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New York

At Murry Bergtraum HS, fights and frustration mark year's start

This chart from the city's most recent schools survey shows that overall satisfaction with Murry Bergtraum High School is below the city average. At one of the few remaining comprehensive high schools in the city, the year has gotten off to a rocky start with low teacher confidence in the principal, incomplete teacher and student schedules, and student fights on the first day of school. Two significant fights broke out on Monday at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, Department of Education officials said today, confirming reports from faculty and staff who said the downtown Manhattan school bordered on chaos as students returned from summer vacation. Murry Bergtraum, which received one of the lowest grades in the city on its most recent progress report, saw a major brawl in April and a riot over bathroom rights in 2010, had students arrested for attempted arson last October, and enrolled nearly half its population as "super seniors" three years ago. But despite a new "school within a school" for some strong students and a series of vaunted principals, including one "executive principal" who received a hefty bonus to turn the school around but left before her contract ended, conditions appear to remain grim. Parents, teachers, and students all rated the school far below the citywide average on four categories, including safety and academic expectations, according to survey results that the Department of Education released last week. Most teachers think the current principal, Lottie Almonte, is not an effective manager and do not trust her, according to the survey, and fewer than half say they feel respected. (Almonte did not respond to requests for comment.) Fifty-one of about 130 faculty and staff members left the school over the summer, according to John Elfrank-Dana, the school's union chapter leader who has repeatedly tried to raise the alarm about the school. He said the turnover had added to sweeping confusion about what classes teachers are teaching, what classes students are taking, and where and when classes are being held.
New York

Live-blogging the first day of school, the last under Bloomberg

Most folks have a first-day-of-school ritual, from sharpening pencils for teachers to taking pictures for parents to donning a fresh outfit for students. For us at GothamSchools, it’s racing across the city to visit as many school communities as we can. This year, we have four reporters who will be traversing the five boroughs today to meet teachers, families, and politicians who are heading back to school today. With the city's primary elections set for Tuesday, many candidates plan to use the first day of school to stump for votes. Mayor Bloomberg will also make a last first-day appearance at a Washington Heights high school this morning. Follow Anika Anand, Sarah Darville, Geoff Decker, and Emma Sokoloff-Rubin on Twitter for the latest updates, and check back here for longer dispatches throughout the day. (Remember, the reports are posted in reverse chronological order, so if you want to read from the beginning of the day, start at the end and scroll up.) 5 p.m. The first day of school has come to an end (except for the students at 20 middle schools who still have half an hour left in their extended day programs). We're signing off after visiting more than a dozen schools in all five boroughs — but we'll be back to school tomorrow, to cover day two and the city's primary election. For folks whose eyes can handle more reading, don't forget our voters guides and The Next Education Mayor feature. 4:49 p.m. Outside the South Bronx Academy for Applied Media this afternoon, three eighth-graders were debriefing the first day of school and let Emma in on their conversation. "It wasn't the same as it was last year," Aryon Holley said about the secondary school. "They made it strict," her friend Destiny Frazier said, backing her up. "They made it better academically but there's less freedom for the students," Holley said. "They switched our classes around and there are a lot of new teachers." "We have to get used to it," said a third girl, Achaton Sounah. "I think it's for the better," Holley concluded. 4:35 p.m. For Channel View School for Research in Far Rockaway, the new year offers a chance to reverse fortunes. Last year left the school's culture out of equilibrium after a months-long relocation after Superstorm Sandy. The school stayed open over the summer, bringing in many students whose attendance lagged after the storm for extra work before starting ninth grade. Older students also took Regents preparation courses, and a small group worked on a project to restore sensitive plant life that was destroyed at the nearby Jamaica wildlife reserve. Six months after the storm, Craig Dorsi, the school's union leader, said Channel View was still devastated. Today, he told Geoff that things had changed again for the better. "I think a lot of the systems we had in place helped preserve everything," said Dorsi, who recruited 13 students for the planting restoration project. Sandy's impact can still be felt, though. A private security detail, which Dorsi called "human fire detectors," are stationed on each end of every hallway as well as in bunches in the lobbies and outside the school because the fire alarms never worked properly after the building was flooded. And the sports field, which boosters hoped would be fixed in time for this fall, is still off limits. 4:25 p.m. The first afternoon of the new extended day program at I.S. 3o in Brooklyn was devoted mostly to snack and attendance logisitics, Anika reports. After dismissal, sixth-graders were ushered into the auditorium, where Principal Carol Heeraman welcomed them to the school and asked an important question: How many had signed forms allowing them to stay for an extra two and a half hours each day as part of the city's Middle School Quality Initiative? Only a handful of students raised their hands, and the rest were dismissed with instructions to get their parents to sign on.
New York

Traversing the city to cover the (newly sunny) first day of school

Every year, the city's schools chancellor takes a five-borough tour on the first day of school. Today is Dennis Walcott's first time on the circuit, but it's our third, and we'll be chronicling his journey and the first day of school for the city’s 1.1 million students in 1,600 schools. Rachel, Geoff, and Jessica will be sending dispatches from around the city all day. (Remember, the reports are posted in reverse chronological order, so if you want to read from the beginning of the day, start at the end and scroll up.) Want to add your own first-day-of-school stories or pictures? Email us. Dismissal at Brooklyn's School for International Studies 5:32 p.m. It's been a long day, and just like some teachers, we're ready for a nap. (But don't worry, we'll post Remainders before we crash.) I'll conclude with a note from the only school visit I managed today, a jaunt down Brooklyn's Court Street to the low-slung building that houses two secondary schools. One of them, the School for International Studies, made the news last week when the Post reported it was looking for a public relations professional to help improve its image and boost enrollment. Having more students would give the school more money and allow it to offer more to its students. But a student I met today cited the school's small size as its greatest asset. "I like that it's small," said the student, a 10th-grader who was scarfing down a lunch with friends while standing on the school's front patio. "I want to keep it just the way it is." 5:01 p.m. It was the beginning of the end for Christopher Columbus High School today, where students returned to class knowing that they would be among the last to ever attend the school. Columbus is one of 22 schools the city started to close this year. It will phase out one grade at a time and close its doors for the last time when current sophomores graduate in 2014. Two students set to graduate in Columbus's final class. "Everybody is very upset. It's depressing," said a longtime special education teacher at the school, who said her department lost four teachers because the school does not have a ninth grade this year. "But we're going to work just as hard, if not harder, to show that were a good school." That was the tone teachers were striking over the summer, when they told GothamSchools that they would revamp the curriculum despite knowing that the school's days might well be numbered. Two members of the sophomore class, Christopher Rivera and Lisa Budhwa, told Geoff today that they agreed the school should be closed. Rivera said one of his teachers told students they should feel special to be among Columbus's final students. "There's just so many kids who don't act the way they should," Rivera said. "They're always jumping around the hallway like they're crazy." Kayla Allen, a senior, disagreed, arguing that the school should stay open. But she seconded Rivera's complaints about student behavior. "It's not the school that's doing bad," Allen said. "It's the students in the school not doing stuff." 4:19 p.m. Earlier today, Geoff filed an in-depth report about City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's sharp words about teacher layoffs this morning at P.S./I.S. 187. Other elected officials also turned out for the first day of school.
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