When Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a longtime teacher and principal of younger students, acknowledged her limited secondary-school cred in a February interview with Chalkbeat, she pointed to one person who would fill that void: Phil Weinberg.
An educator who spent nearly three decades at a single Brooklyn high school, Weinberg is now deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. A new report reveals some of the strategies that Weinberg concocted as principal of the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, or Telly, which saw its graduation rate shoot up by more than 35 percent during his tenure.
The school zeroes in on its ninth and tenth-graders, keeping them in small classes and enrolling them in a common set of courses designed to build their basic skills and propel them toward graduation, according to the report by New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions is a large school-support organization that oversees 75 city schools, including Telly.
The Bay Ridge school keeps a close eye on each student’s march (or crawl) toward a diploma, the report says.
Each incoming class is assigned an academic advisor who sticks with those students for four years, monitoring their attendance and grades to catch students before they fall off track. The school also splits its freshmen and sophomores into three “small learning communities” of about 100 students apiece, which are led by a team of three core-subject teachers who meet daily to discuss their charges’ progress.
“Kids know very quickly that if something happens in one class, the teacher from their other class is going to know about it,” Weinberg told the report’s authors.
Telly, which is open to all students, achieves a higher graduation rate than the city average (83 percent compared to 61 percent) while serving a greater share of students with disabilities (22.5 percent at Telly versus 17.5 percent citywide).
The report attributes this in part to those learning communities. The school mixes typical students and those with special needs in each of the three groups, but it clusters the special-needs students strategically: those with disabilities in one group, English language learners in another, and students who are behind in reading in the third group.
“It’s a complicated idea,” said Susan Fairchild, one of the report’s authors, “but it’s brilliant.”
Still, the report notes that Telly struggles to push “chronically low-performing students,” including those who enter the school far below grade level, to graduate within four years — or at all. Schools across the country grapple with a similar problem, the report adds.
It remains to be seen whether Weinberg will try to spread any of these strategies to other high schools in his new role at Tweed. But it seems likely that his boss will back him up if he tries — after all, Fariña penned the foreword to the Telly report.