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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.
March 13, 2012
City officials are short on answers at Brooklyn turnaround forum
Wearing red shirts that read "We Believe in John Dewey," a row of teachers from the South Brooklyn high school give a student's testimony a standing ovation. Teachers and students from Brooklyn schools proposed for turnaround brought protest signs and pointed questions to a Monday night meeting with city officials — and left with few concrete answers. As representatives of most Brooklyn schools proposed for turnaround pled their cases in front of city officials tasked with closing an extra 33 schools this year, members of the overflow audience interrupted with shout-outs, standing ovations, and, at one point, sustained chanting of "Free the 33!" School communities have argued against the turnaround plans in tandem before, at an event in Queens and a meeting of the citywide high schools parent group. But this is the first time schools have been invited to testify in front of city officials masterminding the changes. Officials also heard for the first time from schools that have been almost completely silent about the reform plans. Elaine Gorman, the Department of Education official overseeing turnaround, opened the meeting, organized by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with an overview of the proposals, which would call for each school to replace at least half its staff and to be closed and re-opened with a new name. Then representatives from the 11 Brooklyn turnaround schools were invited to give testimonies about their schools. John Dewey High School teachers, parents, and students reprised their frequent protests by turning out in full-force; at least 100 of them sat in the audience sporting their cheerleading outfits or T-shirts in the school's signature red, and lept into standing ovations each time a Dewey student or teacher spoke. And a half-dozen William Maxwell High School teachers, unhappy that their A grade on the city's annual progress report would not be enough to protect their school from closure, waved poster-sized versions of the report card and the letter A when it was their turn to speak. They were joined by a slightly more subdued group of parents and teachers from Sheepshead Bay High School, the Cobble Hill School for American Studies, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, and a lone middle school student from the School for Global Studies, who spoke about the school's co-location with a charter school.
March 9, 2012
Students defend Dewey from closure in afternoon walk-out
Bolstered by the city's unflinching plan to close John Dewey High School this June, students from the South Brooklyn campus added a walk-out to their growing resumé of protest actions this afternoon.
March 9, 2012
Prep for turnaround process brings principals weekly to Tweed
Principals of many of the schools proposed for radical overhauls this summer have begun trekking each Tuesday to the Department of Education's headquarters at Tweed Courthouse to prepare. There, department officials are briefing them on how to shepherd their schools through the next six months during a weekly "Turnaround Schools Institute." The institute launched several weeks ago, after Mayor Bloomberg announced that 33 schools would be closed and reopened after having their leadership, programs, and teaching staffs shaken up under a federally prescribed process called "turnaround." The institute is an adaptation of the "New Schools Intensive," a six-month training seminar that the department has run for principals of new schools for nearly a decade, according to Marc Sternberg, the department official in charge of school closures and new schools, who himself participated in the new school program when launching the Bronx Lab School in 2004. The main idea, Sternberg said, is that the principals can work both with Department of Education officials and with other school leaders preparing for an unprecedented school overhaul process this fall. Multiple offices are involved in designing the programming, which borrows also from school overhaul trainings conducted in Chicago and North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg district and from efforts by nonprofit groups such as New Visions for Public Schools, which works with some of the city schools proposed for turnaround.
March 8, 2012
At Grady High, desperately seeking an audience and finding one
Teachers from Grady High School during a rally outside the Brighton Beach school on Wednesday. Students and teachers at William Grady Career and Technical High School aren't waiting until next month's closure hearing to share what they think of the city's plan to close the school this summer. Students organized a week of protest last month, and teachers joined them with a rally and candlelight visit outside the school on Wednesday. Evelyn Katz, an English teacher, said teachers began the rally just after school let out at 3:09 p.m. and were joined at 5 p.m. by students who had stayed late for tutoring. The rally came just hours after the school received a visit from a top state official whose assessment could influence whether State Education Commissioner John King endorses the city's "turnaround" plan. Multiple people who work at the school said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, spent several hours at Grady Wednesday morning. They said she toured the school's vocational shops, which include culinary arts and automotive repair.
March 6, 2012
With turnaround plans detailed, city turns attention to hearings
The city filled out its slate of "turnaround" proposals just minutes before the legal deadline to propose school closures for next year. After posting documents detailing 15 of the rapid overhaul plans last week, the city published the remaining 18 at about 11:20 p.m. Monday night. Monday was the six-month mark before the likely start of the 2012-2013 school year, so it was the legal deadline for the city to release "Education Impact Statements" for any schools it wants to close. Under turnaround, the city will close and immediately reopen the schools after replacing half of their teachers and, in many cases, their principals. The city devised the plan in January to allow federal funds for struggling schools to continue flowing even without a city-union agreement on new teacher evaluations. The statements detail exactly what the city is planning to do with the curriculum, career programs, and extracurricular options — sort of. In many cases, the city says only that it "may" close a program or introduce another one. For example, the impact statement for W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School says the city "is considering" cutting the apparel design and communication media programs. The new school, the statement says, "will explore" adding a sports medicine program. (The statement also strains to identify shortcomings with Maxwell, which received an A on its most recent city progress report.) The statements are just the first step in a series of legal procedures that lay the groundwork for closure — and they don't count for anything with the state, which must approve the plans if they are to receive federal funding. The city still has not submitted formal turnaround applications for State Education Commissioner John King to consider.
March 5, 2012
At HS fair, turnaround schools struggle to define themselves
Paul Heymont, a social studies teacher at Automotive High School, shows off the list of sports and clubs on offer at the Brooklyn school. It's hard to get students interested in your school when, according to the city's "turnaround" plan, it might not exist in the fall. That's what Deborah Elsenhout, a guidance counselor at Banana Kelly High School, reasoned when droves of families walked right past her booth at last weekend's Round 2 High School Fair, toward the hallway reserved for new schools opening in the fall. As one of 33 schools proposed for the "turnaround" school reform model, Banana Kelly is waiting to learn whether it will shut down this June, to reopen in the fall with the same students but a new name and a staffing overhaul. Students who apply to the 25 high schools on the turnaround list would automatically be transfered to the new schools that would replace them. Elsenhout said she either glossed over the turnaround situation to families who did stop, or didn't mention it at all. But it's hard, she noted, to advertise a school without a name. "We do have a rigorous academic curriculum and a strong connection with the community," she said. "But there's a sadness, knowing people will be losing their jobs." Teachers at many of the turnaround schools have expressed persistent confusion about the plan and its implication for their students. They also found it posed a dilemma at the fair, where 270 schools were given a weekend to pitch their programs, new and old, to hundreds of eighth-graders who were not accepted at their top-choice high schools during the city's main admissions process. Some teachers reassured families their schools weren't going anywhere, but others said the schools were already gone.
March 5, 2012
DOE officials called to stand in case of closing schools' support
The UFT wants former Chancellor Joel Klein to take a break from running News Corporation's education division to explain just how the Department of Education helped schools it was once barred from closing. The union has subpoenaed Klein to appear in court in the next phase of a school closure lawsuit filed last year. It has also issued "notices of deposition" to require 11 current Department of Education officials, including Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, to testify. That lawsuit, which a judge ruled should not impede the city's school closure plans, argued that the department had not provided 19 schools with promised support. The city had committed to providing the supports — which ranged from assigning temporary teachers to add extra support to providing additional teacher training — under the terms of a 2010 closure lawsuit. The union's 2010 suit focused on the city's compliance with state law about public notification of closure proposals. A state Supreme Court justice ruled that the city had not followed the law, halting school closures for that year. In a settlement, the city promised to pour extra help into the schools to help them boost performance and avoid closure the next year. But a year later, 14 of the 19 schools were back on the chopping block.
March 2, 2012
At some turnaround schools, city is telling principals they're out
The city has begun telling principals at some of the schools slated for a controversial overhaul process that they won't be part of the changes. The city is moving forward with plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools according to a federally prescribed school improvement strategy known as "turnaround." Turnaround requires that schools replace at least 50 percent of their teachers, revise their curriculums, and get new principals. The federal regulations make an exception for principals who have been in place less than two years or who arrived three years ago as part of a deliberate effort to overhaul their schools. Those principals are allowed to stay on. That means that about half of the principals at the schools slated for turnaround are likely to keep their jobs — and half will have to go. Some have already started getting the bad news. "Most principals found out that they would be leaving as of June 30 and they’re concerned to keep up the progress that the school has made," said one of the principals who is being removed. "It’s a very upsetting thing because we’ve worked very hard to make progress in our schools."
February 28, 2012
Days from state deadline, city begins detailing turnaround plans
Confusion about whether the city's turnaround proposals would amount to school closures can be put to rest. Eight of the schools the Department of Education has said it would "turn around" are on the Panel for Educational Policy's April agenda — as closure proposals. The schools are among 33 the city has said it would overhaul in order to qualify for federal funding earmarked for overhauling low-performing schools. The eight schools do not represent all of the closure proposals the city will ultimately make. Other schools that are not yet on the agenda, including Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, were told on Monday that the city had scheduled public hearings about their closure proposals for late March and early April. (The panel approved 18 non-turnaround closures earlier this month.) City officials have said that they would move forward with turnaround at all 33 schools, even after the city and union settled a key issue that had derailed previous overhaul processes at many of the schools and after it became clear that the schools' performance varies widely. Turnaround would require the schools to close and reopen after getting new names and replacing half of their teachers. Thirty-page "Educational Impact Statements" for each of the closure proposals offer clues about what the replacement schools would look like. The statements indicate that the city would maintain the schools' partnerships, extracurricular programs, and many curriculum offerings. The school that replaces Automotive High School, for example, would still offer vocational certification in car repair. Several of the schools would be broken into "small learning communities" that include ninth-grade academies, according to the city's plans. In the statements, the department also explains the switch to a more aggressive overhaul strategy from the models that most of the schools had been undergoing until the end of last year, when their funding was frozen because the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations.
February 21, 2012
City calls off state hearing to restore federal improvement grants
City officials won't be heading to Albany this week after all to petition State Education Commissioner John King to restore federal funding for 33 struggling schools. King cut off the funds, known as School Improvement Grants, last month when New York City failed to settle on new teacher evaluations by his end-of-2011 deadline. Nine other districts lost their funding for the same reason. All asked for hearings to appeal King's decree, and those hearings were set to begin last Friday. City officials were due to make their case for the funds Wednesday morning. But starting just hours after the news broke on Thursday that the state and its main teachers union, NYSUT, had agreed on a framework for new evaluations, all of the districts asked for their hearings to be adjourned, according to an SED spokesman, Dennis Tompkins. It's not clear exactly how the state's evaluations deal would change what districts planned to say during their hearings.
February 17, 2012
From Queens, strategies to halt redoubled "turnaround" plans
Councilman Ruben Wills present Richmond Hill Principal Frances DeSanctis with allocated discretionary funding. Parents at Richmond Hill High School hadn't heard that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was given a chance to reverse his bid to overhaul their school yesterday when they gathered to strategize against his plan. But it wouldn't have made a difference if they had: Bloomberg rejected the opportunity, created by a resolution in the city's teacher evaluation talks with the UFT, and vowed to proceed with plans to "turn around" 33 struggling schools, including Richmond Hill, anyway. When I told some of them the news that Bloomberg had reaffirmed his intentions to move forward with the turnaround, they said the news didn't change their agenda: to figure out how to halt the turnaround, which would cause the school to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. They pressed Principal Frances DeSanctis and City Councilman Ruben Wills, who both attended the parent association meeting, for suggestions about how to fight back against the city's plan. Carol Bouchard, the parent coordinator, said she left an "early engagement" meeting with Department of Education officials under the impression that the school could still go back to the restart model, which involved sharing the school management duties, and SIG funding, with and Educational Partnership Organization. She said Bloomberg's recommitment did not cause her to abandon hope. "I feel like it's still hanging," she said.
February 16, 2012
Arne Duncan: NY overcame "stumbling block" with evals deal
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the agreement between the State Education Department and NYSUT. Just hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal about the structure of a new teacher evaluation system, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was no longer concerned about the state's eligibility for federal Race to the Top funds. New York won $700 million in Race to the Top funds in large part by agreeing to adopt a new teacher evaluation system. But after passing an evaluation law in the spring of 2010, implementation was slow, and relations between the state and its teachers union, NYSUT, had deteriorated over the implementation. Last month, charging that the state was "backtracking on reform commitments," Duncan warned that New York was at risk of losing its Race to the Top funds. Today, Duncan said he was no longer worried. He struck a tone of unreserved optimism this afternoon while speaking to reporters on a Midtown sidewalk as he dashed between a meeting with the New York Times editorial board and a taping of the Daily Show. "This was a major roadblock, a major stumbling block, and I think they are over that in a great way," he said. There's a whole body of work going forward that New York has to do, but this was a major issue, a major concern of ours and I think they've addressed it in an extraordinary way."
February 16, 2012
Bloomberg: Evaluations progress won't stop "turnaround" plans
Today's evaluations announcement would appear to eliminate the main reason for the city's controversial plan to "turn around" 33 struggling schools. But Mayor Bloomberg said the city would move forward with the plans anyway. Bloomberg proposed turnaround, which would require the schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers, last month as a way to circumvent a requirement that the city negotiate an evaluation deal for teachers in those schools. Now, having resolved a sticking point in those negotiations resolved — the appeals process for teachers who receive low ratings — the city could conceivably appeal to the state to let it continue receiving federal funds to implement improvement strategies that had been underway there until the evaluations negotiations broke down in December. But Bloomberg — who did not join state and union officials announcing the evaluations deal in Albany today — said during a press conference at City Hall that he would not be backing down from the turnaround plans. "Nothing in the deal prevents us from moving forward with our plan to replace the lowest performing teachers in 33 of our most troubling schools," he said. Bloomberg said the aggressive overhaul strategy was necessary because no teachers would be removed from schools because of low scores on the new evaluations for at least a year and a half.
February 15, 2012
Grover Cleveland students join fray protesting turnaround plans
Michelle Robertson, an assistant principal and English teacher at Grover Cleveland High School, defends the school at a hearing about the city's "turnaround" plans in Queens. Rather than filing through metal detectors when they arrive at school Thursday morning, students from Grover Cleveland High School plan to line up around the school's perimeter, locking hands in a "human chain." They are hoping the display of unity will do what weeks of hearings and meetings have not — convince city officials to reverse plans to overhaul their school. The purpose of the 7 a.m. march, according to senior class president Diana Rodriguez, is for students to demonstrate their passion for Grover Cleveland in the face of the city's plans to close the school, change its name, and remove some teachers via a federal reform model called "turnaround." "There are teachers here I love so much, they've been teaching for 10, 20, 30 years, one for over 40 years," Rodriguez said. City officials "think they're saving money, but it's just going to worsen the problem. Getting rid of 50 percent of our staff and turning around and swapping principals and teachers from school to school doesn't solve the problem itself, it just extends it even more." Students will hold hands and form a chain around the perimeter of the school, then march in a circle holding signs they've made for the occasion or saved from last year, when they held a similar protest, she said.
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