dennis walcott

New York

At PEP co-locations vote, testiness from both sides of the aisle

The major item on the agenda at tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting is more than a dozen charter school co-location plans. The plans are at the heart of a lawsuit, filed by the teachers union and NAACP, to halt school closures and stop some charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. The PEP already voted on the plans once, but in response to the lawsuit, the Department of Education revised all of them over the last several weeks, seeking to equalize allocations of shared space between charter schools and district schools. If the panel approves the new plans tonight, some of the equity charges made in the lawsuit could be neutralized. I'll be filing reports throughout the meeting. 10:30 p.m. Panel members have voted and, as expected, have approved all of the co-location plans before them tonight. Votes for seven of the plans each received four votes in opposition, from appointees of borough presidents. Those plans were for the co-locations at P368, Teaching Firms of America Charter School at P.S. 308; Democracy Prep 3 at P.S. 154; Promise Academy I and II at the Choir Academy of Harlem; Harlem Success Academy 1 at P.S. 123; and Upper West Success Academy at Brandeis High School. But with a majority of panel members being mayoral appointees, the opposition was easily outvoted. Last week, lawyers debating the UFT-NAACP lawsuit called today "D-Day" for the case. That's because the space-sharing plans approved tonight address many of the complaints lodged against the original plans in the lawsuit. Whether and how Judge Paul Feinman, who is assigned to the suit, takes the new plans into account remains to be seen, but last week he signaled that he might when he deferred making a final decision about whether to halt the city's co-location plans. 9:45 p.m. Many of the testimonies tonight have criticized a few specific co-location plans: for P.S. 308 and P368, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brandeis High School. P.S. 308 graduate Aquila Raiford, who went on to attend Stuyvesant High School and then Dartmouth College, testified that it was the quality education she received at Clara Cardwell that paved her road. She returned to P.S. 308 as an English teacher and now opposes any additional co-location at her school. "Bringing in any school inside 308 is going to ruin the learning environment," she said after her testimony. She pointed to safety issues of placing young children of incoming Teaching Firms of America Charter School on the building's third floor. 9:30 p.m. As promised, I'm posting video (above) from the altercation earlier tonight between Hazel Dukes of the NAACP and charter school advocates.
New York

City schools chiefs suggest Jan. Regents exam compromise

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg said he wasn't happy about a state decision to eliminate January Regents exams. But he said city officials hadn't decided whether to push back officially against it. Now it appears they have. On Friday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined his counterparts in four other big-city school districts in formally petitioning the state to reinstate the January exam date. They argue that the change will affect urban students disproportionately because those students are more likely to take nontraditional pathways to graduation. (Dozens of principals from suburban Long Island have also joined the chorus of city principals asking for the decision to be reversed.) In separate letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner of Education John King, the five superintendents — from Syracuse, Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester, and New York City — suggest a compromise. "At a minimum," they say (twice), the state should consider adding back the five Regents exams typically taken to meet graduation requirements. The letters argue that simply reducing the number of exams offered in January would cut costs but would still allow students to graduate. The elimination of the test date was part of a slate of changes that the Board of Regents said would close an $8 million budget gap in the state's testing program. The letters came from the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, which last weighed in on policy issues in May when it suggested changes to the appeals process for teacher evaluations that were not accepted. The website for the conference listed on the letters sent last week is not active.
New York

As city revises space-sharing plans, settlement looks possible

A contentious legal battle between the city and the teachers union could be inching toward a settlement as school officials race to re-write plans that are key to the dispute. In the past month, city officials have revised each of 20 space-sharing plans outlining how charter schools would be housed inside district buildings. The way that previous plans allocated space between charter and district schools is a central criticism of the teachers union's lawsuit. The sweeping revision effort is in direct response to the lawsuit, filed May 18, Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged in a statement. Several of the plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit praised the revisions and indicated that they might lead to an out-of-court settlement. In a conference call with reporters, Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, a lead plaintiff in the suit, said his organization’s ultimate goal was to place all students in their school of choice. "We are open to all options to settle this suit," he said. Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview today that he was "happy" with the efforts. UFT lawyers, he said, have expressed cautious optimism that the revised plans would satisfy their demands. The city's move means that the plans, many of which were already approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, will require new votes by the PEP and new public hearings to solicit community feedback on their terms. The city began holding new hearings this week.
New York

As Walcott watches, AP stats students scrutinize school metrics

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott listens to a student presentation on their school's progress report. Statistics students at a Brooklyn high school took an unusually high-profile final exam today: They presented an analysis of the city's school report cards to an audience that included their principal and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. Their teacher, Eleanor Terry, had invited the Chancellor via email, hoping to put together an official audience for her Advanced Placement statistics students at the High School for Telecommunication Arts and Technology. The school earned an A on its most recent progress report. But that didn't stop students — who wore buttons depicting their statistics class mascot, the "normalcurvasaurus" — from scrutinizing the way their school was graded. They examined technical issues including bias in survey questions, the way students are broken into deciles by their eighth-grade test scores, and how different scores were weighted to come up with their school’s final grade. The students peppered their presentations with recommendations for Walcott, ranging from offering the student surveys online to factoring a school’s size into its grading. Walcott spent more than an hour scribbling notes during the presentations. When students described difficult experiences in freshman physics classes and adjusting to high school, which they said could affect the student progress section of the report, Walcott asked, “Should we be doing something different freshman year?” “The kids were unbelievably impressed that he said he would come. And I can’t say my reaction was any different,” Principal Phil Weinberg said.
New York

A year after fatal field trip, Walcott ramps up trip regulations

With end-of--year excursions planned at many schools, the city has adopted new rules for field trips, particularly those that involve water. The new regulations come nearly a year after Nicole Suriel, a sixth-grader at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering, drowned during a field trip to a Long Island beach. An investigation found that the school had not collected permission slips for the trip and took the students to a beach that was not patrolled by lifeguards. Now, schools will have to collect Department of Education permission slips for each trip, ensure that lifeguards are present when students swim and that lifejackets are worn during other water activities, and send extra chaperones on trips with more than 30 students. The new rules were developed during a review process that began after Suriel's death, department officials said. Typically, the Panel for Educational Policy must approve new regulations before they can go into effect, but Chancellor Dennis Walcott decided that the field trip rules should be adopted immediately on an emergency basis. “Tragically, last year we lost one of our students in an accident on a school field trip to the beach. While we can never change history, we can take action to prevent future tragedies and better protect our students on field trips," Walcott said in a statement. "That is why today I signed an emergency order expanding supervision requirements for field trips and strengthening guidelines around swimming."