The city will try to close a low-performing school, Fahari, after all

Fahari Academy

Chancellor Dennis Walcott gave an incomplete answer when he said earlier this month that the city would not close any schools this year.

In fact, the Department of Education has moved to shutter one school — a charter school that it put on probation last year amid concerns that included sky-high teacher and student attrition.

The school, Fahari Academy Charter School, posted the lowest marks of all middle schools on the city progress reports released last week. The department told the school’s board last week that it would recommend Fahari’s closure.

Under charter law, the state Board of Regents must revoke Fahari’s charter, after which the it no longer has the legal right to operate. Since the school’s charter expires in the middle of the school year — next month — the city is hoping to get state approval to wait until June to shutter the school.

The city failed to get the proposal onto the agenda for this week’s Regents meeting in Albany, so that leaves December as the last chance for the city to get final approval before Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who opposes school closures, takes over at the Department of Education.

In the meantime, officials at the school say they plan to fight back, if necessary in court, a process that has fared well for charter schools targeted for closure by the city in the past.

“We believe they overlooked some pretty critical information and we intend on making sure our record and complete story is presented to all stakeholders and decision makers for consideration,” said Elizabeth Lenig, vice chair of Fahari’s board.

Lenig said the city’s charter school office first informed Fahari’s board that the school would receive a “non-renewal” recommendation on Wednesday, the day progress reports were released.

The charter school office posted a report rationalizing its decision as well, factoring Fahari’s “F” grade on its 2012-2013 progress report heavily into the recommendation. The report pointed out that while test scores dropped significantly for all students in the Brooklyn district where Fahari resides, they fell more dramatically at Fahari.

Just 7 percent of students passed the state’s English tests last year, down from 40 percent in 2012. Ten percent passed in math, down from 60 percent in 2012.

Fahari struggled almost from the moment it opened its doors in 2009. Former teachers and administrators attributed the difficulty to an overly harsh student disciplinary system and a difficult work culture established by its founder, who left at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. When Fahari was put on probation in August of 2012, city officials said the school had to retain more students, after more than 100 left in the span of two school years, and cut down on the 91 out-of-school student suspensions that were issued in 2011-2012.

Dirk Tillotson, a former interim executive director brought in to engineer a turnaround for the school last year, said the school had addressed both issues. Just 4.4 percent of students didn’t return to Fahari this year, an attrition rate that is down from 37 percent in 2011 and 27 percent in 2012. Tillotson added that Fahari’s suspension rates fell from 42 percent to 16 percent last year.

“I don’t feel like the school is being treated fairly in this process,” said Tillotson, who resigned from his position after a new principal was hired in May.

Lenig said the board also objects to making high-stakes decisions based on last year’s test score results, which were based on tougher tests that are part of the state’s transition to the Common Core standards.

City officials have said they won’t use results from the 2012-2013 progress reports to close any schools, though that is more because of the small window of time they have to hold a required public comment period before the end of the year. They have always emphasized that the progress reports would be controlled for changes in the state tests by measuring each school’s performance in comparison to other schools.

Lenig said the school plans “to fight this recommendation with every tool available to us.” The school will also have the United Federation of Teachers, which has represented teachers at the school since 2011, as a partner in the battle.

There is good precedent that Fahari could stay open if it challenges the department’s decision in court. Two charter schools that the city tried to close last year, Peninsula Preparatory Academy and Williamsburg Charter High School, stayed open after they took the city to court, arguing that the city did not have a clear process to close struggling charter schools. Both schools received A grades on this year’s city progress reports.

The Board of Regents declined to take up Fahari’s recommendation this month, a city Department of Education official told the Fahari board in an email on Friday night. “We anticipate that the items will be on the December agenda,” the official wrote.

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.”