deidre deangelis

New York

Principals outline the strategies they used to save their schools

Long before there were federally funded "turnaround" schools, Nyree Dixon was turning around Brooklyn's P.S. 12. When she became the Brownsville school's principal in 2006, barely a fifth of the elementary school’s students were passing state exams and the school was being considered for closure. Since then, P.S. 12 has seen a jump in test scores and has stayed off the city's list of schools on the chopping block. Dixon attributes the improvement to changes in the school’s culture and instructional practices. She joined Deidre DeAngelis, principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island, on a panel during the conference on alternatives to school closures that several advocacy groups organized Saturday. The pair discussed the strategies they used to help their once-failing schools stay open and, in New Dorp's case, turn into a model of successful school improvement for the city and federal education departments. Those strategies — adding tutoring, offering more teacher training, connecting students and teachers, and engaging families — predate the structural and human capital changes the Obama administration has mandated for failing schools. They suggest that strong leadership is enough to change a school's course — a view that a top Department of Education deputy shared at Saturday's conference. “Nothing that happens in Tweed is going to move student achievement as much as 95 percent of things that happen in a school building,” said Marc Sternberg, the deputy chancellor in charge of closing and opening schools.