Growing Up

UFT picks nine more schools that will add web of social services

UFT President Michael Mulgrew visited the health clinic at Sunset Park High School, one of six community schools this year, on the first day of school. The union is adding up to a dozen additional schools to the program for the fall.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew visited the health clinic at Sunset Park High School, one of six community schools this year, on the first day of school. The union is adding up to a dozen additional schools to the program for the fall.

The United Federation of Teachers won’t wait for a new mayor to expand the school model that the union says could be key to boosting student success.

This fall, at least nine and possibly as many as 12 schools across all five boroughs will turn into “community schools,” offering a full range of social services to students and their families. They will join the half-dozen schools that already transitioned to the model this year, using a combination of union, city, and private funding.

The UFT has made the community schools model a priority in the lead-up to the city’s mayoral election. Touting the model as one that could mitigate against the many obstacles to academic achievement that poor children face, the union organized several trips to Cincinnati, where all district schools use partnerships with businesses and non-profits to provide an array of supports including early childhood education, classes for adults, food banks, and health, dental, and vision services.

Four leading Democratic candidates for mayor accompanied union officials on those trips, as did State Education Commissioner John King and elected officials and educators from across the city. All of the candidates who took the trips have said they are committed to expanding the model in New York City. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo built $15 million in competitive grants into the state budget for schools to add community services.

But even before the state funds begin flowing or a new mayor takes office, the union is going ahead with an expansion. It opened applications to schools earlier this year and recently selected nine from the nearly 50 that applied to join the second round of the program. Now, union officials are considering bringing even more schools on board.

“There were some schools that were very, very motivated so we’re revisiting their applications,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “We’re always willing to go to schools where we think this could be useful to them.”

Mulgrew said the union had overhauled the application process since last year after a rocky start to the program, when some schools expected the union to handle all of the heavy lifting and keep paying for services indefinitely.

“We realized after two months we had not correctly framed the vision of it. They just thought they were going to get help and money,” Mulgrew said. “This is about teaching the school community how to analyze what your needs are, but the path has to be to self-sustainability.”

The union’s position is that there are sufficient service providers in the city to meet many students’ needs, but they do not work where students and their families need them most. The community schools program gives each participating school a coordinator whose job is to figure out what families need and work with existing service providers to help them relocate some of their efforts to the school building. Union officials act as a citywide broker, connecting coordinators with the service providers they request.

In the revamped application process, schools won points if they could show they understood the model, had ideas for implementation, boasted good relationship between teachers and administrators; and already managed their space and partnerships creatively. Only schools where at least 60 percent of students are eligible for free lunch could apply. The top 20 applicants made their case further in hourlong interviews.

The schools that came out on top are P.S. 83 and the International School for Liberal Arts High School in the Bronx; P.S. 1 in Manhattan; P.S. 65 in Queens and the Queens High School for Information, Research, and Technology; P.S. 335 and M.S. 584, which share a Brooklyn building; and P.S. 78 and P.S. 14, which share a building on Staten Island.

The six schools that joined the program this year also opted to continue it for a second year. Two of the schools are launching vision clinics, something Mulgrew said had not been planned for them until the school coordinators raised the idea.

Last year, the $600,000 in startup funding came from the union, the City Council, and the Partnership for New York City. Another funder, Trinity Wall Street, pitched in another $150,000 midyear. Union officials said they were still working to line up funding sources for the program’s second year but that they hoped that the City Council and the Partnership for New York City would continue to show support.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn is among the mayoral candidates who have touted the community schools model, and Mulgrew pointed to two other council members, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Debbie Rose, who had also traveled to Cincinnati.

With the model seeming likely to be poised for an even larger expansion in the near future, Mulgrew said he was glad the union could grow its community schools program slowly and cautiously to start.

“I don’t think that this is a fit for every school,” he said. “We have to make sure that we are doing this work correctly. We have to make sure we don’t just expand this for political purposes.”

Still, Mulgrew said, the possibilities of what could happen if the city’s next mayor believes in the community schools model are exciting. Right now, he said, city school construction doesn’t take non-academic services into account, and city agencies aren’t told that they must work together with the Department of Education.

“That would be a huge barrier to overcome — if we had a mayor directing them to cooperate,” Mulgrew said.

He added, “This is what has frustrated me about the whole city — there are a lot of services, and they really want to try to help, and there’s no one trying to connect it all.”

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.”