report, released Tuesday, comes as the de Blasio administration continues to plan its initiative to establish 100 community schools during its first term. Backed with a $52 million, four-year grant from the state, the city plans to launch programs this year at 40 schools, which will partner with outside organizations or city agencies to provide social services during and after the school day.

The report, produced by Children’s Aid Society and the Center for New York City Affairs with input from a range of city officials and de Blasio allies, is more detailed than most policy papers of its kind and likely to be influential. “Some of the strongest advocates for community schools now hold key positions of power in city government and are poised to convert the current piecemeal set of efforts into a system-wide strategy,” the report notes — advocates that include Richard Buery, the former head of the Children’s Aid Society who is now heading the city’s community schools effort.

The report underscores the importance of city agencies working together to help schools become hubs of social services. (Roughly 100 city schools already offer such services, which range from free eye and dental care to counseling and job training for parents and family members.) Offering those services after school hours requires outside providers to spend money on custodial staff and security, for example — a complicated and expensive process that city agencies could streamline.

Most specifically, the paper suggests reimagining the makeup and mission of the de Blasio’s newly-created “Children’s Cabinet” so that it guides the community schools initiative. The cabinet, headed by Buery, first convened the heads of 22 city agencies in April to improve child welfare by providing new avenues for communication.

But “that set of goals is too narrow to maintain the long-term interest of participating agencies and the public” and the group too unwieldy to make fast-paced changes, the report’s authors write. Instead, they suggest a leaner collection of 10 agency commissioners partner with the existing advisory board for the community schools initiative.

Parts of the Department of Education should also be restructured, the writers say, suggesting a new office of school-community partnerships and going so far as to list the names of top officials to helm not-yet-created committees (suggesting a “coordinating team” be overseen by Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson, for example).

The report’s writers note that community schools will need new measures of accountability. Schools’ Comprehensive Education Plans should be rewritten to account for how partnerships with outside organizations match up with the school’s other strategies for lifting student achievement. Principal and school evaluations could also take into account how well community schools work with outside organizations and welcome families into their schools.

A spokesperson for de Blasio said the administration was reviewing the report’s recommendations, and said the schools and outside organizations that will be included in the initial 40-school program will be announced later in the fall. At Tuesday’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, Chancellor Carmen Fariña reiterated her support for community schools, noting that arts and “health and wellness” programs should be considered by schools looking for partnerships.

Here is the full report:

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.