Rudy Awakening

Chancellor's District architect says his school improvement model is "dead wrong"

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Former schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, second from right, expressed doubts about his old school-turnaround program on a recent panel.

The architect of the city’s “Chancellor’s District,” a school improvement initiative that flooded low-performing schools with resources over a decade ago, said Wednesday his much-debated approach was “dead wrong” and warned current officials not to repeat his mistakes.

From 1996 to 2003, New York City School Chancellor Rudy Crew grouped struggling schools into their own separate district and provided them with extra support, including new curriculum materials, more training, extra staff, and smaller class sizes. Union leaders have touted the program as an alternative to closing schools, but critics say more aggressive reforms are needed.

The initiative also shares similarities to the Renewal Schools program that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday. The administration has distanced itself from those comparisons, but Crew said in an interview that they shared a lot in common.

“[De Blasio]’s changing the day, the year, the way teaching will be done,” Crew said in an interview. “We tried to do the same thing with the Chancellor’s District.”

Crew said those changes are important, but he offered a grim post-mortem 10 years after the district’s demise. Asked to assess the model on a panel on absenteeism at the New School on Thursday morning, he said the city school system wasn’t set up to fix persistently low-performing schools.

“When we did this in the Chancellor’s District, I think the framework is dead wrong,” said Crew. The structure, he said, was too one-size-fits-all.

“Everybody got the same memo, everybody got the same dollars, everybody got the same requirements and then you were sort of off to the races to do the best that you could with what you had,” Crew added.

While many details remain unclear, the de Blasio administration is asking schools to tailor their plans to meet students’ needs.

The $150 million plan will flood 94 of the city’s lowest-ranked schools with an array of social services and supports for students, a majority of whom are poor and many who live in homeless shelters, are part of the city’s child welfare system and come to school without getting basic needs met at home. Hoping to convert the schools into so-called community schools, each school is required to come up with its own plan, which also includes an extra hour of tutoring, summer programs and an increase in guidance counselors, health practitioners and adult literacy teachers. If schools don’t show progress in three years, de Blasio has said he’ll close them, though he hasn’t said how he will measure that progress.

Crew’s comments were delivered just a few feet from Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, who’s charged with making sure students who attend Renewal Schools benefit from the flood of services. Buery said the city’s initiative is uniquely challenging because each school will be have to create its own process for serving children and their families.

“Every school, every family, every child presents a unique set of challenges. And so the question, I think, at the school-level becomes, do you have an actual strategy and a structure, child by child?” Buery said.

After the event, Crew said the success of the city’s new approach will hinge on setting concrete goals and partnerships between schools and with outside organizations.

“What will be different is how they not just name it, but how they actually collaborate with these community agencies and how they come to agreement about what the targets, what the outcomes will be, for the expenditures they’ll be making,” Crew said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”