turf wars

Girls Prep charter wants more space, but doesn't want a fight

In the tug-of-war between charter school advocates and opponents over building space for the city’s charter schools, emotions frequently churn and bubble over; protests and shouting matches are not unheard of. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, a team of district and charter school administrators who share a Lower East Side building said today.

Gearing up for a community meeting tonight about space issues in Manhattan’s District 1 that will feature their own building, administrators said they want to emphasize the need for a neighborly conversation.

“I’m not going to say it’s easy,” said Mary Pree, the principal of P.S. 188, which shares space with another district school and the Girls Prep Charter School. “Everyone would always like 10 extra classrooms.”

But Pree emphasized that her school’s relationship with the two schools is vibrant, and that the schools are working to develop even stronger connections between the parent associations at the school. “We’re a place where this collaboration is working,” she said.

Girls Prep is requesting more space in the district to expand its middle school program. The middle school launched this August with one fifth-grade class of 25 students.

While the school’s request is not specifically on tonight’s agenda, Girls Prep administrators said they wanted to take the opportunity to spread information about their needs and plans for more space.

“We’re going to explain our plans for expansion and parents will speak to how much we want to be part of this neighborhood,” said Girls Prep founder Miriam Raccah.

The school is requesting space not in the current building they share with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94, a special-needs school for students with autism, but rather elsewhere in the district, school administrators said.

The school had to turn away 50 fifth-grade students this year for lack of space, administrators said. And Raccah pointed out that next year, as 50 current fourth-graders graduate into the middle school program, the need for space will intensify.

“Space is a challenge. It is the challenge,” said Girls Prep middle school principal Kimberly Morcate. “It affects instruction. It affects how we can get the girls to focus.”

The middle school occupies one room of the third floor wing of the building that Girls Prep shares with the two other schools. The elementary school classes and an administrative office take up the rest of the wing, as well as a portion of the second floor of the building.

Today, Morcate led half of the fifth-grade class in a discussion of how to draw conclusions from inferences in a reading passage. The rest of the class was divided into two smaller groups, who worked on practice worksheets in circles on the floor of the school’s yoga classroom around the corner.

The class breaks into small groups like this every Wednesday, but Morcate and teachers said that usually the yoga room is used by the elementary school students. On those days, the students break into small groups at tables tucked into corners of the hallways.

The single classroom must fill the functions of an entire school for the fifth-graders in it. Desks are gathered towards the front of the room, to make room for a “library” area fitted with a couch and bookshelves in the back. All four of the middle school teachers share desk space in the back of the classroom as well.

Girls Prep administrators and teachers said that they wanted the middle school program to stay in the Lower East Side. Fourth grade teacher Elizabeth Ballard said that when she visited families of children slated to move to middle school next year, a main concern was that the school would have to move out of the neighborhood. Just under half of the school’s students live in District 1.

Girls Prep teachers and administrators said they wanted to highlight the school’s relationship with the community at the meeting tonight.

Pree said that she also planned to attend tonight’s meeting, to emphasize that there are civil and productive ways that schools can share space together.

“I want these kids to look back and say, ‘I know that diverse communities, with sometimes conflicting needs, can work together well,'” Pree said. “And I want them to say, ‘I know that because I lived that.'”

after parkland

As Trump doubles down on call to give teachers guns, the growing #ArmMeWith movement offers an alternative

Counselors, time, diverse classroom libraries, money — these are some of many things American teachers say they need in their schools instead of guns.

The pleas are coming via a social media hashtag, #ArmMeWith, that has spread quickly this week as teachers grapple with the aftermath of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Some lawmakers and advocates — including President Donald Trump — have responded to the shooting by arguing that teachers should be armed. That idea has drawn scorn from educators who argue that more guns in schools would make students less safe and do little to address the underlying issues that contribute to violence in schools.

Now thousands of those educators are offering an alternative, using a template that two teachers shared on Instagram on Tuesday. Olivia Bertels and Brittany Wheaton already had substantial social media followings when they asked others to join them in starting a movement.

“My friend @thesuperheroteacher and I think that we should find more practical solutions than giving teachers guns,” Bertels wrote on her post with the template, where she asked to be armed with school supplies. “I hope you’ll take the same stance.”

More than 5,000 people so far have done exactly that on Instagram, and the hashtag is also trending on Twitter, bringing educators together in a cross-country conversation.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” wrote one Texas teacher, HowsonHistory, in a comment on a Rhode Island teacher’s post. “But am so glad that so many teachers are. Maybe soon we will be listened to.”

Here are some of the posts that have caught our eye.

“We, the teachers, have a few ideas.”

“#armmewith not guns, but counselors who do not double as test administrators and more than one overbooked, crowded therapist option for families with Medicaid and social workers without overloaded caseloads.”

“#armmewith the liberation of our students, a microphone to speak out against the policies you make from people who aren’t teachers, resources to empower our children, and love to keep our babies safe. We refuse to be armed with guns. #teachingwhilemuslim”

“Because there are so many other things to be arming ourselves with that will do more good than harm. I choose to #armMeWith kindness not violence and teach my students to do the same #jointhemovement”

“I took my first teaching job the year Sandy Hook happened. And the thing is, in that year and in all the years I have been a teacher since, I have stood in my classroom too many times and wondered where I would put my children if someone came into my classroom with a gun. I have stood on playgrounds and in hallways with dozens of students and wondered what would be the best action to take. I have sat through too many of my lunch breaks with my colleagues hashing over the best strategy for protecting our students. There has to be change. Teachers and students deserve to work and learn in peace. #armmewith #thingsteachersshouldnothavetosay”

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.