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May 14, 2012
A defiant Mulgrew says union won't wait for Bloomberg's exit
Mulgrew and NYU Professor Pedro Noguera discuss the city's education policies in a morning forum. After more than a decade at war with Mayor Bloomberg, the UFT has increasingly seemed to be looking forward to the day his successor takes office. But in a 30-minute speech to members at their annual conference on Saturday, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the union couldn't sit back until January 2014. Instead, he said he would move forward on new initiatives that he said were central to the union's values, with or without financial or political support from the city. "I want to draw a picture of what we know our schools can be and the central role that our union must play in making that happen," Mulgrew said. "Why do I say 'we must'? Because more than any other organization, the UFT is positioned to lead the effort to make New York schools the greatest school system in the United States." Mulgrew announced in his speech that he would be giving out $300,000 in planning grants to a school that offered the best proposal to transform itself into a one-stop community shop. The "collective impact" grant is meant to help bring in an array of services that would be available to the larger school community and go well beyond the traditional K-12 classroom education. In announcing the grants, funded by the UFT, the City Council and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, Mulgrew said he didn't care if the Department of Education was on board or not.
May 14, 2012
Walcott keeps rapid school-visits pace with three-borough sprint
Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks with students and a teacher at the High School for Dual Language High and Asian Studies. When Chancellor Dennis Walcott peeked into an English as a Second Language class at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, he caught a crowd of Chinese-speaking students parsing "Death of a Salesman," a classic of American literature. In other classrooms on the fifth floor of the Lower East Side's Seward Park Campus, he saw students reading aloud from "Romeo and Juliet," designing school emblems in the style of Chinese art, and preparing to discuss the Earth's capacity to sustain its human population. It was the second school visit of the day for Walcott, who is touring schools that landed on U.S. News & World Report's annual list of America's "best high schools." The list measures schools according to how well their students perform compared to other schools with similar demographics. Seven of the 10 highest-ranking New York State high schools are in the city, topped by Queens' Baccalaureate School for Global Education. This morning, Walcott started his day at Queens High School for the Science at York College, also on the list. After a lunch break to accept an award from an architecture mentoring program, he'll finish the school day at a third top-ranked school, the High School of American Studies at Lehman College. "I saw a lot of learning taking place, great students, great teachers, and a really outstanding principal," Walcott said of his visit to the Queens school. "Here, even more so. Coming off the stairwell — I didn't take the elevator — I saw a young student who was getting ready for his A.P. exam. He said the students and teachers here are all committed to excellence in education." Walcott's habit of stopping by schools is well known. In the first semester of the school year, he visited schools on 72 different occasions, often to attend evening meetings for parents and the public, but also during the day for spelling bees, holiday concerts, and a "Harvest Feast." In contrast, ex-Chancellor Joel Klein crossed the thresholds of city public schools 84 times in 445 days — well over a year — in 2009 and 2010.
May 10, 2012
City subway ads redirect anti-truancy message to parents
New anti-truancy advertisements released by the city today. In the two years since the city launched its initiative to combat truancy and longterm school absences, they targeted students, with the help of teachers and celebrities like Magic Johnson. Now the initiative is turning its attention to parents. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today an advertisement campaign to inspire parents to make sure their children are in school each morning, and guide them to resources if their children are not. Each ad shows images of students and the public service announcement-inspired message: "It's 9 a.m. Do you know where your kids are?" Bloomberg told an auditorium of reporters, city officials, and young students and teachers at P.S. 91 in Queens that the city will be pushing to help parents increase their childrens' attendance rates and understand the academic consequences of chronic absenteeism. Repeat offenders in elementary and middle school are more likely to drop out when they get to high school, he said. "But many parents...don't know what to do about it, and that's why we're launching the ad campaign," he said. "It points parents towards help." The city will post these ads on public transportation and metro cards, in schools and community centers, and online. The campaign directs parents to visit the Department of Education web site, where they can find out how many days of school their child has missed. Librarians will be trained to help parents access this information, which requires a student identification number. And four times a year Department of Education officials will station themselves in the libraries to give more detailed advice to parents.
May 2, 2012
After bumpy start, Boys & Girls basketball to aid school's reform
Bernard Gassaway, Chancellor Dennis Walcott and members of the Boys & Girls High School Track & Field team at City Hall. Heading into this season, Coach Ruth Lovelace knew her championship basketball team needed to cut down on one statistic that nothing to do with what was happening on the court. Suspensions. During the 2010-2011 season Boys & Girls High School, Lovelace's star players took home the city title. But they also incurred academic suspension after academic suspension until, when it mattered the most, she lost seven players the week before her team began the state championship tournament. They lost in the first round. This year, as the Kangaroos entered yet another long playoff stretch, Lovelace said she made it clear in the locker room that academics remained a top priority, even above wind sprints and layup lines. Players were attending study hall all season long and Lovelace didn't want their efforts slide now. "We learned a lesson," Lovelace said on Monday inside the newly renovated City Council chambers at City Hall, where she and her players were invited to celebrate their Public School Athletics League and New York State championship titles this season. The boys track and field team also received an official honor from the council for winning city, state, and national titles. The ceremony came just days after a group of schools that Boys & Girls had been part of until January — those receiving federal School Improvement Grants — were approved for the "turnaround" form of closure. But instead of spending the spring defending their school, students at Boys & Girls were busy adapting to higher standards for student athletes set by third-year Principal Bernard Gassaway.
April 24, 2012
Walcott touts Young Men's Initiative as DOE inches forward
Chancellor Walcott speaks at the Mayor's Young Mens Initiative Summit in Harlem. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wanted attendees at the Mayor's Young Men's Initiative Summit to know that even programs with the best intentions can be tricky to execute. This lesson, he said, would be particularly important for city officials as they implement a sweeping new initiative to address the educational and economic disparities between male students of color and their peers. Walcott stopped by the day-long summit to represent the Department of Education, which is leading up the Expanded Success Initiative, one of several prongs of the Bloomberg administration's Young Men's Initiative. At a cost of $24 million, the project will bring researchers into schools that are succeeding with male students of color. But nearly nine months after it was announced, the department still hasn't picked which schools to show off. The city has assembled a shortlist of 81 eligible schools and will by the end of May pick 40 who want to participate — and receive a $250,000 bonus. To be eligible, a school must have a four-year graduation rate above 65 percent, an A or B on its most recent progress report, and a student body where at least 35 percent are black or Latino males and 60 percent are qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. It must also promise to implement even more aggressive strategies to help black and Latino male students. When he announced the Young Men's Initiative in August, Mayor Bloomberg promised swift changes to schools serving the highest proportions of black and Latino students. Already, the department has begun giving high schools extra credit when those students make progress. Schools have started to benefit from a literacy program and a middle school mentoring initiative, neither of which the department is administering. But the Expanded Success Initiative has been slow to start.
April 18, 2012
DOE accedes to calls for expanding college readiness metrics
This fall, city Department of Education is preparing to factor students' post-graduation outcomes into high schools' annual progress report grades for the first time.
April 17, 2012
"Mayor and chancellor show" touts 54 schools opening this fall
Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by Chancellor Walcott and new school leaders, discusses the city's school creation efforts. When Mayor Bloomberg entered office in 2002, there were about fewer than 1,200 schools in the city. By the time he leaves, there will be about 1,800. That number — representing a more than 50 percent increase — had Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a good mood during a press conference today to tout this year's crop of new schools. Thirty Department of Education-run schools will open in September, as will 24 privately managed charter schools. "We have created so many new schools. It is truly amazing," said Walcott, who stood with Bloomberg and dozens of freshly minted principals at Manhattan's Washington Irving High School, which will house two of the new schools. The pair touted a recent study by the research firm MDRC that concluded that the city's new small high schools have continued to post higher graduation rates than other schools that remained open. The addition of 54 schools created through the department's new schools creation process will bring the total number of city schools to 1,750 this fall, 589 of them opened under Bloomberg's watch. Bloomberg has promised to create at least 50 new schools next year — evenly split between charter and district-run — and he reiterated that vow again today. Another 26 new schools would open under the city's "turnaround" proposals but were not included in the small schools total touted today. Those proposals, which are likely to be approved next week, would close and immediately reopen 26 schools with new names and many new teachers in an attempt to win federal funding for the schools. The sunny event came on the same day as two reports took aim at Bloomberg's school policies, saying that his administration had fostered inequities and closed schools without first trying to improve them. The city decided this year to close Washington Irving, where teachers have said students had grown increasingly needy in recent years. The teachers also said that the school's landmarked library, where the mayor's event took place, had been closed to students since Washington Irving cut loose its librarian last summer. If the criticism bothered Bloomberg and Walcott, they didn't show it during their presentation. Instead, the pair engaged in friendly stage banter about the new schools.
April 11, 2012
Walcott: Turnaround will happen even without federal funding
When members of the Panel for Educational Policy vote on more than two dozen school closure proposals later this month, they won't know whether the city will get federal dollars to fund the schools that replace them. Speaking to state lawmakers today, Education Commissioner John King said he does not plan to respond to the city's applications for federal School Improvement Grants until "early June" — well over a month after the PEP is scheduled to vote on closure plans for 26 schools. The panel has never rejected a city proposal. The closures are part of an overhaul process known as "turnaround" that the city devised in large part to win the funds. When Mayor Bloomberg announced the turnaround plans in his State of the City speech in January, he cited the availability of the federal funds — about $2 million per school each year — as a key motivator. But lately, the city's rhetoric has changed. When the Department of Education published details about its school closure plans last month, it explained that the turnarounds would happen with or without the federal dollars. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg also told GothamSchools that new principals wouldn't have to replace half of their staffs when the schools reopened, a provision that could disqualify the schools from receiving SIG grants. Walcott told reporters at the hearing today that closure was the best move forward for the 26 low-rated schools with or without the supplemental grants. The schools are eligible for more than $150 million over a three-year period, but Walcott said the city's plans could be implemented without the extra funding. "If we have the money, that's great," he said. "But money should not drive policy. The policy should be, how do we benefit the students in the long run, and that's my overall goal."
April 5, 2012
CEJ: Hiring costs at turnaround schools could top $60 million
Parents and students rallied at City Hall this afternoon to protest the city's closure plans Replacing teachers at the remaining 26 turnaround schools could cost the city as much as $60 million, according to a new analysis released today by one of the city's most vociferous opponents. The report, released by the Coalition for Educational Justice in advance of an organized student and parent protest at City Hall, also took aim at the process the Department of Education used to assessed many of the schools that remain on the turnaround list. A dozen schools are doing well enough on their annual progress reports that they cleared the city's own closure benchmark. The CEJ cost analysis found that up to 849 teachers in the 26 schools could be replaced in order to qualify for federal school improvement grants, which require that no more than 50 percent of teachers can be retained under the turnaround model. The analysis omitted teachers who were hired in the last two years because they are likely to be exempted from the total pool of teachers that must reapply to their positions. The final figures will almost certainly be less than CEJ's projections because DOE officials have begun telling principals they won't be on the hook any specific number of teachers. The report details the salary and tenure profile at each of the 26 schools. For instance, teachers at John Dewey High School, where college-readiness rates exceed the city average, earned the highest average salary, $82,641, and just 7 percent of its staff was hired in the last two years. At Banana Kelly, where more than half of its teaching staff joined the school in recent years, just one teacher would need to be removed at the school to qualify for the funds.
April 5, 2012
Chancellor brings energy to bilingual MS as year-one ends
Chancellor Walcott dances the salsa with eighth-graders and their teacher, Joanne Vasquez, at Dual Language Middle School in Manhattan. This has not been the easiest week for Chancellor Dennis Walcott. He got to champion his middle school initiative at a policy symposium earlier this week. But he also had to reverse course on two policies — a ban on some words on tests and a plan to "turn around" seven schools — after public outcry. And today, as the first year of his appointment comes to a close, the Daily News reported that he has come under fire for his staunch fidelity to the Bloomberg administration's educational agenda and that little has changed in the school system since he replaced Cathie Black. But those criticisms did not dampen Walcott's usual eagerness to get involved in classroom activities, which was on full display this morning when he joined a group of middle schoolers caught in a frenzy of midterms and test preparations for an impromptu salsa dancing lesson. Walcott has also gained a reputation for that seemingly-boundless energy. He often tells reporters about his early-morning running and swimming routines, and he was back at work the day after completing the New York Marathon last year. This morning, Walcott racked up points on the pedometer he wears at his waist while touring Manhattan's Dual Language Middle School—a visit that gets him closer to his stated goal of visiting every school before Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term ends. The school was Walcott's first stop of three on the last day of school before break. Later in the day, he traveled to the Young Scholars' Academy for Discovery and Exploration in Brooklyn and P.S. 48 on Staten Island. This evening, he will fete the student selected to design the cover of next year's high school directory.
April 3, 2012
A year in office, Walcott trumpets his middle schools initiative
Efforts to improve the city's middle schools have come a long way since they were announced six months ago, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today in a policy speech delivered days before his one-year anniversary of his sudden appointment. Walcott returned to the same venue where he first announced the middle school reforms — New York University’s Kimmel Center – to deliver the keynote speech at a middle school colloquium hosted by NYU Steinhardt’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools. In his speech, Walcott said the city was in the process of rolling out a host of initiatives that the the Department of Education had either created or expanded since September, all in the interest of improving middle schools, which he said had become his main priority during his tenure. “If we truly care about preparing our students for success in college and careers, middle school needs to be a central focus of our policies,” Walcott said. Walcott announced that the DOE had allocated about $500,000 to develop new training programs for 150 teachers and 10 principals who he hoped would work specifically in middle schools. And he said the city would exceed his goal of creating 50 new middle schools in the next two years. Twenty-six new middle schools, including 14 charter schools, will open next fall and 28 more schools — including another 14 charters — are set to open in 2013.
April 3, 2012
Walcott: We respond on "rare occasions" of closure objections
Walcott answers questions about the city's decision to remove schools from its 'turnaround' list. The morning after abruptly withdrawing "turnaround" proposals for seven schools, Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the Department of Education's strategies for determining which schools to close. The seven schools were among 33 slated for turnaround, which would require them to close and reopen, even though they had A's and B's on their city progress reports and thus did not meet the city's closure criteria. Speaking to reporters after delivering a speech about his middle school reforms, Walcott said the fact that the seven schools had received top scores from the city did work in their favor. But he said visits from top department officials had really made the difference. "It's not just the progress report, while the progress reports are extremely important. It's also what's happening within the four walls of the building, and that to me is something that's extremely important," he said. "A lot of us can tell when an institution is doing well or doing better and when an institution is not. You have educators ... who know the questions to ask and see what's happening in the classroom." He added, "With these schools, they were one A and six B's, and that played into it."
April 3, 2012
Walcott: "I've never been more hopeful" about middle schools
Revisiting the topic of his first policy speech, delivered in September, Chancellor Dennis Walcott today said efforts to reform the city’s middle schools…
March 27, 2012
Walcott: Projected $64 million cut to schools only temporary
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott repeated a promise not to touch principals' budgets next year, saying that a proposed cut in school funding that would cost the city more than 1,100 teaching positions would likely disappear once the city finalizes its budget later this spring. Of the 5,000 teachers who typically leave the system each year, the preliminary 2013 budget projects that only about 4,000 would be replaced, which would save about $64 million, according to the city's preliminary budget . But Walcott said that funding would likely be restored in time for the final budget and that principals would be able to hire for any vacated positions. City Council members pestered Walcott about that and much more at a hearing this afternoon on the agency’s $19.6 billion budget, a 1 percent increase that won't cover the added expenses the department expects. While last year’s hearings focused almost solely on opposition to a proposal to layoff thousands of teachers, the concerns raised by elected officials today spanned a range of the city's education policies, including increased class sizes, the small schools initiative, spending on technology and contracts, and Medicaid collection. But they reserved most of their early criticism on the $64 million cut in areas that directly fund schools. The decreased sum represents a headcount reduction of 1,117 teacher positions, according to the city's projections. “Year after year the DOE has made cuts to school budgets,” said Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson. “How are schools supposed to make do next year given the loss of funding proposed in the budget?”
March 15, 2012
Walcott: Review of misconduct cases reveals discipline issues
The Department of Education is moving to fire eight employees who continued to work in schools even after being found guilty of sexual misconduct. The eight people were identified during a thorough review launched last month after multiple school workers were arrested and charged with inappropriately behavior toward students. Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today that he was disturbed "as a chancellor and a parent and grandparent" by some of the "horrendous acts" that the review had turned up. He said the review had highlighted inadequacies in the teacher discipline process, a process over which the city would like more authority. The review examined all school workers found to have behaved inappropriately since 2000 and referred by investigators for discipline. Walcott told reporters today that he personally examined about 250 cases and concluded that in some of them, appropriate action had been taken. In others, he said, the workers had left the system. And in even others, the investigations had concluded more than three years ago, meaning that it is too late for the department to issue a new punishment, even if one was merited. Walcott said the department had alerted principals who supervise workers the department would prefer to discipline but legally cannot. Those people will be monitored closely in the future, he said. "I am not going to tolerate any individual having any improper contact with any of our students," Walcott said. After the winnowing process, the department identified eight people – including four tenured teachers — whose punishments Walcott determined had not been adequate.
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