City to reduce number of latecomer students sent to Renewal high schools

Mayor Bill de Blasio meets with students and faculty at Automotive High School. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

The city will begin sending schools in its “Renewal” turnaround program fewer latecomer students, who often pose extra challenges for schools, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced this week.

The move offers some relief from one enrollment quandary facing the city’s low-performing schools. Under the city’s choice-based admissions process, low-performing high schools often struggled to fill their seats, some of which the city would later fill with students who entered the system after typical admissions deadlines. Those “over-the-counter” students could potentially pull down the school’s performance even further, in what some have called an enrollment “death spiral.”

“I know that many of you have expressed concerns about the admissions process for ‘Over-the-Counter’ students,” Fariña said in a memo that Renewal schools received Wednesday. “We plan on reducing the number of OTC students who are assigned to Renewal Schools.”

But the move would also restrict the flow of students to Renewal Schools, which have just three years to make significant academic gains, and many of which have seen their enrollment fall for years. Since funding is tied to enrollment, such declines have made it difficult for the schools to offer special programs and elective classes.

Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said superintendents and Renewal officials will balance the needs of latecomer students with improvement efforts underway at Renewal schools. At the same time, they will try to help those schools attract more students during the normal admissions process.

“In their critical role, they will be thinking through the best way to refer OTC students to Renewal Schools or other schools in the district — based on student’s needs and while continuing to support the progress underway at each Renewal School,” Kaye said in a statement. “Also, by promoting the new services offered at Renewal Schools — like course specific offerings, community school services, extended day learning, and small group tutoring opportunities — we’ll work to attract community partners and students to these schools.”

The city is also considering redirecting latecomer students in younger grades, she said.

The policy change begins to address a question that some Renewal school staffers have been asking behind closed doors: How can the city expect them to make rapid gains if it keeps sending them students mid-year who may have recently arrived in the country or been released from jail? It comes after the city told two Renewal schools last year facing extra scrutiny from the state — Boys and Girls and Automotive high schools in Brooklyn — that it would temporarily stop sending them latecomers.

Almost all the Renewal schools confront the interlocked challenges of declining enrollments and especially challenging student populations. Over the past two school years, 80 of the 94 Renewal schools have seen their enrollment dip, and 14 have seen more than one-third of their total enrollment disappear since 2013, according to a recent analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office. The schools are serve an outsize share of English language learners, black students, Hispanic students, and students in temporary housing — all of whom typically post lower-than-average test scores and graduation rates.

Boys and Girls High School illustrates how those challenges can intersect. Its enrollment has plummeted from 2,300 to 500 students in just a few years, leaving it with many needy students but less funding. The over-the-counter freeze was meant to spare the school from receiving many more students with exceptional needs. But even though the relatively small number of latecomer students could hardly plug the school’s growing enrollment gap, some staffers see the policy as one more obstacle to repopulating the school.

“That moratorium,” a Boys and Girls staffer said last month, “chokes us to death.”

The city has more than 400 high schools, 35 of which are in the Renewal program. Since the city’s high-performing schools have many more applicants than seats, it’s likely that over-the-counter students will end up at other schools that are struggling to meet their enrollment targets, but not receiving the benefits of the Renewal program. There are a lot of such students: A 2013 report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform estimated that 36,000 students enter New York City high schools outside of the typical admissions process.

Between 2008 and 2011, data showed that those students were disproportionately assigned to struggling high schools that the Bloomberg administration had decided to close or would soon begin that process. Some of the schools with the highest share of over-the-counter students in 2011 are now in the city’s Renewal program: Forty-five percent of students at Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research were latecomers, as were 36 percent of students at DreamYard Preparatory School and 33 percent of students at Brooklyn Generation School.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”