dennis walcott

New York

Smoke, odors prompt evacuation of a Brooklyn school building

Students wait for pick-up outside the P.S. 156/I.S. 392 school building, which was evacuated twice this morning in the wake of reports of a bad-smelling smoke. A Brownsville school campus was evacuated twice this morning after students and staff smelled a "foul, chemical" odor and saw smoke inside the building. The incident, which scared teachers and students and rendered afternoon pick-up chaotic, comes a day before Chancellor Dennis Walcott is scheduled to speak at one of the schools in the building, P.S. 156, during a town hall meeting for District 23. The building also houses I.S. 392, a middle school for gifted students. Isbi Lopez, whose two daughters attend P.S. 156, said she was volunteering at one daughter's pre-kindergarten classroom when she first smelled the smoke shortly after 9 a.m. She said students and staff evacuated to nearby P.S. 323, P.S. 327, and Teachers Preparatory High School. She said her daughters were allowed to return to their school around 10 a.m. after the fire department deemed the building safe. But the two schools evacuated a second time shortly after, when staff found that the smoke and smell were still present, according to multiple accounts from students and teachers. Several students said the evacuations cut into lunch and most of the day's classroom time. Students and staff from the two schools returned to their campus again around 2 p.m. for dismissal, which took place on the school's playground and basketball court. After-school care was cancelled for the day. This afternoon, parents who arrived to pick up their children said they were surprised to learn that the building had been evacuated during the day. They said they were frustrated about not being allowed into the building, where many children had left personal belongings. Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said the building would reopen tomorrow. She said DOE officials had not yet determined what caused the problem today." "What about his coat?" one parent asked a teacher when she met her fourth-grade son at the playground gate. The teacher replied, "He can't go in to get it."
New York

From Charlotte, a vision for NYC's second try at parent training

The parent training program that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised to launch last night would be new to New York City. But it wasn't supposed to be that way. In 2009, over the objections of some members of the Assembly who said doing so would waste scarce resources, state legislators passed a bill to create a parent-training center in New York City. The bill was one of four amendments that Senate Democrats required before they would agree to renew Mayor Bloomberg's control of the schools. That center was supposed to cost $1.6 million, which the city and state would jointly supply. It would have been housed at CUNY. And it would have trained parents who normally wouldn’t get involved to serve on community education councils and school leadership teams. But it never got off the ground. The Department of Education said at the time that it was unwilling to pony up its portion of the costs unless the state contributed, too. And the state's funding never materialized. This time around, the city won't be relying on the state for its parent training center. Walcott did not name a price tag for the new initiative, which will start in 2012, but he said the city would pool public and private funds to pay for it. A DOE official said the public funds would not come from the same pot that would have helped fund the CUNY training center. A similar initiative in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, which DOE officials said is a likely model for the program that the city will put in place, has been funded entirely with private dollars from local and national foundations and companies.
New York

Walcott outlines new initiatives to involve parents in schools

Outside, an organizer lobbies security to let protesting parents inside; In the auditorium, the audience was far more subdued than last night. The Department of Education will replicate other cities' parent training programs and start measuring how well schools engage families, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced tonight. In his first-ever policy address last month, Walcott unveiled an initiative to help the city's long-struggling middle schools. Tonight, he turned his attention to another weak spot in the department's record: keeping parents involved. Addressing parent leaders at an RSVP-only event where he was joined by Jesse Mojica, head of the department's oft-renamed family engagement office, Walcott outlined a plan that he said would boost parent involvement in city schools. He said the department would hire outside groups to run training workshops for parents who want to get involved, ask more from parent coordinators, and put more information for parents online, at a new portion of the DOE website for families. Walcott also said the city had developed standards for family involvement that a small number of schools would test before they are rolled out citywide. Ultimately, he said, the city plans to measure schools on how well they communicate with parents and make them feel welcome. The speech comes after years of complaints that DOE decision-making has shut parents out — and months after elections for district parent councils went so badly that they had to be redone. Walcott acknowledged problems with the elections and promised that the next time they happen, in 2013, the process would go more smoothly. But he did not open the door to giving parents a larger role in setting city education policy.
New York

Underneath the shouting, a hum about curriculum standards

New York

Walcott downplays SESIS issues at first town hall of school year

New York

Walcott urges public-private partnerships as city funding shrinks

Chancellor Dennis Walcott praises the Pencil program at a breakfast meeting to honor the parternships the program has created between local principals and business leaders. Addressing city principals and business leaders this morning, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said pro bono partnerships between schools and local businesses could alleviate some of the pressures of mounting budget cuts. Walcott was speaking at a breakfast event held to celebrate more than 300 school-business partnerships that have been created through the PENCIL program, and to announce plans to expand the partnerships to twice as many public schools this year. PENCIL, a non-profit founded in 1995, facilitates relationships between principals and local business leaders, who offer schools free consulting and guidance to boost student achievement through field trips, internships and school-based projects, according to organizers. "These leaders can meet principals around their specific needs," Walcott said. "One of the principals said she was doing something and her corporate partner said, 'there's a better way you can do it.' That's the type of value these partners are adding to the system." Talana Bradley, principal of the Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn, said her school's partnership, Jayun Kim, a business consultant, has helped her develop a long-term strategic plan for the growth of her school, which was founded in 2008, and plan for coming budget cuts. "There's never enough money. I'm so upset that they're going to continue making cuts," she said to the audience. ("So am I!" Walcott called back from his seat.) "It's hard to stay motivated. What this partnership does is help us see the forest for the trees."
New York

Quinn says council will hold a public hearing on DC 37 layoffs

A rally against the planned layoffs of school aides who belong to DC-37 Using new strategies, City Council members are mounting a final push to stave off the school aide layoffs that are scheduled to take place at the end of the week. Speaker Christine Quinn spoke to Mayor Bloomberg today about the layoffs, according to a Quinn spokesman, who said she plans to schedule a joint public hearing with the Finance and Education Committees to find out more about the scale of the proposed cuts. The DOE has maintained that the layoffs would save at least $38 million, but union officials dispute that total. "By our calculations, it should be closer to $22 and $25 million," said District Council 37's Local 372 president Santos Crespo at a press conference today. The event brought dozens of union and elected officials out in support of Crespo's union workers. It was then followed by a larger rally this evening that attracted Occupy Wall Street protesters. Quinn's announcement comes just days after the Black, Latino and Asian caucus discussed the option following a meeting with Chancellor Dennis Walcott in which little progress was made. Quinn has kept the issue at arms length up to this point, but inveighed against any future teacher layoffs last month on the first day of school. Crespo, who has offered three concession proposals to Walcott, said the council's intervention is the union's best option at this point. "What's going to make [the DOE] respond is going to be the City Council. If that happens, then we'll get to the bottom of this and see where the money is really going."
New York

An outspoken parent quits a Queens district council in disgust

New York

Union open to turnaround plan that cuts teachers based on merit

For the first time, the city teachers union could allow teachers to be removed from schools based on merit rather than seniority, a union official close to the negotiations said today. As part of his middle schools initiative, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced in a speech this morning a plan to pursue federally-funded "turnaround" for 10 low-performing schools that would begin next year. The model, which replaces at least half of the schools' teachers based on effectiveness –  rather than seniority – can only go forward with approval from the United Federation of Teachers. The union has already been in "preliminary discussions" with the city about implementing the model next year and is "open" to further negotiations, an official said today. "These are all struggling schools and we are willing to help struggling schools," the official said. "It's not a debatable point." This version of turnaround, one of four models the Obama Administration has mandated for low-performing schools, has previously been off the table in any past negotiations. Two other models, plus another turnaround version that resembles the city's school closure policy, are already in place in New York City, but none are as aggressive. Together the 10 schools could get up to $30 million in federal grants. Specifics about how teacher would be removed are still under negotiations, the official said. But any teachers removed because of the turnaround would remain on the city's payroll as members of the Absent Teachers Reserve. The mere willingness to discuss a plan to identify and remove unfit teachers from struggling schools is the latest sign of an evolved working relationship between the union and city.
New York

Walcott's middle school plan puts new spin on old approaches

In his first major policy speech, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called for major changes to the ctiy's worst middle schools. To shake middle schools from mediocrity, the city is turning to school reform strategies it considers tried and true. In the next two years, the Department of Education will close low-performing middle schools, open brand-new ones, add more charter schools, and push more teachers and principals through in-house leadership programs, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today in a 30-minute policy speech, the first of his six-month tenure. For 10 schools, the city will ask for $30 million in federal funds to try a new reform strategy set out by the federal government, “turnaround,” in which at least half of staff members are replaced, Walcott said. The efforts — which the city plans to pay for with a mixture of state and federal funds — are meant to boost middle school scores that are low and, in the case of reading, actually falling. "People have tried and struggled with the complicated nature of middle schools for decades," he said. "But the plan I've laid out is bolder and more focused than anything we've tried here in New York City before." Experts and advocates who helped engineer the last major effort to overhaul middle schools, a City Council task force that produced recommendations but short-lived changes at the DOE in 2007, disputed Walcott's characterization. They said Walcott's announcement reflects a change in style but not substance. "Much of what he said is not new," said Carol Boyd, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has long urged more attention for middle schools. "There is a definite party line, except Joel [Klein] wasn’t able to deliver it with the same believability that Chancellor Walcott does," she said. Boyd sat on the task force. “There’s nothing new [or] interesting about this plan," said Pedro Noguera, the New York University professor who chaired the council's task force and has spoken out against school closures. "It sounds like more of what they’ve been doing, shutting down failing schools."