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June 27, 2013
Grady seniors, principal leave together after stormy reform effort
Principal Geraldine Maione addresses seniors at Grady's 2013 commencement ceremony. In an emotional goodbye to teachers and graduating seniors at William Grady Career & Technical High School on Tuesday, Principal Geraldine Maione disclosed — for the first time, she said — how she landed on her feet at the school three years ago. "The only reason I'm here at Grady is because of your president, my president, and my friend: Michael Mulgrew," Maione said, referring to the head of the United Federation of Teachers union. She was speaking under a tent set up on Grady's football field, which overflowed with family members of the more than 150 students who walked in the graduation ceremony. The event marked the end of school not only for seniors at Grady, but for Maione, too. After 20 years as a history teacher and principal, Maione is retiring, having spent three years as Grady's leader. The event also capped a tumultuous period for the Brighton Beach school, which was caught in the middle of a lengthy labor fight that ended with student enrollment down significantly. "Please know that you gave so much back to me," Maione told the students while giving out awards she created more than a decade ago in memory of her two sons, who died in 1999. "I would have never been able to live these last 14 years if it wasn't for all the thousands of children that I have."
May 1, 2013
Exit strategy for students at closing schools hard to navigate
Edna Wilson and her granddaughter Gianee, a P.S. 64 student, protested the school's poor quality before its closure hearing in February. Wilson is among those who were disappointed with the transfer options the city presented to students in schools that it is is phasing out. (Luke Hammill) An escape route from the city's most struggling schools that Department of Education officials touted as a significant innovation is unlikely to be an option for many eligible families, parents and advocates say. When the city closes low-performing schools, new students aren't allowed to enroll and current students stay on until they graduate. The arrangement has drawn criticism from state officials, families, and advocates who say high-need students see morale and support decline as their schools diminish in size. This spring, just before finalizing plans to close 22 schools, department officials said they felt a “moral imperative” to help students who want to leave closing schools do so. They said they would mail transfer applications, including a list of possible destination schools, to all 16,000 students in the 61 schools that would be in the process of phasing out this fall. “They presented it to families as an alternative to protect their children,” said Emma Hulse, a community organizer with New Settlement who has helped South Bronx families fill out transfer applications. "But when the package actually hit people's mailboxes, we realized it’s not a meaningful alternative," she said.
June 4, 2012
Saved from "turnaround," Grady faces new threats to existence
Grady Principal Geraldine Maione stands in front of a mural painted by students in a "transformation"-funded arts program. In a normal year, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School would be preparing to enroll a ninth-grade class of about 350 students. But this hasn't been a normal year. The high school directory distributed to eighth-graders in September listed the school as having a "D" on its city progress report, even though Grady's 2010 grade would be updated to a B in October. In December, the school's federal funding was cut off after the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations. The next month, Mayor Bloomberg surprised school staff by announcing that Grady would be one of 33 schools to close and reopen under an overhaul program known as "turnaround." Then, in April, after months of raucous protests and appeals to the state's top education leaders, Grady was yanked from the turnaround list, along with six other schools that had top grades on their city progress reports. The school would open this fall as usual. Except that it won't. Grady has just 150 students on its ninth-grade roster for the fall, and fewer students means fewer dollars to spend — in Grady's case, about $3.5 million. Officials at Grady are planning to cut teachers loose, cancel after-school programs, and dismantle some of the supports that Principal Geraldine Maione said helped the school improve enough to stay open. No longer will there be after-school clubs in robotics and chess, and teachers won't be able to be paid to work an extended-day program for students who want to take additional courses in music and dance. With a career and technical education focus, Grady has never been able to offer a full complement of arts courses, so the clubs offered students a rare chance for a rounded education, Maione said.
April 6, 2012
Funding for no-longer-turnaround schools still an open question
Rejoice is turning to concern about funding at schools newly spared from an aggressive overhaul process. The seven schools — all with top grades on the city’s performance metrics — pulled from the Department of Education’s “turnaround” roster on Monday were positioned to receive about $15 million in federal School Improvement Grants next year. Being taken off the turnaround list means the schools won't have to replace half of their teachers, lose their names, or get new principals. But it also means that they might not receive the funds: A letter distributed by the Department of Education to students at the schools on Tuesday states, "We regret that this [change] may result in the loss of federal resources for your school." The funds could make the difference between continued improvement and backsliding for the schools. Five of the seven schools had received SIG funds in 2010 and 2011, enabling them to pay for enhancements that their principals said led to quick improvements. At Brooklyn's School of Global Studies, nearly $1 million received under "transformation" allowed the school to buy new technology and hire expert teachers. William E. Grady Career and Technical High School paid for tutoring, college trips, an extended program, and Saturday school for students who had fallen behind. Both schools scored B's on their most recent city progress reports after years of low grades. "If we don’t get the money we wont be able to finish what we started," Geraldine Maione, Grady's principal, said this week. "We started out on the premise that we were getting this money for three years because that is what we were told."
March 15, 2012
Merryl Tisch: Turnaround plan "has nothing to do with the kids"
Tisch spoke on a GothamSchools panel in 2011. Breaking her silence on the city's plan to overhaul 33 struggling schools, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said late Wednesday that she believes "turnaround" is a political strategy, not an educational one. "There's a fight going on here that has nothing to do with what's going on at the school," she said. "It's a labor dispute between labor and management and has nothing to do with the kids." Tisch was referring to the stalemate between the Bloomberg administration and the teachers union that gave rise to the city's turnaround plans. Bloomberg announced the plans in January as a way to get federal funds for the schools even though the city and union had not been able to agree on new teacher evaluations, a requirement of less aggressive strategies already in place. The turnaround strategy, which require the schools to be closed and reopened after changing their names and half of their teachers, has only deepened enmity between the city and UFT. On Wednesday, Tisch visited one of the schools, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School, and said she was impressed by the changes underway, which she attributed to its principal, Geraldine Maione. The school received millions of federal dollars in the last two years while undergoing "transformation," which funded extra tutoring, additional programs, and new technology. "This is a school that is moving in a really fine direction," Tisch said of Grady, which received a B on its most recent city progress report. "This is the wrong message to this school at this time. Don't be so dismissive of the efforts going on in that building." It was Tisch's second visit to the school. Last week, she brought fellow Regent Kathleen Cashin for a visit that was scheduled after she met Maione in February at a principals union event featuring Diane Ravitch. On Wednesday, Maione said, Tisch and Cashin brought State Education Commissioner John King along with them.
February 7, 2012
From school facing turnaround, a tale of academic perseverance
This story originally appeared in Miller-McCune. Since this story was completed, New York City has said it would require Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School to undergo "turnaround," which would cause the school name to disappear and half the teachers to be replaced. At 18 years old, Moustafa Elhanafi has embarked on an academic journey that has brought him tantalizingly close to obtaining a high school diploma. (Ben Preston) On a hot, sunny September afternoon — the sticky kind so common in New York City that time of year — a tall, dark-haired young man with his shoulders hunched slightly forward padded into Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School’s back entrance and into a small courtyard. Moustafa Elhanafi sought the school’s principal. He needed her help. Not being a student there, he didn’t know what she looked like or where he would find her inside the massive, unfamiliar building. In the courtyard beneath the shade of a wide-leafed tree, looking for crafty students cutting class, stood Principal Geraldine Maione. “I saw her, and I didn’t know if she was the principal, but she was wearing a suit, so I asked her if she was,” said Moustafa. Maione welcomed him inside and listened to what he had to say. With his father beside him, Moustafa told Maione how, at 18 years old, he still didn’t know how to read or write. He had tried and failed at other schools, and he was willing to work as hard as he could to learn, but Moustafa said he needed help. After 15 minutes relating his frustrations, he began to cry. Maione, too, became emotional. She told him she knew just the person who could help. As if on cue, special education teacher Rosalie Dolan strode around the corner on her way home for the day, right into the tear-streaked faces of Moustafa and Maione. “He cried, she cried, I cried,” recalled Dolan, relating the details in the thick accent shared by so many of the South Brooklyn school’s teachers. “I don’t know how to explain it; it was like a rainforest. I think we all had a spiritual experience that day.” The trio’s first meeting that day launched Moustafa on an academic journey that has brought him tantalizingly close to obtaining a high school diploma. Outside of school hours, and without pay, Dolan began the painstaking process of teaching Moustafa how to read, one letter at a time. That was in 2008, at the end of Moustafa’s three-year run at the Roy Campanella Occupational Training Center — known colloquially as the OTC — a school for developmentally disabled children. The New York City public school system — the largest in the world — has many resources at its disposal, but as Moustafa’s case suggests, it’s not always successful at plugging every student into the right ones.
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."
December 5, 2011
More city principals, but not many, sign on to evaluation petition
Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady High School, has signed onto a petition opposing the state's new teacher evaluations. The newest signatories to a petition against the state's new teacher evaluation system include one of the few principals who actually has experience with the new evaluations. Geraldine Maione heads Brooklyn's William E. Grady High School, which is among 33 "persistently low-achieving" city schools that are using the new evaluations in exchange for additional federal funds. She told me that she opposes the new evaluations because they are so formulaic that they leave little room for principals to exercise discretion. "When I walk in a classroom, I know when children are learning and teachers are teaching," she said, adding that tougher evaluations aren't necessary if principals push struggling teachers either to improve or move on. "No teacher has a forever job if the principal is doing her job," Maione said. Maione is among about 30 city principals who have signed onto a position paper arguing that the state's evaluation requirements — which require a portion of teachers’ ratings to be based on their students’ test scores — are unsupported by research, prone to errors, and too expensive at a time of budget cuts. That's a sharp rise from last month, when hundreds of principals statewide had signed on but only two active city principals were on the list.
July 6, 2011
At Grady, transformation funds change school's look and feel
Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady CTE High School, speaks to a teacher getting ready for summer school. “Everything about this school has improved. Everything.” Geraldine Maione, principal of William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School in Brighton Beach, does not hesitate when asked about the trajectory of her school. Maione just finished her first year at Grady, where she was greeted with a staff weary of leadership changes, a curriculum that has see-sawed between emphasizing traditional academics and the school’s signature “shops,” and a D grade on its 2009-10 progress report. She was also given $1.4 million of additional “transformation” money through the federal government's program to improve low-achieving schools. At the end of her first year, staff members say they've felt the impact of Maione's leadership and the additional funds—though it is unclear if the school is yet making the academic gains it needs to avoid facing closure in the future. The transformation money helped pay for an array of cosmetic changes to the building and school trips to colleges throughout New York state, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. The entrance area was repainted from black and white to maroon and yellow, the school colors. The front doors are now framed by planters, filled with flowers, that double as benches. Murals featuring civil rights leaders and faces of current students fill once-blank hallway walls.
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