September 9, 2013
Most folks have a first-day-of-school ritual, from sharpening pencils for teachers to taking pictures for parents to donning a fresh outfit for students. For us at GothamSchools, it’s racing across the city to visit as many school communities as we can.
This year, we have four reporters who will be traversing the five boroughs today to meet teachers, families, and politicians who are heading back to school today. With the city’s primary elections set for Tuesday, many candidates plan to use the first day of school to stump for votes. Mayor Bloomberg will also make a last first-day appearance at a Washington Heights high school this morning.
Follow Anika Anand, Sarah Darville, Geoff Decker, and Emma Sokoloff-Rubin on Twitter for the latest updates, and check back here for longer dispatches throughout the day. (Remember, the reports are posted in reverse chronological order, so if you want to read from the beginning of the day, start at the end and scroll up.)
5 p.m. The first day of school has come to an end (except for the students at 20 middle schools who still have half an hour left in their extended day programs). We’re signing off after visiting more than a dozen schools in all five boroughs — but we’ll be back to school tomorrow, to cover day two and the city’s primary election. For folks whose eyes can handle more reading, don’t forget our voters guides and The Next Education Mayor feature.
4:49 p.m. Outside the South Bronx Academy for Applied Media this afternoon, three eighth-graders were debriefing the first day of school and let Emma in on their conversation.
“It wasn’t the same as it was last year,” Aryon Holley said about the secondary school.
“They made it strict,” her friend Destiny Frazier said, backing her up.
“They made it better academically but there’s less freedom for the students,” Holley said. “They switched our classes around and there are a lot of new teachers.”
“We have to get used to it,” said a third girl, Achaton Sounah.
“I think it’s for the better,” Holley concluded.
4:35 p.m. For Channel View School for Research in Far Rockaway, the new year offers a chance to reverse fortunes.
Last year left the school’s culture out of equilibrium after a months-long relocation after Superstorm Sandy. The school stayed open over the summer, bringing in many students whose attendance lagged after the storm for extra work before starting ninth grade. Older students also took Regents preparation courses, and a small group worked on a project to restore sensitive plant life that was destroyed at the nearby Jamaica wildlife reserve.
Six months after the storm, Craig Dorsi, the school’s union leader, said Channel View was still devastated. Today, he told Geoff that things had changed again for the better.
“I think a lot of the systems we had in place helped preserve everything,” said Dorsi, who recruited 13 students for the planting restoration project.
Sandy’s impact can still be felt, though. A private security detail, which Dorsi called “human fire detectors,” are stationed on each end of every hallway as well as in bunches in the lobbies and outside the school because the fire alarms never worked properly after the building was flooded. And the sports field, which boosters hoped would be fixed in time for this fall, is still off limits.
4:25 p.m. The first afternoon of the new extended day program at I.S. 3o in Brooklyn was devoted mostly to snack and attendance logisitics, Anika reports.
After dismissal, sixth-graders were ushered into the auditorium, where Principal Carol Heeraman welcomed them to the school and asked an important question: How many had signed forms allowing them to stay for an extra two and a half hours each day as part of the city’s Middle School Quality Initiative? Only a handful of students raised their hands, and the rest were dismissed with instructions to get their parents to sign on.
One student, Emad Rabah, raised his hand and asked, “What if my mom doesn’t want me to stay?” He later told Anika that his mother would prefer him to leave at the regular time to pick up his younger brother from school.
Heeraman told Rabah to have his mother speak to her. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for each of you,” the principal said.
Annette Scaduto, director of operations with NIA Community Services Network, the nonprofit providing the after-school programming, said she hoped to be able to work with all parents to allow them to send their kids to the after school program. But most families will have a choice about whether to participate, she said, adding that school officials tried to sell the program at a June orientation but did not know how many students would attend until today, when about 25 of 130 sixth-graders stayed on for snacks and “getting-to-know-you” activities.
The school plans to screen sixth-graders in the coming weeks and will “mandate” attendance for students who could especially benefit from extra literacy instruction, Scaduto said.
A student came out of the school and told her mom that she had to be in the after-school program. Her mother, Filiez Yumusak, was shocked by the news. But she said she was fine with the change because her daughter loves school and would stay there all day if she could. “It’s good because it will create more opportunities for her,” Yumusak said.
3 p.m. The school day is over at P.S./I.S. 30 in Brooklyn, but the sixth-graders aren’t going anywhere. That’s because the school is part of the city’s Middle School Quality Initiative, which this year is funding two and a half extra hours of instruction every day for sixth graders at 20 participating schools. Anika will be staying late for a view into what an extended first day of school looks like.
2:55 p.m. Not everything is fun and games on the Columbus campus today. Emma spotted a student looking longingly onto the field where Collegiate Institute of Mathematics students spent the afternoon in team-building activities. The student was a senior at Christopher Columbus High School who said he had tried for two years to transfer to CIMS, ever since the city decided to close Columbus.
The student, who declined to give his name because he planned to apply again at an enrollment center for a transfer, said he had been offered spots at other schools but was holding out for CIMS. “Here, they’re more motivated,” he said, motioning to the CIMS students. “Just being around it makes you want to … Columbus is so dark.”
The first day at Columbus, which is in its final year of phasing out, was “dull,” he said. “”You know you’re in a bad school and you’re just trying to get out. Even in the same building there’s a big gap.”
Upon learning that other students had come up short when seeking high school transfers out of low-performing schools, he reacted with surprise. “So I’m not the only one going through this?” he asked Emma.
2:47 p.m. P.S./M.S. 30 in Brooklyn boasts the city’s first Arabic dual language program for elementary school students. (The city’s first school to focus on Arabic, Khalil Gibran International Academy, closed its middle school this summer after a troubled six years.) You can tell which classrooms house dual-language classes because all of the posters on the walls are in both Arabic and English.
2:45 p.m. It’s dismissal time at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, which shares a block in Lower Manhattan with the New York Police Department. Teachers at the school say the beginning of the year, the first with other schools sharing Bergtraum’s building, has been uncommonly rocky, in large part because many teachers have left amid shrinking enrollment, plummeting performance, and changing leadership.
One student, a junior, described the first day as “chaos,” saying the school assigned him a teacher who left last year and had him waiting in a technology room during a period in which he should have math. But other students told Sarah that the first day had gone well.
2:36 p.m. Among the teenagers at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science’s back-to-school activities today was a young woman who has returned to the school despite graduating in June.
Luz Feliciano donned a blazer for her first day as a student aide, a paid position that has her monitoring hallways, ushering students to classes, and assisting teachers during a gap year before college.
Feliciano said seeing her former teachers get ready for the school year was an education in itself. “It’s like watching a movie behind the scenes, how they prepare all the stuff they need for the year,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was so much.”
She’s in a unique position for a new employee: she knows almost everyone. Current students and teachers kept coming over to say hello, including her former English teacher, whom Feliciano introduced as “Ms. Torrente.”
What’s Torrente’s first name? Feliciano’s reply: “I don’t know — yet.”
2:20 p.m. For his last stop of the day, Chancellor Dennis Walcott is at P.S./M.S. 30 in Brooklyn, which also opened in a new building this year. A centerpiece of the design is a show-stopping stained glass window salvaged from the church that formerly stood in the location.
2:17 p.m. The Collegiate Institute for Math and Science, a small school on the Columbus Campus in the Bronx, is holding an ice-breaker activity for its students and staff on the school’s football field this afternoon.
CIMS is one of the oldest of the most recent wave of small schools in the city and originally got support from the Gates Foundation before Gates turned away from funding small high schools. Once the only school to share space with Christopher Columbus High School, CIMS is now one of seven schools in the building. Two of them, including Columbus itself, will close at the end of the year due to poor performance.
CIMS teachers are wearing T-shirts with the school’s slogan: “Private school education at a public school price.”
1:50 p.m. Also found at 131 Livingston St. in Brooklyn: Ali Shama, who until recently was the principal of Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Shama is the Department of Education’s new director of principal evaluation, a position that gains new significance with the advent of a new principal evaluation system this year.
Shama’s job this year is to visit 70 schools and collect information on the job that principals are doing, then provide feedback and development for the superintendents and other officials whose visits will count toward principals’ ratings for the first time in years.
1:49 p.m. Like most of the schools that Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited this year, P.S./I.S. 48 on Staten Island is housed in a gleaming new building, complete with a “gymatorium.” The unique room has ballet bars, mirrors, and retractable seating and can be used as an auditorium or gym
Standing in the hallway, a first grader walked out of a classroom and his teacher directed him to the bathroom. Looking confused, the student looked at Principal Jacqueline Mammolito, who was also standing in the hallway, and she directed another teacher to show him where the bathroom was. “They don’t know where anything is. It’s their first day at a brand-new school,” she said.
A few steps away, a staff member rolls boxes in on a cart to the music room — they’re new instruments. The music room has soundproofed walls and three private practice rooms as well as a beautiful view of Lower Manhattan’s skyline. “I think this is my favorite room,” Mammolito said.
1:45 p.m. More frustration at the enrollment center at Fashion Industries High School, via Sarah: Like so many people at the center, Elizabeth Watkins is confused about why she needs to be here. She thought her son Cajuan, a ninth grader, was registered for the High School for Law, Advocacy, and Community Justice on the Martin Luther King campus in Manhattan and had even bought him uniforms for the school last week.
But this morning, Cajuan was told he wasn’t actually on the school’s register, and the waiting game is just beginning for them and Watkins’ young daughter Morgan at the enrollment center. “I feel horrible,” she said. “I took one day off of work and I don’t know if I need to take more.”
1:35 p.m. Geoff spent the lunch hour at 131 Livingston St. in Brooklyn, a Department of Education office building that houses an enrollment center just for students with disabilities.
But the first person he met had been directed there mistakenly.
“They sent me to a special education center and I’m not special ed,” said Amanda Irizarry. She moved here from Chicago a month ago and first tried to get into Grover Cleveland High School, the Queens school that her brother attends.
She was sent to 131 Livingston, which handles placement for students with individualized education plans, and involves a process that often leaves exiting parents frustrated that their child can’t begin school right away.
Irizarry was placed instead in Long Island City High School, but she is stopping by Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the city’s nine general education enrollment centers, to see if she has other options.
131 Livingston was the right destination for another family that Geoff met. Tisha Sanders said she’s long wanted her her son, Michael Davis, to go to a District 75 school, which serves only students with the most severe needs. But he was placed in one of the small high schools on the John Jay Campus by the city’s enrollment office. Sanders is seeking a new placement after a school administrator told her that the school didn’t offer the kinds of small classes that Michael’s IEP requires.
All schools are supposed to meet the IEP needs of any students who apply and enroll in the entry grades as part of a citywide reform meant to integrate students with special needs in mainstream classrooms. While the limited early data that the city has released hinted at some positive impact on a broad scale last year, individual families and schools have said the changes have not gone smoothly.
“I’m like my son’s advocate, you know?” Sanders said today. “He’s not just a number.”
1:17 p.m. Sarah has found a happier camper at the Fashion Industries High School enrollment center. Although the lines are incredibly long with families seeking school seats, Kisha Mercer says she can’t complain — her son seems to be on his way to a better school placement. Mercer said the woman who filled out her paperwork was a familiar face and was getting things done quickly, even telling Mercer she could step outside for some fresh air for a couple minutes as she finished the process.
“At his old school, he was fighting every other day,” Mercer said about her son, sixth-grader Marquise McCray. “He’s starting a new chapter now, a better one.”
She said she anticipates Marquise will start tomorrow. “God willing, I hope so,” she said. “I don’t want to have to be here and do this again.”
1:10 p.m. It’s the quiet before the storm at the Allerton branch of the New York Public Library in the Bronx, workers there told Emma. The children’s room upstairs is nearly empty, but the librarian said it will fill up once school gets out this afternoon, and until then she’s grateful for a few minutes of quiet.
“The absence of kids in the streets on the walk here from Dewitt Clinton is another reminder of how the start of classes changes the feel of the city, and not only on school grounds,” Emma writes.
Inside the library, computer screens still display brightly colored instructions for “how to sign up for summer reading.” At the circulation desk, someone is calling around to other branches, trying to locate a copy of Judy Blume’s “Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing” for a mother whose child must desperately want to read it. “I don’t know what’s going on with that book,” the librarian says during her fourth phone call. “Everyone says they have it and then it’s not there.”
1:03 p.m. Anika was supposed to be at P.S./M.S. 48 on Staten Island by now, but the Department of Education’s press van inexplicably delivered reporters instead to I.S. 7, nine miles and nearly half an hour’s drive away.
12:40 p.m. Sarah has spent the last little while at Fashion Industries High School, one of nine enrollment centers the city operates at the start of the school year to help families who still need school placements.
She met a group of five — four students and a mother — who spent the day trying to avoid a first day at the Choir Academy of Harlem, but it looks like they’ve just delayed it. Charisse Gibbs said her son came to her a few days ago concerned about going back to the school, saying he felt unsafe. Gibbs knows the school is phasing out due to poor performance, and two new schools have moved into the space, adding to their worries.
But Gibbs didn’t know ahead of time what qualifies students to switch high schools, and officials at the enrollment center here said her explanation wasn’t enough to reassign her children, Jacquese and Janita, or their cousins Kamisha and James. (High school transfers are typically awarded only for medical reasons, when a student’s one-way commute exceeds 75 minutes, or when a safety issue has necessitated police involvement. An initiative to allow students to leave phaseout schools provided an escape hatch, but the deadline to take advantage of it passed months ago.)
“Waiting on three lines in there, sitting on a hard chair since 9 a.m., just to be told no,” Gibbs said, trailing off. “Three and a half hours.”
Noon Anika is on her way now to Staten Island, where Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the reporters tagging along with him will visit P.S./I.S. 48, a new school opened in an historic building to relieve overcrowding in other schools. In the past, the city usually scheduled the Staten Island visit last in the day, and most reporters peeled off for it, but this year the borough is coming before Brooklyn on the chancellor’s itinerary.
11:50 a.m. The star of the first movie produced this year at the Academy for Careers in Film and Television is Chancellor Dennis Walcott. After Walcott watched a class learn how to operate a film dolly on the fifth floor of the school’s new building in Long Island City, school officials recruited him to step in as an actor. Michelle Andrade, the senior who intends to go straight into the film industry, operated the camera with the help of other students in her class as Walcott walked deliberately across the school’s terrace, stopping in front of a picture window with a view onto Manhattan. See the dramatic scene below:
The film school, which got a new principal midway through last year, isn’t the only school in the new building. At Hunters Point Community Middle School, located on another floor, students kicked off the year with activities focused on the school’s core values: scholarship, creativity, and community. A first-day assignment had sixth-graders reading a New York Times profile of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:
11:29 a.m. Here’s possible evidence that the city’s new curriculum materials are indeed on their way, as Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised this morning: Emma saw a UPS worker make three trips into P.S./M.S. 20 in the Bronx. Some of the boxes he was unloading were labeled “Scholastic Reading Club.” Scholastic produced a literacy curriculum that the city recommended for middle schools, saying that it is particularly sound for English language learners, who make up a quarter of P.S./M.S. 20′s students.
11:20 a.m. At the Academy for Careers in Film and Television in Queens, Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s third stop of the day, student Michelle Andrade is starting the school year with a camera in hand. Andrade, a senior, said she wants to be a camera operator, an aspiration influenced by her high school career, and plans to go straight into the workforce after graduation in June.
“When I first came here freshman year I took a production class,” she told Anika. “When I touched the camera I loved it instantly.”
10:53 a.m. The best part of the new school year for Erica and Jessica, stylish new sixth-graders at the Manhattan School for Children, is that their planners are holographic. When you move the planners, the girls explained, the covers go from displaying flags to displaying cows.
10:25 a.m. One thing that’s not clear this morning is just how big of a problem it is that schools don’t have all of the materials yet that they need to roll out new curriculums tied to the Common Core standards.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew — who has been sounding the alarm about teachers’ lack of preparation for the new standards for months — said he had heard complaints from teachers who had been told they would have the materials in hand for the first day of school but ended the weekend without what they needed. A Staten Island teacher whom Mulgrew wished good luck on Sunday evening told him that she didn’t know what she would be teaching today, he said.
But Chancellor Dennis Walcott said “99.9 percent” of curriculum materials had in fact made their way to schools, with the remaining “.1 percent” due to arrive by the end of the day on Tuesday. Jonathan Kaplan, the interim principal of P.S. 93 in the Bronx, where the chancellor’s tour made a stop, said the school had received almost all of its textbooks on Saturday but said the late arrival would not negatively affect the first days of school.
10:24 a.m. In a kindergarten classroom at Icahn Charter School 7 in the Bronx, Ms. Smith asks students to sing a song with her to learn the days of the week. As she moves on to the months of the year, she lands on September and one student’s hand shoots up. “Excuse me! My birthday is in September!” Then a couple other students raise their hands and say, “Me, too.”
“One second, there are too many friends talking,” the teacher says kindly but sternly before redirecting conversation to the weather.
The new school opened today, the seventh in a network of Bronx charter schools. “They’ve been in class for 15 minutes and they’re already learning,” said Gail Icahn, whose billionaire husband funds the schools, about a first-grade class where students brainstormed feelings about the first day of school.
Most schools in the Icahn network occupy their own space, although Icahn 7 shares space with P.S. 93, and the network has never been a public player in the charter sector’s political fights. But Gail Icahn spoke today about her fears for charter schools after Mayor Bloomberg leaves office. Current Democratic mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has pledged to charge rent to charter schools that occupy public space, and other Democratic candidates have said they plan to impose a moratorium on new space-sharing arrangements.
“It’s very worrisome because we can see not every charter school is great but ours certainly is in our opinion,” she said. “It would be a pity, but we also understand that politicians have to say things to get elected, and I’m sure that any reasonable person will see once they are in position of being mayor that charter schools only enhance children’s futures.”
10:22 a.m. Snapshots of State Education Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in upstate classrooms are flowing on Twitter. Why aren’t they in New York City schools? A State Education Department spokesman says they will be, on Wednesday.
10:19 a.m. The city has just distributed the full text of Mayor Bloomberg’s comments at Gregorio Luperon High School today. We’ve reprinted them here. In addition to praising the school and discussing the difficulty of learning Spanish, Bloomberg also reflected on his most influential teachers and wished Chancellor Dennis Walcott a happy birthday. Walcott turned 62 over the weekend; two years ago, he got — but declined to eat — a birthday cake as a gift from students at the end of his first-day tour.
10:15 a.m. Here’s a video of Bill de Blasio responding earlier to competitor Bill Thompson’s characterization of his plan to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten in New York City as an “unreal fantasy proposal.” Unsurprisingly, de Blasio — who was speaking outside P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens, dismissed the criticism, which he has heard and rejected before.
10:14 a.m. Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s second stop of the day is at Icahn Charter School 7 in the Bronx, where first-graders have already brainstormed a list of feelings about the first day of school and learned a song about the calendar. The city chose Icahn for a visit because the network’s 1,500 students scored 30 percent higher than the city average on this year’s Common Core state tests, according to a fact sheet the Department of Education distributed.
10:09 a.m. People have been filing in and out of Dewitt Clinton High School all morning. Emma reports meeting graduates in search of their report cards; parents and kids who were granted travel transfers at enrollment centers trying to finalize registrations; parents hoping their kids can duck out to give them a copy of their schedules before classes begin; and students who attend night school trying to change their schedules.
Derreck Brooks said he was assigned to night school at Dewitt Clinton when he started ninth grade, even though he hadn’t asked for the schedule, but now, as a junior, wants to switch to the regular schedule — “day school,” as he called it — so he can work at night. He said he was told today, “There ain’t no space. There are two new schools in there.” Brooks said he’ll go to night school tonight and try to switch out of it. If he can’t, he said he’ll try to switch his work schedule.
10:04 a.m. Christine Quinn eventually did run into some parents outside the Manhattan School for Children, where she pushed her record on making kindergarten mandatory and insisted that she would reduce the emphasis on standardized testing if she becomes mayor.
Jane Escolastico’s daughter Julia is starting first grade and son Jeremy is starting fifth grade. She said she’s voting for Quinn not because of anything she heard today but because she remembers Quinn helping advocate for a gym and an elevator where her oldest son went to high school, the NYC iSchool in Tribeca. “I’ve seen her in action working hand in hand with schools,” she said.
Another mother, Jenny Falcon, said she hadn’t made up her mind. She pressed Quinn about her support for charter schools, saying, “You need to make new public schools, not just new charter schools.” When Quinn continued her pitch, emphasizing her plan to add schools citywide, Falcon pressed on. “Not just charter schools,” she said. “If you’re mayor, please, really!”
10 a.m. The first day of school isn’t the only item on the agenda for the Department of Education today. It’s also holding a meeting about all of the school space changes planned for Brooklyn this morning at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Carrie Marlin, the department’s portfolio director for Brooklyn, is presenting the plans to a smattering of parents and members of the public.
Though Bloomberg has just four months left in his term, he’s approved or proposed 54 school siting plans that wouldn’t take effect until at least the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. Ten changes to how Brooklyn schools’ space is used are on the agenda for next month’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, including five new charter school co-locations, which often draw controversy.
Mayoral candidates who could inherit the plans have criticized the department’s timeline. “I’m not going to let him make those decisions today for me tomorrow,” Bill Thompson said last week. “I’m going to make my own decisions.”
9:48 a.m. Lakishia Fraizier’s youngest daughter is in tears as they leave World View High School, one of two new schools on the Dewitt Clinton campus where Fraizier’s middle daughter just started ninth grade. The toddler didn’t want to leave.
“We’ll get you registered for school soon too,” Fraizer said.
Asked what she thinks of World View, Fraizier said, “I won’t know until she gets home and tells me how it was. I’ve got to wait until that decision comes in.”
9:44 a.m. Christine Quinn’s second school visit of the day is to the Manhattan School for Children, on the Upper West Side. She is calling attention to the fact that today is the first day that New York City children are required to attend kindergarten, under a new law that she was instrumental in initiating.
But it’s not a drop-off or pick-up time for the school, and the sidewalk is sparsely populated. Sarah reports that the school’s superintendent came outside to ask why Quinn, her coterie, and a slew of reporters and photographers were on site. “There are no parents!” the official said.
9: 31 a.m. A large press gaggle, far bigger than the one trailing Bill Thompson, joined mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio for his school visit at P.S. 58 in Brooklyn. He noted that as a school board member and then as a city councilman representing the area, he had helped the school secure funding to overhaul its playground and library.
Not every P.S. 58 parent has always been happy with de Blasio’s support. A woman who interacted with de Blasio as a member of the school’s parent-teacher association more than a decade ago says she is still angry at de Blasio for not doing more to rein in the district’s overspending superintendent at the time. Christine Quinn’s campaign cited the parent’s criticism as evidence that de Blasio allowed the mismanagement to occur, although what actually happened is less clear.
9:24 a.m. At P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens, where mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio is making a campaign stop, most parents declined to speak to reporters. Asked about the mayoral election, one woman suggested the many parents at the school would not be able to vote, telling Geoff, “Oh, you’ve hit the European crowd.”
P.S. 58 draws families from across Brooklyn to its dual-language French program, which attracts native speakers and English speakers alike. John Gibson commutes with his son, a fifth-grader in the French program, from Bedford-Stuyvesant every day.
“We should send our kids to the local schools but we don’t,” he said, adding that he’s involved with the community in other ways. He said his neighbors give him a hard time for moving into the neighborhood but not sending kids to school there.
Gibson and other parents spent the minutes after drop-off discussing their children’s scores on this year’s state tests, the first to be tied to the Common Core standards. Gibson said his son had done well on the fourth-grade exam, a factor in admission to selective middle schools, but other parents said they were concerned. Citywide, 24 percent of students in grades three through eight reached the state’s new proficiency bar in reading, and 30 percent reached that bar in math.
9 a.m. The security line at Dewitt Clinton High School is clear but stragglers are still streaming in as the school day starts, Emma reports.
8:52 a.m. Student protesters at Stuyvesant High School nabbed a small win this morning as the school day started. As students started pulling their posters down and heading inside, a school official approached the student with the megaphone, thanked him for being respectful, and offered a meeting with the school’s network leader and principal, Jie Zhang.
8:43 a.m. The student protest at Stuyvesant High School to support Assistant Principal Randi Damesek, who was removed over her part in a cheating scandal, is winding to a close — hours earlier than originally planned. The plan for a full-day protest was amended after administrators threatened suspensions in an email to parents Sunday night, one protestor said.
Students said they’d learned lessons from previous protests like last year’s Slutty Wednesdays protests against the dress code, where they broke one rule but avoided breaking any others.
Junior Miad Hoque, who was among 50 students participating in the protest at its peak, said loosening the dress code has never been on his agenda — he wears a suit to school every day, today included. But Damesek’s removal bothered him, both because he believes the city’s findings were blown out of proportion and because he said she made an impact at a big school.
“She’d buy you food, help you home,” Hoque said. “At a school with three thousand people, guidance counselors can only do so much.”
Terrified-looking freshmen mostly avoided the protest. “Who’s Damesek?” some asked each other. “I’m just worried about that,” another said, pointing at the front door.
A school official, who wouldn’t identify himself, is still trying to convince Hoque and others to go inside. “You ask about due process? That’s exactly what’s taking place. I don’t know why you’d want to jeopardize your futures,” he said to a small group of protestors.
8:36 a.m. At Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, the lines of students waiting to pass through metal detectors stretches far away from the school building — the boys line inexplicably longer than the girls.
“We needed more people working at the scanners. We just got them now,” new Principal Santiago Taveras told Manuel Batista, the New York Police Department deputy inspector in charge of safety at the school.
Batista said he worked in the area last year, too, and knew Taveras’s predecessor and Clinton’s staff well. “It’s important to keep up that continuity, especially on the first day,” he said, adding that he would stop by to speak with Taveras in more depth later this week.
8:31 a.m. Speaking outside the Bed-Stuy school where his mother Elaine taught for many years, Bill Thompson said today that “it’s hard to say” how she would have performed on the new teacher evaluation system rolling out for city teachers this year.
“She was a good teacher but it’s so convoluted,” he said. “It’s so confusing.”
But he said that if she had been a teacher under the Bloomberg administration “and been forced to teach to the test, she would have been very depressed.”
8:22 a.m. Students returning to many schools today will see an unfamiliar installation in their lobbies. The New York Times reports:
But what are those big gray metal things?
Those are old-style voting machines, children.
On Tuesday, grownups will file into them to vote in primaries for mayor, comptroller and other offices.
(They will use lever machines because officials were concerned that new scanning ones could not handle primaries followed by runoffs.)
“The machines are in the building,” said Ronald Landry, a teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the Upper East Side. “The kids sometimes ask about that.”
Schools will remain open for the primary, when 650 will be polling sites, but will be closed Nov. 5 for Election Day. (If last year is any guide, some charter schools will probably choose to hold classes that day.)
Bloomberg walked into the room to applause before introducing Principal Juan Villar, who noted that this year is the school’s 20th. ”Ten years ago we were gasping for fresh air,” Villar said, thanking Bloomberg and Walcott for their help in getting Luperon its new building five years ago.
Bloomberg praised the 500-student school, which has gotten A’s from the city each year the Department of Education has graded schools, and offered tips to its students. “Here’s some advice from someone who is about to be unemployed in three months —work hard,” Bloomberg told the students in his only allusion to politics on the eve of the city’s primary election.
Sitting quietly in the second row, ninth-grader Cynthia Mora listens while clasping a green piece of paper with the school’s bell schedule and a pink piece of paper with her class schedule. Speaking in Spanish, she says she is most excited for her Spanish for native speakers class.
Acknowledging that almost all students at Luperon are English language learners, Bloomberg said learning Spanish has been the hardest thing he’s ever done. He said he takes a lesson every day and plans not to die until his Spanish rivals a native speaker’s. “My Spanish tutor says I’ll live a very long life at the rate I’m going,” said Bloomberg, who did not use the language at the event.
8:16 a.m. Among Dewitt Clinton High School’s new ninth-graders is Rukhsana Rafi Dull’s older daughter, who moved here from Pakistan five months ago and attended a city middle school for just a few weeks.
“She feels scared, anxiety,” Rafi Dull told Emma, watching from the back of the driveway as her daughter waited in Clinton’s long security line. She said she is reserving judgment about the school, which narrowly avoided closure last year and will shrink instead. “I don’t know about any of it because it’s our first experience with the school. When she has learned here for one year, then I talk about the school,” Rafi Dull said.
She waited until her daughter got to the front of the line and entered the red double front doors. ”My daughter has gone,” she said, and turned to leave.
8:08 a.m. Sarah snapped this photo of the students rallying to support Assistant Principal Randi Damesek. “Take up a sign, it’s her career on the line,” they shout, led by Jack Cahn, the senior who protested being knocked out of contention for student body president last year.
8:06 a.m. Bill Thompson isn’t the only candidate to turn a school into a campaign stop today. Christine Quinn will visit three schools in Manhattan and Queens as part of a 24-hour push before the primary, according to her campaign, and Bill de Blasio plans to greet families at P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens this morning. John Liu didn’t name his son’s school on his daily schedule but noted that he would drop Joey off “at first day of public school” on the Upper West Side.
Comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer started his last day of campaigning outside I.S. 71 Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Williamsburg, which has skirted the city’s closure list for several years.
8:02 a.m. Sarah’s next stop is at Stuyvesant High School, where students have organized a protest in support of Assistant Principal Randi Damesek, who was removed from the school last week at the conclusion of the city’s investigation into a 2012 cheating scandal there.
Concluding that Damesek and former principal Stanley Teitel had mishandled cheating allegations, the Department of Education said it would move to fire Damesek. (Teitel resigned last year amid the investigation.)
“The student body will not let this injustice stand,” says a press release put out Sunday by a group calling itself “Damesek’s Army.”
8 a.m. In Bed-Stuy, Doronda Taitt has just dropped off her two children at neighborhood charter schools. Bill Thompson has her vote, she tells Geoff.
Charter school advocates never got excited about any of the mayoral candidates. But Democrats for Education Reform, a leading advocacy group, listed Thompson along with Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner as people worth working with in a memo over the summer. Not on DFER’s list? Frontrunner Bill de Blasio.
7:57 a.m. At P.S. 234 in Tribeca, only a few people have gotten to school so far. The first three to arrive were first-grade twins Nadia and Evan, 6, with their nanny Helvie Iskandar. Iskandar told Sarah that she had been preparing Nadia and Evan all summer for their return to school, sticking math practice after breakfast before summer camp.
“I’m maybe a little bit tough. I don’t want them just playing all the time!” she said, praising the school for its communicative teachers.
7:54 a.m. At Dewitt Clinton, new principal Santiago Taveras is already facing tough questions from students who want to change their schedules, Emma reports.
Taveras charted an unusual path when he took over the struggling school, one of the few remaining comprehensive high schools in the Bronx, over the summer: returning to a principal’s office after spending years in the city’s central administration and the private sector.
Taveras told GothamSchools in June that he had decided to become a principal again after interviewing for a superintendency elsewhere. “What am I doing trying to be the superintendent of a school district when I know for a fact what I want to do is be closer to students?” he said he realized.
7:42 a.m. “Owners of stash-your-electronics trucks must be glad school’s back in session,” Emma tweets from outside Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.
The mobile storage units, which typically charge students $1 a day to safeguard their cell phones, first emerged several years ago in response to the city’s ban on cell phones in schools, which is enforced most stringently in schools such as Clinton that have metal detectors. Most mayoral candidates have said they would roll back the cell phone ban.
7:40 a.m. Anika is with Chancellor Dennis Walcott at his first stop of the day, Gregorio Luperon High School in Washington Heights, where he’ll be joined by Mayor Bloomberg and local elected officials. (Walcott has four more stops to go, in four more boroughs.)
Walcott is wistful as he discusses his plans to step down at the end of December, as a new mayor takes office and installs his or her own chancellor. “It’s my last opening …” Walcott says.
Bloomberg last visited Luperon, a school that serves mostly new immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, in its old location in 2005 to announce that it would get a new building, which it moved into in 2008.
7:35 a.m. Speaking of the mayoral election, the Quinnipiac Polling Institute just released its final poll of likely voters before Tuesday’s primary. The results: Bill de Blasio is at 39 percent, just below the threshold needed to avoid a runoff, while Bill Thompson, the UFT’s pick, seems to have pulled away from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for second place.
“Will de Blasio avoid a runoff or will we have a Battle of the Bills? Flip a coin,” said Maurice Carroll, the polling institute’s director, in a press release.
7:34 a.m. UFT President Michael Mulgrew started his day with Bill Thompson, the union’s pick for mayor, at the home where Thompson grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Before walking to P.S. 262, where Thompson’s mother taught, the pair held an early morning campaign stop in which Bloomberg and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio got equal billing as adversaries.
“The last day of school under the Bloomberg administration,” is how Mulgrew is characterizing the day, Geoff reports. “Our school system could do better.”
Thompson doesn’t wait long before taking a shot at de Blasio’s proposal to raise taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 a year in order to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, saying that de Blasio peddles “unreal fantasy proposals.” Raising taxes would require legislative approval, which de Blasio says he is confident he could win but which is seen as such a long shot that it helped cost him the New York Times endorsement last month.
7:25 a.m. The 4 train is filling up with bleary-eyed high school students around 176th Street in the Bronx, Emma reports. One topic of conversation among a group of girls: what it will be like to see the boyfriends they broke up with over the summer.
And here’s the press van that will take reporters, including Anika, to schools in all five boroughs as part of the chancellor’s annual first-day tour parked outside of the Department of Education early this morning. This is where our day starts.