Newsletter Jan/Feb 2017: CLS mission: more imperative than ever

A group of Newark, N.J., educators and government staffers visited PS 18 in the Bronx to see best practices in a community school. Above: PS 18 Assistant Principal Anwar Zindani, center seated; UFT Vice President of Elementary Education Karen Alford, UFT, second from left; and PS 18 Principal Lauren Sewell Walker, standing. (For more information, see story below.)

A group of Newark, N.J., educators and government staffers visited PS 18 in the Bronx to see best practices in a community school. Above: PS 18 Assistant Principal Anwar Zindani, center seated; UFT Vice President of Elementary Education Karen Alford, UFT, second from left; and PS 18 Principal Lauren Sewell Walker, standing. (For more information, see story below.)

By UFT Vice President Karen Alford

When we launched our NYC Community Learning Schools Initiative, we knew we needed to improve the lives of our children, families, school staff and the surrounding community. We knew we needed to make it a priority to remove persistent barriers to learning so our children and school communities could thrive. Our starting point was who we are and our values as educators and advocates. As the role of public education took the national spotlight recently, we believe our Community Learning Schools model delivers a strong case for supporting our neighborhood public schools more than ever.

We’ve built our CLS model on these core values: engendering dignity and respect; supporting the whole child; including and engaging parents; embracing collaborative decision-making; and developing and mentoring professionals. Every element of our model plays a role in strengthening public schools. Strong public schools help level the playing field for students of all levels of ability and especially for those with the highest needs.

Academic intervention programs incorporated during the school day and out-of-school-time programs help provide the extra attention many struggling students need and offer work that challenges the minds of children who are at grade level. Health and wellness services — whether delivered by trained educators and clinicians in school-based clinics, classrooms or spaces designated for community based organizations — uncover treatable physical and socio-emotional issues.

The centerpiece of CLS is the community school director. Our community school directors are relationship-builders who bring a variety of skills and experience to their school communities.

They know how to assess the needs of children and families at the school and individual level and can marshal the resources to support the work of the educators. From the moment our CSDs step into schools, some weight is lifted from the shoulders of the school staff. Our community school directors are trained social workers, community organizers and educators. They arrive with creativity and a collaborative spirit.

While our 28 CLS schools are at different stages within the initiative — some have been a community learning school since the initiative’s inception, some just became one in the past year — each is a collaborative school community that gives a voice to educators, parents and community members and partners. Again, it’s about our core values: When stakeholders collectively own the mission and make decisions as a body, we reinforce that which we believe makes our schools strong and a source of neighborhood pride.

This is the message we conveyed to a contingent of educators, administrators and policy makers who came from Newark, N.J. to take a look at our CLS model at PS 18 in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. (See the complete story below.) We believe our colleagues from Newark left understanding that we’re energized and deeply committed to our community learning school mission. Despite the inequities our children and communities face, or the changes from one administration to the next, one thing we know is true: Public education is one of the few equalizers. Community learning schools are good for public education and while we could not have predicted this, never has the mission of our initiative been more timely. As the UFT’s 2017 campaign says, We’re #PublicSchoolProud.


Congrats to our Teacher Union Day award recipients!

PS 65 in Queens was among four schools that received the UFT’s Innovation in Education Award at Teacher Union Day. Seated, second from left, Chapter Leader Michelle Stango. Seated, far right, Principal Rafael Morales. Standing, left, Community School Director Lianna Brenner.

PS 65 in Queens was among four schools that received the UFT’s Innovation in Education Award at Teacher Union Day. Seated, second from left, Chapter Leader Michelle Stango. Seated, far right, Principal Rafael Morales. Standing, left, Community School Director Lianna Brenner.

A number of schools and UFT members involved in the CLS Initiative were honored at UFT Teacher Union Day on Nov. 6, 2016. Teacher Union Day is held each year to commemorate the November 1960 one-day strike that galvanized teachers around the city and marks a pivotal moment in the early days of the UFT. The awards banquet was held at the New York Hilton Midtown.

  • The Innovation in Education Award was given to several schools including PS 65 in Queens. PS 65 has been part of CLS since the 2013-14 school year and was one of the first schools to create a “mental wellness” program within the building. The school’s nutrition and cooking program welcomes parents and teachers in addition to students. The school nurse is on the advisory team and the teachers take ownership of various programs.
  • Fourth-grade teacher Kishayna Hazlewood of PS 156, Brooklyn won a Backer/Scheintaub Award, which honors members for their unionism. Hazlewood was a member of Gov. Cuomo’s Common Core task force and the CLS Advisory Board at PS 156. She is also a national board-certified teacher.
  • Third-grade teacher Mavis Yon, also of PS 156, Brooklyn received a Marsh/Raimo Award for her advocacy for UFT members. She has been a chapter leader for more than 12 years.
  • Marisol Peña, CLS program manager and educational liaison for the elementary school division, received an Albert Lee Smallheiser award. The award recognizes the work of educators who work to improve the working conditions of their peers.

Among the Ely Trachtenberg Award honorees were Lenise N. Rogers, the former chapter leader at PS 40, Brooklyn, and John E. Pillarella, the chapter leader at Curtis High School, Staten Island.


Newark educators visit PS 18, Bronx

PS 18 in the Bronx hosted a contingent of Newark educators on Jan. 10, who came to learn about community schools. They were tasked by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to view best practices at the UFT’s community school model since they are using it at two high schools and three elementary schools.

UFT Vice President Karen Alford was among the UFT and American Federation of Teachers’ representatives who met with just over 20 teachers, administrators and members of Baraka’s staff during a lengthy discussion. The visitors also toured the building, seeing the soon-to-be-opened medical center as well as the UFT Teacher Center, a resource room for teachers for professional development.

Community School Director Mia Martinez emphasized that building relationships with parents and the community was the first task in implementing a community learning school, not just focusing on programming.

J’Neal Cleary, the UFT chapter leader, said, “Here at PS. 18 the teachers look for ways to get their students involved in activities that will help the whole child thrive, not just excel in the classroom but in real life. CLS embodies all the components needed to see our students, who come from one of the poorest communities in the city, soar to new heights.”

Sophy Aponte, who runs PS 18’s Teacher Center, said the Teacher Center provides a structure that provides a package of supports to help teachers. It’s not just a single coach working one-on-one, she said. While Teacher Centers are in schools throughout the city, they do work within the community school mission of support, collaboration and respect.

Gaining trust among the stakeholders is crucial and Martinez and others help bridge the communication gap among administrators, teachers, parents, non-governmental agencies and other community partners.Martinez also said that she works with community school directors at other schools to share resources and support each other.

The other professionals who attended the meeting were: Christine Schuch, CLS executive director; Lauren Sewell Walker, principal; Bill Woodruff, UFT District 7 representative; and Greg Lucas, director of South Bronx Programs, Harlem RBI. Harlem RBI is the anchor partner for PS 18 and has been involved with the school since the initiative’s inception in 2012. Harlem RBI plans to launch a program in Newark for its first out-of-NYC program, Lucas said.


Welcome to our new staff at schools!

We welcome two new community school directors to our growing Community Learning Schools Initiative. The work at our schools emanates from these key people.

Maria Brown

Maria Brown

Mariah Brown, who is at PS/IS 184, Brooklyn, is a graduate of St. Johns University and is currently earning her Master’s in Public Administration from Excelsior College.

She has a rich background in nonprofit work and her goal is to work towards “a world where community schools are the standard and not the exception.” She enjoys traveling and learning about different cultures.


Katie Savage

Katie Savage

Katie Savage, who is at PS 59 in Brooklyn, earned her Master’s of Public Health from the University of Georgia. She has a wealth of experience in planning public health initiatives and programs that impact the health of children.
She comes to us from the Children’s Health Fund in Harlem, where she assisted in the strategic planning and development of school-based health programs. She is inspired by human connections and loves participating in her community. In her spare time, Katie likes to cook, read and spend time with her friends.


Japanese educators, students explore Curtis HS

Curtis High School’s Community School Director Marie Rodriguez, center, presents gifts to NPO Katariba’s Kumi Imamura and Yusuke Yamada during a meeting with the delegation from Japan. NPO Katariba is an educational non-profit organization in Japan.

Curtis High School’s Community School Director Marie Rodriguez, center, presents gifts to NPO Katariba’s Kumi Imamura and Yusuke Yamada during a meeting with the delegation from Japan. NPO Katariba is an educational non-profit organization in Japan.

The UFT’s Community Learning School Initiative, now in 28 schools citywide, is attracting interest internationally. Curtis HS, a community learning school on Staten Island, played host on Jan. 5 to a delegation of 10 educators and seven students from Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

While the Japanese students visited classrooms, the Japanese educators had a spirited question-and-answer session with the school’s community school director, the principal and other staff members before touring the Curtis HS health clinic run by the Children’s Aid Society. Cadence Turner, a journalism teacher at Curtis who also speaks Japanese, described how the community school model gradually involves everyone in the school.

“I had a student who was absent on a regular basis, but had improved attendance after the health clinic was introduced,” Turner said.

“She had chronic asthma, and the clinic was able to monitor her so she wasn’t absent as much. I learn more every day about what a community school can do.”

The guests from Japan, who traveled under the auspices of a Japanese youth development group, took copious notes on paper and on laptops.

“I want a community school in Japan, especially a health clinic,” said Ayako Masunaga, who teaches elementary school. “It would make it easier for the students.” The visit was part of the Global Kids program, a nonprofit organization that promotes global understanding and local action through in-class and after-school programming. In 2011, Global Kids became Curtis’ community partner, providing additional instructors who collaborate with social studies teachers to bring to life topics such as human rights, social studies teachers to bring to life topics such as human rights, social justice and the environment.

This after-school leadership program provides workshops on everything from voting rights to the Zika virus, and students come up with their own hands-on projects, such as creating a garden or painting a mural in a bus shelter.

Diana Aversa, an AP social studies teacher at Curtis, has seen the changes in students involved in the program.

“Students participate in the Global Kids discussion who usually never do,” Aversa said. “It’s not a class but an experience.”


Description: Around the Schools logoAround the schools

The NYC Community Learning Schools Initiative aims to improve student achievement by meeting the health, safety and social service needs of students, parents and communities. Here are some examples of how Community Learning Schools have connected with nonprofit organizations, local businesses and public agencies to support our work to benefit children and school communities.


Free swimming lessons for PS 811 students

Last fall, PS 811, Manhattan, the first District 75 school to join the Community Learning Schools Initiative, was chosen to participate in a water safety program with Asphalt Green, a non-profit organization. Asphalt Green offers free swimming lessons and water safety programs to public school students in New York City. Every week, PS 811 students head to the pool to learn how to swim.

Community School Director George Yates found out about the program through his contacts and made it happen for his students. It’s been worth it, he says; he can see progress on several levels. “Their attention span has increased,” he said, and many of them have gotten over their fear of water. He’s also noticed “when they get back to school, they’re more capable of listening in the classroom. The swimming program has helped them to take in more information and focus,” he said.

Asphalt Green’s Community Program Director David Ludwig said, “Everyone has been more aware of the lack of physical education programs [in schools] and the challenges. We work with more than 120 public schools and we see most schools can only provide physical education classes once a week,”

The swimming lessons are conducted by certified instructors who meet all the regulations required by the NYC Department of Health and Department of Education.

Ludwig also said, “We believe swimming is a life skill everyone should have and when they come to our program, they actually get to use their bodies.”

Ludwig said Asphalt Green and other swimming programs help to lower the percentage of drownings among certain racial and ethnic groups. Black children, ages 5 to 19, drown in pools at a rate more than five times that of white children. Researchers believe the disparity reflects fewer black children learn to swim.

William Neylon, a technology teacher at QIRT, introduces students to career day presenters on Dec. 14.

William Neylon, a technology teacher at QIRT, introduces students to career day presenters on Dec. 14.

Queens High School for Information and Technology in Far Rockaway held its annual career day on Dec. 14 to help students figure out what they want to do when they finish school.

The fair’s goal was to spark student interest in a variety of careers and assist students in learning more about life after high school. During the day, each class was visited by at least two presenters — of more than 60 participants — who shared stories and advice on how to be successful. Students were also encouraged to dress for success and attend a fashion show at the school, which highlighted student ensembles.

To community school director Rasahn Staley, a student’s ability to reflect on a career path can change the course of his or her life, a goal of the school. The day was filled with helpful information for students and vibrant displays, which included balloons, buttons, gift bags and framed photographs of the presenters themselves.

“It has always been worth the extra effort to see both students and staff excited about the presentations – and learning about careers they may otherwise never have considered,” said Staley.

The school plans to orchestrate another career day next year with the goal of continuing to ensure college and career readiness for all students.