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November 14, 2013
City picks 71 struggling schools for lower-stakes discussions
City officials listen to students at Lehman High School describe the school's struggles last year at an "early engagement" meeting. This year's meetings will have a different tone because closure is not a possible outcome. Sustaining an annual tradition, Department of Education officials will hold meetings with teachers, parents, and students at 71 low-performing schools in the coming weeks. But with the department's leadership set to change over when Bill de Blasio becomes mayor Jan. 1, the meetings are not a prelude to a round of school closure announcements, as they were in the past. Instead, they'll be used to develop plans to help the schools get better, as de Blasio has said should be the response to low performance in almost all cases. The Bloomberg administration's strategy for improving the school system has rested heavily on closing struggling schools and opening new schools in their place. That strategy drew fire from school communities that said the city had not tried to fix the schools before closing them.
December 5, 2012
Boys & Girls leader steals the show at lively pre-closure meeting
In a fiery, off-the-cuff speech delivered to supporters on Tuesday, outspoken Boys and Girls High School Principal Bernard Gassaway reiterated charges he has leveled for years: The city is keeping him from turning around his long-struggling school. Just that afternoon, he recounted, he confronted and sent away an unwanted teacher assigned to him by the Department of Education. "They sent a nut job here," Gassaway said, to cheers from the crowd who turned out a meeting held by the department as part of a process to determine whether the school should close. "But that's what they think about kids," he added as part of the 11-minute address. "You don't think that's not done intentionally?" With a 37 percent four-year graduation rate and a 2.4 percent college-and-career-readiness rate, Boys and Girls ranks as one of the lowest-performing schools in the city and has for years. Demand for the school has also waned, as enrollment has dropped 40 percent — from 2,000 to 1,200 — since 2010.
December 4, 2012
Students and staff say, again, that Lehman is on the upswing
As Elaine Gorman, a top official in the Department of Education's Division of Portfolio Planning, looks on, seniors Lindita Nuculli and Samantha Calero talk about Lehman High School's strengths. For the third time in a year, students and teachers at Herbert H. Lehman High School lined up Monday night to tell city officials why the school should remain open. They were there a year ago, when the city first shortlisted the school for possible closure. And they were back there this spring for a spate of meetings and protests over the city's plan to close and reopen the school according to a federally prescribed overhaul process — a process Lehman only narrowly escaped. Yesterday evening, Department of Education officials returned to Lehman to warn that closure is on the horizon again. At an emotional "early engagement" meeting—a meeting between officials, school staff, community members that is the first step in the closure process—current and former teachers and students defended the large, East Bronx school, arguing that the Department of Education's reform policies are to blame for Lehman's decline. Department officials have held early engagement meetings at Lehman twice before, but the school ultimately remained open. In a presentation at the beginning of the meeting, principal Rose Lobianco said the school is already on the slow and steady path to improvement, thanks to the creation of a small learning academy structure that splits students into several "academies," with their own assistant principal leaders, based on academic interest.
December 3, 2012
Many are gearing up to defend schools the city might close
Metal detectors greet students at DeWitt Clinton High School. This photo is taken from a documentary about the school by alumni Danny and Bill Schechter. Click the picture to watch. As the Department of Education begins holding meetings at the high schools officials are considering closing, some of the schools are tapping into decades-worth of alumni ties and institutional memory to defend themselves. Representatives of Boys and Girls High School, Juan Morel Campos Secondary School, and DeWitt Clinton High School have put out press releases encouraging families, community members and the press to attend the department's "early engagement" meetings at their schools this week. At the meetings, which are typically closed to the public, superintendents and other department officials will listen to teachers, families and administrators describe their schools' strengths and the challenges they face. The meetings are a required first step in the process by which the city initiates school closures under state law. The department typically recommends closure for about half of the schools that undergo early engagement each year, but the process by which officials narrow down the preliminary hit list is murky. School communities are expected to make the case that their schools should stay open, despite low graduation rates and other issues, and demonstrate that they have the capacity to make dramatic improvements.
November 26, 2012
Among 24 schools city says it could close, some familiar names
Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of school closures, said the city would consider whether to phase out 24 struggling high schools. Seven high schools that the city tried in vain to close last year are among the two dozen that the Department of Education might move to shutter this year. Department officials announced today that they had added 24 high schools to the list of schools they are considering closing. The schools join 36 elementary and middle schools already slated for “early engagement” meetings, the first step in the city's school closure process. The department named those schools in October but postponed the meetings because of Hurricane Sandy. The high schools were culled from 60 whose progress report scores made them eligible for closure under the city's rules. Their test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and readiness for college do not measure up to city standards, according to Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg, the department official who oversees school closures, who said the schools' presence on the early engagement list indicates that they have deep problems to address. "What we see in a school that can't demonstrate the capacity to improve dramatically and to improve quickly is a calcification of the systems that lead to good schools," Sternberg told reporters in a briefing on the reports this afternoon. "The adults are not communicating clearly and well with each other, there's a lack of collaboration, a lack of organizational alignment that will enable the kind of instruction we know is important and necessary to lead to good outcomes."
November 15, 2012
In a change, city is steering aspiring principals off the fast track
Realizing that its strategies for stocking the city's ever-expanding supply of schools with excellent principals have fallen short, the Department of Education is launching new programs aimed at slowing down the transition from teacher to administrator. The largest of the new initiatives is the Teacher Leadership Program, aimed at developing leadership skills in hundreds of teachers who are still working in the classroom. Other initiatives are meant to prepare leaders to handle the special challenges of running middle schools and to capitalize on the leadership skills of principals who are already in the system. And a foundation that helped the city underwrite a fast-track principal training program is now paying for educators to earn degrees in school administration at local universities. "Most of our principal training work that we've done historically is focused on that last year before you become a principal," Chief Academic Office Shael Polakow-Suransky said. "It's the last step in the process, and what we've come to understand is that there [are] a lot of steps that happen before that in someone's career. ... We want to begin to do that kind of training." The new programs represent a strong shift away from the Bloomberg administration's early approach to cultivating school leadership at a time when the city is losing about 150 principals a year, even as it has ramped up new school creation. Together with existing programs, they are set to produce 134 new principals and engage 300 teachers this year, according to the department.
October 3, 2012
Dozens of elementary and middle schools told they might close
J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn is one of 36 elementary and middle schools that the Department of Education has put on notice because of poor performance. Three dozen schools that received low grades from the Department of Education on Monday are already getting notice that the city is gravely worried about their performance. Department of Education officials have identified 36 schools — including 15 middle schools and 25 schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx — for an “early engagement” process that could lead either to closure or another lease on life. This is the third year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year's closures will be the last of the Bloomberg administration. The potential closure list is nearly twice as long as last year's, when the city held early engagement meetings at 20 elementary and middle schools and ultimately moved to close 10 of them. It is culled from 217 schools whose progress report scores put them at risk of closure, according to the city's rules. This year's list includes several schools that have already had closure scares. Two schools, M.S. 142 in the Bronx and Brooklyn's General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, went through early engagement last year. (Chappie's sister elementary school is now in the process of closing.) M.S. 142 and another school, J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, were also slated to undergo a different closure process called "turnaround" last year until the city was forced to abandon those plans. The list also includes two charter schools that the city allowed to open, Bronx Community Charter School and Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which serves students in the foster care system. Both of the schools are up for renewal this year. Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve.
March 1, 2012
Moskowitz's Success expansion set to go deeper into Brooklyn
The city's school board isn't set to vote on the last of the Success Charter Network's 2012 expansion plans until tonight. But plans for the network's 2013 additions are already well underway. In a letter sent last month to elected officials and community leaders in central Brooklyn, Success CEO Eva Moskowitz announced that she intends to apply for charters to open three schools in the area in the 2013-2014 school year. One school would go in District 13, an area of Brooklyn that Moskowitz had originally said would house the school now set to open this fall in Cobble Hill. The two others would go in District 17, which includes Crown Heights and parts of Flatbush. Already, the tentative plans are drawing criticism. The district manager for Community Board 2, which covers much of District 13, told the Brooklyn Paper that the community would be hesitant to embrace any such plan after Moskowitz suddenly opted out of her plans to open a school in the district this year. “The board is not prepared to go down that road again,” Rob Perris told the newspaper. City Councilwoman Letitia James, whose district covers large swaths of both districts, said she has grown wary of co-location battles in public school facilities, something that has accompanied nearly all of the Success network's school openings.
January 31, 2012
At Grady, parents probe distinction between closure, turnaround
The entrance of Brighton Beach's William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School. Is the school being closed, or is it staying open? Parents repeated variations of that question often over the course of a two-hour-long meeting Department of Education officials held at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School Monday evening to detail the city's plan to overhaul the school. The answer, they were told, was more complicated than a matter of semantics. "This school is not being closed," Aimee Horowitz, the school's superintendent, told families, teachers, and the School Leadership Team in three meetings at the school over the course of the day. But she also said a new school with a different name would be opening in the building in the fall, and just half of Grady's current teachers would remain. Those are the conditions of the school improvement model known as "turnaround," she explained. Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this month that the city would use turnaround at 33 struggling schools so that they could continue receiving federal funds even if the city and teachers union do not agree on new teacher evaluations. Since 2010, Grady had been undergoing a different federally mandated overhaul process, "transformation," which relies on changing leadership, bringing in extra support services, and experimenting with longer school days and new teacher training. The details Horowitz outlined were puzzling for several of the 40 parents and students who crowded into Grady's cafeteria to learn about the turnaround plan. "First you say in your speech that the school was going to do transformation. And then as you go on you started saying things like, this is going to be a new school. So where are we, which one should we believe?" said Ade Ajayi, whose son is a junior. "A lot of things are going to change. Teachers are going to change. We don't even know if the name is going to be the same."
January 24, 2012
Closure meetings underway at schools slated for "turnaround"
Posters from past student theater performances adorned the walls of Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School's auditorium, where parents gathered Monday for a meeting on school turnaround. The city has started running through its closure protocol at dozens of low-performing schools it wants to "turn around." At Brooklyn's Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, Superintendent Aimee Horowitz held a tense meeting with teachers to talk about the closure plan Monday afternoon. Hours later, she detailed the plan to about 50 angry and bewildered parents at an "early engagement" meeting that has for the last two years been the Department of Education's first step in letting schools know they could be closed. The pattern is set to repeat this week and beyond at dozens of low-performing schools that were midway through federally mandated overhaul processes known as "transformation" and "restart" until earlier this month, when Mayor Bloomberg announced that the city would instead try to use a different process, "turnaround," at the schools. The switch, aimed at letting the city sidestep a state requirement that it negotiate new teacher evaluations with the United Federation of Teachers, would require the schools to be closed and immediately reopened after having at least half of their teachers replaced. The mass-replacement plan drew fire from parents and students who said FDR's teachers are essential if academic performance is to improve. "I feel tortured," said Abdul Sager, a ninth-grader whose first language is Bengali. "If a new teacher comes who doesn't know about my feelings and strategies ... to learn English, it's going to take more time."
November 16, 2011
As anti-closure rallies expand to high schools, students jump in
A screenshot from the Facebook event advertising a rally to support Juan Morel Campos Secondary School Community meetings at schools that the Department of Education is considering closing have started attracting a new constituency: students. That's because the meetings, which the DOE calls "early engagement conversations," are now being held at high schools. Until this week, all of the meetings had happened at elementary and middle schools, for which the city released a shortlist of potential closures in September. One meeting took place Monday evening at Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts, where some members of the school community are arguing that its progress report data aren't bad enough to warrant closure. Last night, students made the case for keeping Manhattan's High School of Graphic Communications Arts open. And today, students have recruited crowds to defend Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tiffany Munoz, a Juan Morel Campos junior who was student body president last year, said students were alarmed when they heard that the school could close and quickly invited hundreds of current and former students to a Facebook event, "Save Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (I.S. 71) From Being Closed." Tonight, when the school's superintendent meets with community members, 150 students who RSVPed yes plan to let her know that the school is a tight-knit community with a thriving arts and music program where teachers push students to do their very best.
October 25, 2011
Among low-scoring schools, familiar names and dashed hopes
Yesterday's high school progress reports release put 60 schools on existential notice. Fourteen high schools got failing grades, 28 received D's, and another 14 have scored at a C or lower since at least 2009 — making them eligible for closure under Department of Education policy. In the coming weeks, the city will winnow the list of schools to those it considers beyond repair. After officials release a shortlist of schools under consideration for closure, they will hold "early engagement" meetings to find out more about what has gone wrong. City officials said they would look at the schools' Quality Reviews, state evaluations, and past improvement efforts before recommending some for closure. Last month, they said they were considering closure for just 20 of the 128 elementary and middle schools that received low progress report grades. The at-risk high schools are spread over every borough except for Staten Island and include many of the comprehensive high schools that are still open in the Bronx, including DeWitt Clinton High School and Lehman High School, which until recently were considered good options for many students. They also include two of the five small schools on the Erasmus Campus in Brooklyn and two of the three small schools that have long occupied the John Jay High School building in Park Slope. (A fourth school, which is selective, opened at John Jay this year.) They include several of the schools that received "executive principals" who got hefty bonuses to turn conditions around.
October 18, 2011
Parents at P.S. 256 say their school is cash-strapped, not failing
Natavia Schurry, the mother of a kindergartener at P.S. 256, protests the school's threatened closure. (Megan Hester) An after-school rally at Brooklyn's P.S. 256 today took aim at the idea that the school is failing, even though it got an F on its most recent progress report. The Department of Education included P.S. 256, a Bedford-Stuyvesant school, on a list of 20 low-performing schools that are being considered for closure. But parents and staff say the school is doing its best with limited resources. Budget cuts have cost P.S. 256 its art and reading teachers and shrunk its tutoring program, according to Jimmy Dinkins, vice president of the school's parent-teacher association. "How are you going to put a school on a sinking ship and then expect us to pass?" Dinkins asked before the rally today. DOE figures show $427,000 in budget cuts since 2008 for the 400-student school, where fewer than 4 in 10 students pass state reading and math tests. Dinkins said he and other parents suspect that the DOE is trying to figure out how to free up space for the Community Partnership Charter School, whose middle school grades moved to the P.S. 256 building last year, to expand.
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