Public hearings about the city’s plan to “turn around” dozens of struggling city schools have attracted vociferous protest. But behind the anger and frustration we found teachers and students who had carefully considered their schools’ need to improve and the potential effects of the turnaround plan.

At six hearings in four boroughs, teachers and students said their schools had not been given enough time to improve with the help of federal School Improvement Grants, and warned that turnaround would make improvement more difficult. Here’s what some of them told us when we asked them to delve deeper into their thoughts about their schools’ pasts, presents, and future.

Joe Puntino, social studies teacher at Automotive High School

What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far?

“I don’t know where this money went. Last year, the one when we were [using the federal model called] transformation, it seemed to me that most of the money went to pizza. Every event we had, the students had, there were 20 pizza pies.

The only thing that I see that New Visions, [the non-profit that supervises Automotive,] has actually done, which is a good thing, is they brought in something called “Datacation,” which is a great tool. It’s the best thing they’ve done. It’s basically a one-stop store for teachers. Gradebook, anecdotal logs, contact information. It’s a great tool. The only thing I can positively say that they did well. Other than that, they walk around into our classrooms, they jot down notes and you hear nothing.”

In what areas do you think the school needs further improvement?

“For the students coming in here, there can’t be 40 percent with [Individualized Education Plans for special education students]. Any school’s going to fail with 40 percent IEPs. There had to be a better proportion of non-IEPS to IEPs. We’ll take them, we’ll teach them, we love them, but 40 percent? Any school isn’t going to make the benchmark that the state wants.”

Alona Geller, English teacher and Cheerleading coach at Sheepshead Bay High School

What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far?

“I started here when I was 22 years old. And I’ve been teaching for seven [years]. I think a lot of improvements have taken place. Any money granted to us is used for trips and programs and supplies, the kids have everything tha they need, and I know friends of mine in other schools don’t have those things.

This year in particular, we have City Year in the building, the ninth graders have a lot of support, and they’re thriving in away I haven’t seen before. City Year greets the kids at the door, they provide tutoring services, they’re in our classrooms, they follow the kids all day long and see what subjects they’re struggling with. They really keep up the morale for the students and for the teachers.”

Tony Cipolla, a social studies teacher at Grover Cleveland High School

What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far?

What we’re starting now are these Small Learning Communities, and that will really be starting in full force next year. Students will be able to chose which small learning community they want to go into, based on interest. There’s one for health, there’s one for hospitality and tourism. The goal with that is that the more interested they are in school the better their attendance would be, the better their participation would be, and everybody wins.

The new principal, [Denise Vittor]—She’s been a great benefit for all of us.  She spent many years at Queens Vocational High School, and she has a track record of turning schools around.

Robin Kovat, social studies teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School

What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far?

“Well, they instituted [the “restart” reform model], and we started it, and then they threw this wrench into our works, so the morale now is really going down because part of it involves a buy-in for the staff but nobody knows if they’re going to be here next year. I think dividing it into academies would really be wonderful if we keep the people here who can actually make a difference, who have been shown to make a difference, who have already made a difference.”

Vashtee Ragoonanan, a senior at Grover Cleveland High School

Some teachers at your school may be replaced under the turnaround plan. How would that affect the school?

“If they replace 50 percent [of the teaching staff], student bonds are going to be lost and kids are going to be disconnected with their teachers. I’m afraid students will start losing interest in their class and stuff like that, that they’re not even going to try. Those bonds with teachers are very important.

In the plant science program with Mr. [Russell] Nitchman, we produce our own vegetables and we sell them. We have a greenhouse on the side of our building and we’re working right now to grow produce we can sell at our school, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, vegetables.”

In what areas do you think the school needs further improvement?

“The school does need to improve academically, but to get there, definitely not by firing 50 percent of the staff. Maybe more funding for our school, maybe if we get more funding we could possibly get more technology.”

Lakisha Innocent, a junior at Sheepshead Bay High School

In what areas do you think the school needs further improvement?

“The attendance is really bad, and the lateness. And just to increase the Regents [exam] grades because people really don’t study. Students just need to be motivated more, to have a reason to come to school.”