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December 8, 2011
Principals union chief lambastes city's school closure strategy
Among the press releases that went flying after the city announced its first set of school closures earlier today, the one from principals union president Ernest Logan stood out for its stridency. In a statement the length of a short essay, Logan decried school closures as "a losing strategy" that traumatizes needy students, shuts out educators, and prevents scrutiny of the city's reform efforts. Adding eight months to mayoral control's age, he said twice that the Bloomberg administration has had a decade to fix all schools but has not. Nine of the 15 schools whose closures or truncations were announced today have opened since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools; one replaced a failing elementary school just three years ago. Logan suggested that at least two additional Bloomberg-started schools would show up on the second installment of the closure roster when it comes out tomorrow. "The fact is that closure is an admission of failure by City Hall, whose weak or non-existent interventions amount to either a cynical statement of indifference to children of poverty or an inferiority complex about their own ability to come up with solutions," Logan said. The statement elicited a rebuttal from Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who called Logan's statement "embarrassing" for the union.
December 8, 2011
In District 2, push to create more schools trumps closure news
Chancellor Dennis Walcott responds to District 2 Community Education Council member Tamara Rowe's questions at a town hall meeting. Parents in Manhattan's District 2 came to a town hall meeting Wednesday night with Chancellor Dennis Walcott with one item at the top of their agendas: plans to manage school crowding. But Walcott wanted to talk about other things. He opened his remarks by talking about the city's scores on a national exam, then segued into announcing that the Department of Education would soon name the schools it wants to close. No District 2 schools are on the city's shortlist for closure. Three high schools located in the district, but not administered by it, are on the list. Walcott was tight-lipped about which schools would receive closure notices over the next two days. But he said department officials had been considering whether the shortlisted schools "have the capacity to improve." And he told reporters that the decisions would support the middle school reform initiative he announced earlier this year. "I made a commitment around middle schools and I intend to adhere to that commitment," Walcott said. "I want 21st-century middle schools that are meeting the needs of our students." Most of the roughly three dozen parents who braved heavy rain to attend the meeting wanted to talk about the demand for new neighborhood elementary schools and the city's recent rezoning proposals.
November 21, 2011
As dust settles after strike threat, questions about city's urgency
School buses at Coney Island in 2008. For Simon Jean-Baptiste, a veteran school bus driver who belongs to Local 1181, the city's announcement Friday that his union could go on strike at any moment was news to him. "It's the city that we heard that from," Jean-Baptiste said today. Jean-Baptiste, a former vice president in the union, said he had no idea there was any kind of citywide strike threat until he first heard about it from media reports prompted by a last-minute press conference called by Mayor Bloomberg on Friday. Bloomberg warned that Local 1181's leadership opposed the city's plans for a new contract for pre-kindergarten bus drivers because the city would not guarantee job security for experienced drivers. As a result, he said, an "immediate" strike was possible. At the same time, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a comprehensive plan to principals for how they should handle a strike should it occur. Hours later, Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello said in a statement that a strike over seniority rights was "likely" but not imminent. Today, Cordiello said in a statement that the union was beginning to weigh its options. "We do not want to strike, but we have been forced to keep our options open by cost-cutting proposals by Mayor Bloomberg," he said. As buses rolled up to schools on time this morning, and with no strike imminent, some are questioning the urgency with with Bloomberg and Walcott presented the threat.
November 21, 2011
Walcott: City won’t strike evaluation deal just to get federal funds
The city won't strike a deal on new teacher evaluations just to get millions of dollars in federal funding, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said last week. The city and teachers union are supposed to settle on new teacher evaluations by the end of the school year. An agreement would bring the city into compliance with state law and also enable it to receive millions of federal dollars that have policy strings attached to them. Earlier this month, a New York Daily News editorial said Walcott “has committed to surrender $60 million in federal school improvement grants unless he and the teachers union have agreed by the end of the year on a pilot system for evaluating teacher performance.” The newspaper, which praised Walcott's tough-on-unions sentiment, did not report the chancellor's exact words in its news or editorial pages. Last week, Walcott told me that the editorial accurately paraphrased a comment he made. Coming to an agreement that satisfies both parties is so important, he said, that he does not want the federal funds to force his hand prematurely. "I'm not going to be hampered by money being the sole force of what a decision will be," Walcott said. "So at the end of the day if we have to return money, I will be willing to do that. I'm not going to be beholden to money as determining a decision." Last summer, as a federal deadline loomed, the city and UFT struck a last-minute, limited agreement on teacher evaluations at 33 low-performing schools, enabling the schools to receive millions of dollars to fund "restart" or "transformation" improvement processes.
November 18, 2011
To reach parents, Francis Lewis HS works to deepen local roots
Francis Lewis High School The principal of the city's second-largest high school is hoping a community-building event he is throwing tomorrow will set a trend for his colleagues across the city. Francis Lewis High School Principal Musa Ali Shama has organized a "networking fair" for the Queens high school tomorrow that will convene education providers, city agencies, and private vendors to offer resources for families at the school. Shama recruited local elected officials, community organizations, and Queens' brand-new branch of the Fairway supermarket to support the event. One goal, Shama told me, is to provide resources for Francis Lewis families, who include immigrants from 60 countries, to help their children succeed in school. That goal fits perfectly into the city's priorities: Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said that the city wants to see more parent engagement aimed at boosting academic performance. "If I want my parents to be more engaged I have to build the tools," Shama told me last month when he described early plans for the networking fair. But a second goal, to establish Francis Lewis as a community hub for its section of Queens, is a bit more of a stretch for most high school principals to attain.
November 18, 2011
Walcott says he has limited his role at chaotic Queens school
A family firewall around discussing school issues has Chancellor Dennis Walcott taking a hands-off approach to managing trouble at a chaotic Queens school. Walcott's daughter, Dejeanne Walcott, is a physical education teacher at Queens Metropolitan High School, where an organizational crisis has caused schedules to shift frequently and left some students without instruction, including in physical education classes. After last night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, where he vowed that the problems would be solved, Walcott said he had first heard about the troubles at the school "a couple weeks ago." He said his top deputy, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, had heard complaints around the same time. But Walcott would not say whether his daughter mentioned the issues to him, emphasizing that he and Dejeanne try not to talk shop. "My daughter and I have established a protocol with each other with respect to business," he said. "We try not to mix our respective lives as far as education is concerned."
November 17, 2011
Scheduling crises dominate debate at low-key PEP meeting
The agenda for tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, held in Queens, contained just two topics: School locations and the Department of Education's financial contracts. But it was scheduling crises at two Queens high schools that dominated most of the meeting at Astoria's Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, drew just a few dozen parents. We reported this week that Queens Metropolitan High School had revised students' schedules as many as 10 times this year amid an organizational crisis. Last month, NY1 reported that thousands of students at Long Island City High School were enraged after the school changed their schedules midyear. Tonight, Department of Education officials vowed to repair the damages. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who stepped in at Queens Metropolitan on Wednesday, called the debacles "rare" and vowed that they "will not be repeated." Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose daughter is a physical education teacher at the school, echoed Polakow-Suransky's promise, saying, "We pledge our support to make sure we do not repeat this at all."
November 17, 2011
As protests rage, city assures schools that the day must go on
An ad for today's Occupy movement protests The city stepped in this afternoon to stop Occupy Wall Street protests from derailing the school day. Fueled by a message posted on the protest movement's website, rumors spread earlier today that the schools would be dismissing students early. "National Day of Action" protests in Lower Manhattan, which have grown increasingly tense over the course of the day are timed to the movement's two-month anniversary and come soon after a city crackdown. The protests are set to spread to subway stations across the city at 3 p.m. and to the steps of the Department of Education's headquarters at 4:30 p.m. City officials quickly acted to quash the early-dismissal rumors. On Twitter, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson and the DOE's official account both sent messages assuring followers that the school day would proceed as planned. Wolfson said early dismissal was "never discussed." And Chancellor Dennis Walcott emailed principals to tell them not to dismiss students early "as a result of any protests." "Rumors indicating that school will be closed early are false," Walcott wrote in an email with the subject line "Today is a full school day." Middle schools, which have long been scheduled to dismiss students early because of parent-teacher conferences, did end classes early as planned. Later this afternoon, two Occupy-affiliated protests are scheduled to converge at the DOE's Tweed Headquarters, where a protest 10 days ago attracted a large crowd.
November 14, 2011
In pre-K, Common Core fingerprints found on snack and a story
Chancellor Dennis Walcott prepares to read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center. Using skills developed at his first job, Chancellor Dennis Walcott dropped to the floor at Manhattan's Bank Street Head Start center today and read a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to a circle of 4-year-olds. Just as he said he had as a pre-kindergarten teacher in the 1970s, Walcott changed his voice for the different characters and acted out parts of the story, keeping the children laughing and acting along. (Watch video of the reading.) The read-aloud came during a break in painting, mashing play dough, building with blocks, and assembling magnetic tiles — activities that look like fun and games but actually reflect the city's academic goals for pre-K students. Those goals are set out in the city's new curriculum standards, called the Common Core, which start in pre-K. Like all city students, children in the Department of Education's pre-K classes are expected to complete Common Core-aligned "tasks" this year like the ones the DOE has suggested for units about trucks, plants, and the five senses. Among the Common Core standards for pre-K: Students should engage in group reading activities such as the one Walcott led and practice addition and subtraction using everyday objects.
November 10, 2011
At Washington Heights town hall, Walcott gets a cool reception
A District 6 town hall meeting with Chancellor Dennis Walcott got a little unruly last night in the auditorium of Washington Heights' P.S.48, to the point where both Walcott and Judith Amaro, president of District 6’s Community Education Council, had to ask audience members to be respectful. Washington Heights parents use posters to help get their message across at last night's town hall “I get it, I get it,” Amaro told her community, amid jeers. “But we’re going to do this respectfully because regardless of what’s going on, there are visitors. Here in District 6, we treat our visitors right.” The hostility was not funneled towards a specific issue, as was the case with last week’s town hall in District 23, where parents focused the agenda on school closures. Nor was it so loud that the meeting could not proceed, as when a group of protesters derailed a Department of Education meeting about new curriculum standards. But, it touched on multiple issues ranging from colocations to instruction to budget cuts. Early in the meeting, the CEC quickly clicked through a powerpoint presentation overviewing their district’s demographic and academic profile. More than a third of K - 8 students are English Language Learners, almost ninety percent receive free or reduced lunch, the majority of students are Hispanic and black. “You will never, ever hear me single out poor children or children of color as being children that are different. I’m a firm believer that all our students can learn and can learn at high levels,” Walcott said later in the meeting. “You will never, ever hear me make excuses about what a student can or can’t do because of his background “ Before the community took the mic, the CEC presented six sweeping questions of their own to be answered by Walcott and his delegation of DOE employees, who represented offices such as English Language Learners and Portfolio Management. Their questions ran the gamut from “What makes a good school?” (strong leadership, qualified teachers, involved parents) to “What plans do you have for our ELL students?” (native language programs, grants for dual language programs). When Walcott attempted to answer a question about tightening budgets within schools by mentioning the salary steps built into the United Federation of Teachers’ contract, he was met with rogue shouts of “Are you kidding me right now?” and “Don’t try to put the budget on the teachers!” When he touched on the idea of colocations and of rising class sizes, the response was similar.
November 7, 2011
Struggling with special education, charter schools join together
Chancellor Dennis Walcott discusses special education in charter schools at the kick-off conference for a new collaborative. As the director of special education at the DREAM Charter School, Jacqueline Frey knows firsthand the difficulties charter schools face when serving students with disabilities. One issue, she said, is convincing the city that her school's plan to serve each disabled student is sound. And when she wants to bring her teachers up to date on the best ways to serve students with disabilities, she has to figure out how to compensate for the training that pricey consultants might be able to offer. "If I'm a mom and pop charter school, I can't afford to do that for myself," Frey said. "It helps to find other schools in the same situation." Connecting charter schools with similar special education needs is the chief goal of the New York City Charter School Center’s Special Education Collaborative, which builds off of local efforts to boost special education at charter schools that have been going in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn since 2007. The $1,500-per-school entry fee pays for monthly training sessions, access to counselors and consultants, and an annual conference. The citywide collaborative, which about 90 of the city’s 136 charter schools have already joined, comes at an opportune time. Both of the state's charter school authorizers, the State University of New York and the Board of Regents, are pushing new charter schools to build capacity for more higher-needs students, including more special education students, this year, into their school designs. And at the collaborative’s first conference last month, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE would be pressing charter schools to "up the ante" in how they serve special education students. The pushes are in part a response to criticism that charter schools do not enroll a fair share of special needs students. In recent years, the proportion of students with disabilities at charter schools has actually risen to nearly the city average. The challenge now, advocates say, is to serve disabled students well.
November 7, 2011
Walcott completes the NYC marathon, and he's not the only one
Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in black, finishes mile 8 of the New York City Marathon in Brooklyn Sunday. Some education types are hobbling after pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles in yesterday's New York City Marathon. Wearing supportive kneebands and number 1700 in honor of the number of schools he oversees, Chancellor Dennis Walcott ran his first marathon in less than four and a half hours. His unofficial time, 4:23:51, put him in the top third of male runners in his age group, 60 to 64. Patrick Sullivan, a member of the Panel for Educational Policy who frequently opposes Walcott's proposed policies, ran the marathon in 3:48:54, putting him in the top 27 percent of finishers in his age group, 45-50. Diahann Malcolm, the physical education-teaching principal of Queens' High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety who tries to run the marathon every year, finished in 5:09:45. And GothamSchools intern Jessica Campbell finished her first marathon in 5:20:16. (Congrats!) Others got in on the action without breaking a sweat. Families from Community Roots Charter School sold homemade baked goods on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, a popular cheering spot near the eighth mile of the marathon route.
November 3, 2011
Before marathon, Walcott visits young milers in name of fitness
Chancellor Dennis Walcott took a break from parent town hall meetings, protests and policy speeches this morning to visit Central Park and greet more than a thousand public school students for a citywide running event. Walcott is three days away from running a race of his own – the New York City Marathon – and took the chance to hype healthy lifestyle habits as one way to boost student performance in the classroom. "As far as wellness is concerned, that's what makes for a student to be able to perform in the classroom," Walcott said. "And that's our goal." The event was one of dozens hosted annually by the New York Road Runners in partnership with the Department of Education as a way to encourage running in the public school system. For more than six years, NYRR's Mighty Milers program has provided equipment and training resources to teachers who want to start running programs in their school. It now counts more than 50,000 students, including ones from The Active Learning Elementary School, which we wrote about in June after it won a national award for its health-conscious curriculum. "Running is becoming the sport of choice for New York City schools," said NYRR President Mary Wittenberg. "It's easy, it's accessible, it's affordable. That's what we're teaching, even when there's limited resources."
November 3, 2011
Advocates say they haven't heard from the DOE's "chief parent"
This story originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario, which supplied the translation. The city's school system has a new person in charge of helping the parents of the 1.1 million children in public schools. The problem is that many have not heard of him since he was appointed last July. After three months in his role as “chief parent” of the New York City Department of Education, organizations that defend parents' interests said they have not yet heard from Jesse Mojica and do not have knowledge of his plans to improve the troublesome relationship between the department and families throughout the city. Mojica was recruited in July by new Chancellor Dennis Walcott to occupy the $138,000 a year position as executive director of the office of Family and Community Engagement. Placida Rodriguez, from the parent action group Make the Road New York, an organization based in Queens and Brooklyn, expressed her dissatisfaction at the little attention Mojica has paid so far. “Basically I have had no contact with Jesse Mojica,” said Rodriguez.
November 3, 2011
Struggling Brownsville schools call on DOE for more support
Chancellor Dennis Walcott responds to Terrell Tomer's questions at a town hall meeting in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Scores of parents, children, and school staff from District 23 packed the auditorium of Brownsville's P.S. 156 Wednesday to tell Chancellor Dennis Walcott that their schools don't deserve to be shut down. The meeting comes at the start of Walcott's first closure and co-location season as chancellor. Department of Education officials are deciding which schools to close from a shortlist released in September. Decisions are likely to be made by early next month and a public hearing on the closures will take place early in 2012. Many people speaking out at the meeting came from three schools that are on the shortlist for closure. Community members from two low-performing schools that share a building, the General D. Chappie James Elementary and Middle School of Science, and P.S. 298 protested before the meeting began. Brownsville's neighborhood schools have been in the news lately for a host of problems: low test scores; gang violence, when a parent was killed and a student shot outside P.S. 298 two weeks ago; and facilities issues, when P.S. 156 and I.S. 392 were evacuated twice earlier this week after smoke and odors were detected. But speakers kept the focus of the town hall on the potential district school closures and charter school openings that have been floated for the neighborhood.
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