The Big Fix

At Grady, transformation funds change school's look and feel

Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady CTE High School, speaks to a teacher getting ready for summer school.

“Everything about this school has improved. Everything.”

Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School in Brighton Beach, does not hesitate when asked about the trajectory of her school.

Maione just finished her first year at Grady, where she was greeted with a staff weary of leadership changes, a curriculum that has see-sawed between emphasizing traditional academics and the school’s signature “shops,” and a D grade on its 2009-10 progress report.

She was also given $1.4 million of additional “transformation” money through the federal government’s program to improve low-achieving schools.

At the end of her first year, staff members say they’ve felt the impact of Maione’s leadership and the additional funds—though it is unclear if the school is yet making the academic gains it needs to avoid facing closure in the future.

The transformation money helped pay for an array of cosmetic changes to the building and school trips to colleges throughout New York state, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

The entrance area was repainted from black and white to maroon and yellow, the school colors. The front doors are now framed by planters, filled with flowers, that double as benches. Murals featuring civil rights leaders and faces of current students fill once-blank hallway walls.

Grady's front entrance before cosmetic improvements, at top, and after.

“Since we did that, there has not been one graffiti on the wall, because the kids are the one doing the painting,” said parent coordinator Karen McDonald, who has worked at Grady for 14 years.

In a school with metal detectors and at least four security officers manning the front desk, those changes make an emotional difference for students, Maione argues.

By many metrics, the school has improved. Maione says students have earned 10 percent more credits this year, and the 2010-11 quality review report showed gains in almost every category, from how teachers use data to the school’s support services.

Ebony Mahoney, who is in charge of school security, said that both incidents and arrests were down. “The entire tone of the school changed,” she said.

But the school is still struggling to raise the bar academically. On that quality review, the school’s major weakness is still a “need to improve academic rigor in all classes,” and Grady is not labeled proficient in curriculum and pedagogy.

Its graduation rate also remains low. At graduation on June 27, 173 students were listed as graduating, while 473 students entered Grady in 2007. Last year’s official graduation rate was 42.3 percent.

Some of the school’s transformation money was funneled into paying teachers to offer after-school and during-school tutoring, including for Regents preparation. The money allowed the staff to offer those services to the entire school, according to the school’s assistant principal for instruction, Tarah Montalbano.

“We would never have been able to reach them without the transformation money,” she said.

McDonald says Grady has always offered extra tutoring, but it was attendance that was the real problem.

“Now they feel like they have to do the tutoring,” she said of the students who are struggling and want to go into one of the trades, like construction or automotive tech. “We tell them, you want to get a union job? You have to come to tutoring, you have to come to class.”

The school is still divided between students who want to go directly into the workforce and those who are aiming for college, and Grady is focused on both paths, she said.

“When I see a kid who says, I got a 55 on a test, I just say, next time let’s try for a 65. These kids just need to be motivated,” McDonald said.

Maione says she has no idea whether Grady will receive similar funding next year. A disagreement over teacher evaluations has left the teacher’s union and the city in a standoff over whether the transformation model can continue.

Either way, she is framing the fight for Grady’s improvement as hers to win or lose.

“It’s the same staff. This has been my cry for the last year—stop blaming the teachers,” she said.

The biggest change this year, though, is the atmosphere that Maione herself has created. Maione’s passion for the school where she taught for over a decade—which comes out in healthy doses of tough love—is obvious.

Staff members say that morale has improved, thanks to a more collaborative leadership style than that of previous principal Carlston Gray.

Maione projects a no-nonsense exterior (after a student was surprised to see a picture of her with a pit bull, she responded, ‘What, you think I’d sleep with a poodle?’). But she tears up every few moments when talking about students who have overcome challenges at home to succeed at Grady.

“We get many, many more kids who need love, more than other schools,” she said.

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.