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November 2, 2012
City to engineer 65 new co-locations for storm-affected schools
On school staff members' first day back after Hurricane Sandy, Assistant Principal Todd Gerber was one of several staff members at Brooklyn's William E. Grady High School to help custodial staff assess damage to flooded classrooms and offices. (Courtesy of Grady) The Department of Education is on track to open all but 65 schools in their regular locations on Monday, one week after Hurricane Sandy hit the region, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said this afternoon. But 65 schools are in buildings so severely damaged by the storm that the department must engineer co-location plans for them in just days, he said. The approximately 38,000 students in those schools, which the department has not yet named, will not begin classes until Wednesday. Tonight, department officials said, teachers and principals at the schools would learn where they will reopen, and on Monday, school staff will work to prepare the new sites, all located inside other schools. Between now and then, officials will create new bus routes, sometimes to transport students great distances; move equipment and books; and negotiate space-sharing arrangements among schools that had until last week thought they had things figured out. "Normally what we do over the course of over say a few months [is being] done over a few days," Walcott said in a phone call with reporters this afternoon. "This is something that normally we don’t turn around in this quick a fashion at this level," he added. "This is a major turnaround in a very short period of time."
November 2, 2012
Principals get guidance late, and teachers later, for first day back
On the UFT's Facebook page, teachers expressed frustration Thursday night at the pace of information coming out of the Department of Education about logistics for today's post-hurricane teacher workday. The good news came by email: Teachers facing snarled commutes and logistical headaches in the wake of Hurricane Sandy would not have to report to their schools today, the first workday after the storm, until 10 a.m. The bad news was that the information did not arrive until nearly midnight on Thursday, long after many of the teachers had gone to bed. For thousands of teachers who work in schools that were damaged by the storm, the late-night email also contained instructions about where they should report today for a workday that Chancellor Dennis Walcott said was meant to let them "reacclimate to their buildings" after a traumatic week. "I'd like to plan my commute tomorrow, esp if I have to cross boros. Would be nice to know before I go to bed pls?" high school teacher Binn Thai wrote on Twitter shortly before 10 p.m. Thai's school is on the Lower East Side, which is still without power. Mayor Bloomberg announced midday on Wednesday that today would be a workday for city teachers. But nearly 200 school buildings were so heavily damaged by the storm that they still cannot be used. In an email to principals sent Thursday just before 6 p.m., Walcott promised principals that information about alternate locations for storm-affected schools would come “later this evening.” But when the department informed principals at 10 p.m. about the delayed start time, it did not include a list of relocated schools.
November 1, 2012
City moves forward with opening schools in Sandy's aftermath
A line across the bricks of Brooklyn's P.S. 195 indicates how high floodwaters reached there on Monday night. Despite massive transportation problems, ongoing power outages, and dozens of buildings so severely damaged that they cannot be used in the near future, the city is moving forward with a plan to open schools by Monday, one week after Hurricane Sandy swept across the city. On Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that students would return to classes next week and that teachers would be required to report for work on Friday to prepare. Chancellor Dennis Walcott told reporters today that the timeline was firm. "There are no ifs ands or buts about it," Walcott said. "They will open. We know they'll open." But exactly where each of the schools will open is an unresolved question. Of the city's roughly 1,200 school buildings, 174 are still not operational today because of flooding, loss of power, or other damages, Walcott said, a number that had declined by about 25 since Wednesday. Of them, 44 buildings housing 79 schools are considered "severely damaged" and will have to undergo major repairs before they are safe for students, he said. The severely damaged schools include Brooklyn's John Dewey High School, where officials said today a transformer fire had essentially burned through the building's electrical system, and Beach Channel High School in Queens, where flooding caused the school's boiler to burst and leak oil into Jamaica Bay. Walcott said the department was now working with city's Department of Environmental Protection to contain the spill. Students and teachers from the severely damaged schools, and from schools that still do not have power, will be sent to other locations when classes resume on Monday. The alternate locations, which could involve dividing some schools across multiple sites, had not yet been finalized this afternoon, Walcott said.
October 16, 2012
City officials to ed commission: standards rollout needs funds
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT president Michael Mulgrew talk at the education commission. The city and other school districts desperately need additional funding if they are to raise academic standards, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said today. Even though the city has done more to integrate new learning standards known as the Common Core than other districts and states, it cannot adequately train staff or buy the materials it needs with the resources it currently has, he said. "We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge," he told the commission, according to his written statement. The call for additional funding was one of three priorities that Polakow-Suransky outlined before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education reform commission today. The funding, he said, would be necessary to to purchase new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, and help schools hire coaches to train teachers in the implementation of the Core. He also said the city needed more funds to develop a key piece of the new teacher evaluation system, rigorous assessments developed by the city for each grade level and subject area that would factor into teachers' evaluations on top of many other criteria. "As these assessments become more authentic there are real costs that come along with them," Polakow-Suransky said. "None of this is funded." Polakow-Suransky was offering a solution to a problem that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the commission had already arrived. Mulgrew said the Common Core rollout has already been hindered by the lack of robust materials aligned to the new standards that teachers can use in classrooms now.
October 11, 2012
City slowly backs up shifted rhetoric on parents, needy students
Like the Bloomberg administration's schools reform efforts, our series tracking the city's progress toward fulfilling its recent education policy promises started last month with teachers and schools. Now we are turning toward the students and families they serve. It's a shift that city officials also made in the last year. For nearly a decade, the Department of Education's approach to helping needy students focused largely on creating excellent new schools and closing ones that don't work. But its policies drew fierce criticism that families were shut out of decisions and that some student groups had not benefited from years of initiatives. Last year, the first that Chancellor Dennis Walcott led in full, city officials announced some changes to its approach, introducing policies aimed at helping students and parents. Concrete actions have been slow to come, but we found that the department is slowly plugging away at creating programs to back up last year's rhetoric shifts. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.) On students: The city will study high schools that graduate black and Latino students at high rates to find out what they are doing right. (Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative speech, August 2011) The study is the intended outcome of the Expanded Success Initiative, the flagship education program of Mayor Bloomberg's recent effort to help black and Latino young men. The three-year, $24 million program got underway in June, when the city named 40 schools to monitor as they pioneer new college-readiness strategies funded with grants of $250,000 each. The city will decrease the concentration of high-need students in some schools. (Communication with the state, June 2012) Responding to pressure from State Education Commissioner John King, the city quietly embarked on a pilot program to distribute students who enroll during the school year and summer over a wider swath of schools, despite steadfastly maintaining that high concentrations of needy students do not make it harder for schools to succeed. The city gets about 20,000 new high school students, called "over-the-counters," each year, and they have traditionally wound up in a small number of struggling schools. Last year, about 800 of them went to 54 high schools that have not usually accepted midyear arrivals. But many schools still receive few or no over-the-counter students, while others complain they receive more than they can handle. All city high schools, even those with selective admissions processes, will accept students with disabilities. (Directive to schools, June 2012)
October 2, 2012
Above the fray, students in foster care get high school fair help
Foster care families gather in a gymnasium on the eighth floor at Brooklyn Tech on Saturday to learn more about the high school application process. Most of the roughly 30,000 students and family members who passed through Brooklyn Technical High School last weekend had to traverse the Citywide High School Fair on their own. But high above the fair's hustle and bustle, a small group of at-risk middle school students got a helping hand. For the second year, the Department of Education partnered with the Administration for Children's Services and private donors to host the New York Goal Weekend at the fair. The event gives seventh- and eighth-grade students who are in foster care extra assistance as their search for a high school gets underway. ACS officials started of the program in 2010 — and merged it with the education department last year — because they saw students in foster care struggle to navigate the labyrinthine process of selecting, ranking, and applying for high school placement. “It’s already confusing for a regular kid, but if you can imagine what this is like for a foster child, they have a lot already going on in their lives,” said Suzanne Sousa, ACS's director of development and special programs, who oversaw the event on Saturday.
September 28, 2012
An NBA star urges hard work, but parents worry it's not enough
Amar'e Stoudemire speaks to students, teachers and parents at Learning Leaders event. Standing on stage at New York University's Skirball Center this morning, six-time NBA All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire warned the room full of students that their chances of becoming a professional basketball player were slim. "What is your second option?" said Stoudemire. "What is your plan B?" Reading was a good start to figuring out the answer to that question, he said. Stoudemire, promoting his new young adult book for middle school students, was speaking to Learning Leaders, a group that trains volunteer tutors and parents and deploys them into schools for support. There is another elite pool with similarly daunting odds that faces students here in New York City. Black and Hispanic students make up 70 percent of the city's student population, but they represent just 12 percent of students at the city's eight specialized high schools, and the proportion of students of color at the most elite of the schools is even lower. The disparity is at the center of a federal civil rights complaint that was filed this week charging that the schools' entrance exam is fundamentally unfair. After the event, Stoudemire said he wasn’t familiar with the issue and declined to comment. But there were plenty of parents and Learning Leaders who were familiar with the imbalance.
September 21, 2012
Union: City's evaluation demands torpedoed ATR buyout option
For the last six months, teachers whose permanent positions were eliminated have known that the city might offer to pay them to leave the city's payroll. But they haven't known how much the option could yield, complicating their job-hunting calculus. Now, we know, sort of — a day after UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Wall Street Journal that the option was "dead in the water." The option might have been $14,000, or $25,000, or 25 percent of a teacher's annual salary, or 20 percent, according to conflicting information the union and city released today. But both sides agreed that the deal stalled after the city made the buyout offer contingent on a different city proposal to give raises to top-rated teachers, a plan that the union had rejected back in January. In dueling press releases, city and union officials sparred over what terms they had discussed for the buyout. City officials said they had offered to pay $25,000 to teachers who had spent more than one year in the Absent Teacher Reserve if the teachers would resign from the Department of Education. But union officials said the city's numbers were misleading. The $25,000 option, they said, would only have applied to ATRs with enough education and experience to put them at the top of the city's salary scale. Other teachers who had spent more than a decade working in city schools would have netted much less, they said, because the city wanted to cap the offer at 20 percent of each teacher's annual salary. (The city said the cap was 25 percent of the annual salary.) One-fifth of the average salary of mid-career teachers in the ATR pool, union officials said, would have amounted to just a $14,000 payout. The city-union dispute over numbers reflected far more significant ideological differences over how to reward excellent teaching and urge weak teachers out of the system.
September 20, 2012
Walcott visits ex-turnaround schools without addressing turmoil
Dennis Walcott, with Principal Magdalen Radovich, students, and several officials from the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, announced an AT&T grant to fund Flushing HS after-school programs. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has quietly visited several former "turnaround" schools in recent weeks, but he has done so without calling attention to the fact that the city planned to close them until just a few months ago. During the first week of school, Walcott made unannounced visits to two of the schools in Brooklyn. At John Dewey High School, where large-scale scheduling problems are prevailing, he shook hands with students one morning. He stopped by William Grady Career and Technical High School, which was removed from the turnaround roster in April, the same day. Neither visit made his public schedule, and department officials said they had nothing to do with the schools' ex-turnaround status. Instead, the stops were like many that the chancellor, an avid school visitor, has made outside of public view, the officials said. And on Wednesday, he shared the stage with the new principal of Flushing High School at a press conference heralding a substantial grant from AT&T to the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, which runs an after-school program at the school. Working in about 150 city schools, SASF was only the second group, after the YMCA of New York, to receive a grant through Aspire, a $250 million AT&T grant program aimed at boosting college readiness among high-need students. The grant will help SASF hire staff to support its program at Flushing, which includes targeted efforts to help incoming ninth-graders make up academic ground. Speaking to the students and staff who attended the press conference, Walcott praised SASF and said, "We expect success from all of you to not just achieve but to achieve at a high level. To do that you need to support great teachers, you need to support great leaders, we need to support families, not-for-profits, the generosity of corporate giving." But he did not acknowledge the turmoil the school had gone through in recent months as the city tried to close and reopen it using the turnaround process. Nor did he note the school's leadership change, made in turnaround's early stages. And after the press conference, Walcott ducked out without talking to reporters. A department spokeswoman said he was late to a meeting and would be taking questions over email instead, but the spokeswoman did not respond by day's end.
September 17, 2012
On teacher quality, city has so far fulfilled few of last year's vows
Chancellor Dennis Walcott made several policy promises during a May 2012 speech to ABNY. In the 2011-2012 school year, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott vowed to push forward an array of policy changes — from the way teachers are hired and fired to the ways schools prepare boys of color for graduation and college. So how did they do? We've rounded up all of last year's policy promises and checked up on the city's progress on each. Today, we’re looking at proposals to bolster teacher quality, a longtime pet issue for the Bloomberg administration. We found that the city has fulfilled one promise completely, to create a new Teaching Fellows program just for middle schools, but several others fell off the radar or were pushed to the margins by ongoing negotiations over new teacher evaluations. Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it. In future posts, we'll tally the city's progress on creating new schools, engaging parents, helping high-needs students, and improving middle schools. The city will adopt new teacher evaluations that adhere to the state’s new evaluation law. (When: Many times) Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock should know the answer: not yet, despite one close call and a helping hand from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. City and union officials are meeting regularly to negotiate an evaluation deal, this time in hopes of meeting the state's January deadline. They say they are "optimistic" and "hopeful" they'll reach an agreement in time to qualify for state funds. Teachers with top ratings on teacher evaluations will get a $20,000 pay raise. (Bloomberg's State of the City speech, January 2012) The city still has not adopted new teacher evaluations, so the proposal is moot. But the teachers union, a longtime opponent of individual merit pay, quickly passed a resolution opposing it, so its future prospects are not bright. The city will repay up to $25,000 in student loans of teachers who are in the top of their college classes. (State of the City)
September 6, 2012
City, union stress "optimism" over future of teacher evaluations
Deputy Chancellor David Weiner talks to two first grade students at Young Scholars Academy in Brooklyn. With another school year underway without a deal on new teacher evaluations, officials in charge of hammering out the evaluation system seemed only to agree on one thing: be optimistic. That was the mantra for Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mayor Michael Bloomberg as they toured the halls of the New Settlement Campus in the South Bronx this morning. "I'm always optimistic," Bloomberg told reporters in the spotless new library. "If we don't get a deal by January we will forfeit a lot of state funds." Teachers Union President Michael Mulgrew told a similar story when he spoke this morning in Brooklyn. "We are definitely having conversations, pretty good conversations," he said, "and we're hoping to get it done." The city and union have been negotiating over evaluations for more than a year with the as-yet-unfulfilled hope of securing federal funds that are not available to districts without evaluations. Now they are under the gun from the state, too. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will withhold state aid increases from districts that do not adopt new evaluations by January 2013.
September 5, 2012
School leaders enumerate challenges on the eve of the new year
Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited the School of the Future to hear from department chairs about citywide education policy reforms. Most classrooms were set up and schedules finalized at M.S. 223 in the Bronx this morning, 24 hours before students would arrive for the first day of school. But teachers still needed to meet to review the lesson plans they are aligning to the state's new curriculum standards, the Common Core. As they finished their breakfast and got to work, they were joined by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and his top deputy, Shael Polakow-Suransky, on the first of their two school visits today. Walcott gave the teachers a quick pep talk before sitting in on their training sessions. But he cautioned that the school's past successes — which include a strong arts program, summer classes, and a New York Times Magazine profile — were not enough. "I think this is a tremendous school. You've had major accomplishments," Walcott said. "We need to make sure we model what you're doing and also improve on that performance as well." Like all city schools, M.S. 223 is contending with the new standards, looming changes to state tests, and citywide special education reforms aimed at better integrating students with disabilities. Today, the teachers focused on a small piece of the sweeping changes: developing performance tasks, or assessments that reflect the Common Core's emphasis on real-world applications of classroom learning.
August 22, 2012
Walcott: Budget cuts forced city to slash test security monitoring
Dennis Walcott said budget cuts forced the city to reduce its test monitoring program this year. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott blamed budget cuts on the reduction of monitoring visits that the education department made to schools on testing days earlier this year. He added that he hoped to restore the program to full capacity in time for next year's standardized tests, but that he couldn't promise it. "I can't give you a guarantee," Walcott said this morning at a charity event in Brooklyn. "In a number of areas we've had to make some very difficult decisions around how the budget realities have an impact." Department officials weren't immediately able to be more specific than the explanation Walcott offered. They did not know how much the monitoring program cost or how much was cut from it this year. Update: A spokeswoman said that the cuts came from a $5 million reduction in the department's testing budget, which was roughly $20 million last year. The cuts were made "in order to protect school programs from the citywide budget cuts." In April, monitors made 41 unannounced visits to 37 schools over a six-day testing period as part of a program that was devised to both deter schools from violating test security guidelines and check up on schools that were already suspected of misconduct and other improprieties. Many of the schools that received the surprise visits saw their test scores plummet this year. But the total was down sharply from 2011, when the city paid 99 visits to 97 schools. The reduction comes at a time when federal and state officials are pushing districts to ramp up their test monitoring presence as part of a larger goal to ensure that the credibility of standardized tests are not compromised.
August 13, 2012
City makes way for screened Beacon High School's expansion
Across the street from the site of the new Beacon High School, the city is building a new space for Manhattan's PS 51. As the founding principal of Beacon High School, Ruth Lacey has some of the city's highest-scoring students and a rare exemption from most state exams. But she lacks a full-sized gymnasium and classrooms to accommodate rabid demand for the school. Enter 521 West 44th St., the former site of a New York Public Library warehouse that will by 2015 become the new Beacon school. The city plans to convert the gutted concrete storage facility into a school with a cafeteria, special arts and science labs, and gym on the roof, as well as space for a District 75 special education school. There, the school is slated to grow from 1150 students to close to 1500. Beacon is one of 103 screened high schools that Department of Education officials told to step up their special education enrollment practices because many are not enrolling their fair share of students with special education needs. Department officials have been meeting with Lacey and other principals throughout the year to strategize how to make their special education rates match those of local unscreened schools. "As long as they meet the criteria of the screened school, we expect special ed students to be a part of those populations at those schools," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at the groundbreaking for the new school.
August 6, 2012
City picks parent, principal, network leader to head Stuyvesant
In a picture the Department of Education distributed on Twitter, Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks to Jie Zhang, Stuyvesant High School's interim principal, today. A longtime educator who began her career teaching girls in jail has been named acting principal at the city's most selective high school. Jie Zhang, who led a different elite high school for five years, will be interim acting principal at Stuyvesant High School, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. She replaces Stanley Teitel, the school's 11-year principal, who announced his retirement last week amid an investigation into a cheating scandal at the school. "We are fortunate to have tremendous leaders and talented teachers like Jie Zhang in New York City public schools, and we are thrilled to have her join the Stuyvesant High School community," Walcott said in a statement. Zhang is not actually new to Stuyvesant: She has been a parent there since 2005, when her older child enrolled, and last year she headed the Department of Education "network" that Teitel selected to support the school. Her daughter is a junior. The cheating scandal that erupted in June implicated more than 70 students, giving rise to criticism that Stuyvesant's cutthroat environment encourages students to take shortcuts to success. But in a phone call with reporters today, Zhang said she did not learn about widespread cheating at Stuyvesant as either a parent or an administrator. Still, she said, improving the school's "culture" so that cheating does not take place is her first goal. "I have not been made aware ... or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there," Zhang said. "However, my top priority is to create a positive school culture that ensures integrity and zero tolerance for cheating."
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