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March 20, 2013
Latest PEP appointees' ties to charter schools are questioned
Mayor Bloomberg's latest appointments to the Panel for Educational Policy are two men with ties to charter schools that have faced panel votes. The appointments — made without fanfare — are drawing criticism from other panel members and critics of the panel, who say the new appointees' interests make them unable to assess proposed policies fairly. A proposal involving Success Academy Charter Schools, which one of the new board members has represented in legal proceedings, is up for a vote at tonight's panel meeting. Last month, Joseph Lewis, Jr., was appointed to replace Rosemarie Maldonado, an administrator at John Jay College who had been on the panel since last July. According to his biography on the PEP website, Lewis attended New York City schools; has served on the board of Leadership Prep Charter School; and is currently on the boards of several other education organizations, including NYCAN, a group that has advocated for public school parents to be able to turn their schools into charter schools. The other new appointee is David Brown, an attorney who works at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison LLP. While he mostly focuses on business litigation, according to the firm's website, he also does pro bono work for nonprofit clients, including the charter school network that most often seeks space in city school buildings.
August 23, 2012
Test-prep, survey costs spark discussion at brief PEP meeting
The August Panel for Educational Policy meeting lasted just over a half-hour at Tweed, the Department of Education headquarters. The focus of discussion at yesterday's record short Panel for Educational Policy's meeting was a contract not even up for a vote. That contract would have allocated close to $4 million toward printing and distributing the school environment surveys to students and parents, half of whom skip filling them out. The agenda item was quietly removed from the slate of contracts, which included special education services, test-preparatory software, and gasoline for the Department of Education's car fleet, after Queens representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj grilled officials about it at a Monday evening contracts meeting. "I think that it's an enormous amount of money to spend to push paper around," he said again during the panel meeting, which lasted just 35 minutes. "I'm hopeful that we'll have another robust conversation about this again under hopefully different terms." Officials said the paper survey distribution system would help boost participation rates, which for students are around 82 percent, and for parents have steadily increased from 26 to 53 percent since 2007. The city uses the survey results to assess school performance on the annual progress reports and sometimes to justify school closure plans. David Ross, the department’s head of contracting, did not explain why the contract was removed at the eleventh hour, but noted that it did not "need to move" this month. It's possible that the contract would not have won approval this month anyway if it failed to receive enough votes from the panel, which was short two mayoral appointees yesterday evening. The panel has never rejected a city proposal, but in March it had to table a contract because several members could not cast impartial votes. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative to the panel, said he would like to see a more economical proposal that did not involve sending reams of paper to parents. But officials said the contract was not likely to change between now and this fall, when it will likely be brought up for a vote. "I already wasn't going to vote for it," Sullivan said.
April 26, 2012
City withdraws "turnaround" plans at two high-profile high schools
Students crowded the auditorium at a public hearing last week at Bushwick Community High School. When the Panel for Educational Policy meets tonight to consider dozens of proposals for school “turnaround,” two high schools with a host of a heavyweight supporters won’t be on the agenda. Bushwick Community High School and Grover Cleveland High School were among 26 schools that the department had proposed to close and reopen — with new names and new teachers — in an attempt to win federal school reform funds. Department officials had said the schools needed radical interventions to help them improve. But today the officials said they had determined after listening to public comment and reviewing performance data that Bushwick and Cleveland didn’t need major changes after all. The schools “have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. The about-face comes weeks after the department yanked seven top-rated schools from the turnaround list and just hours before the panel’s scheduled vote. It also comes after the schools received intense political and community support and, in the case of Bushwick, media attention.
April 16, 2012
Back to school means back to turnaround hearings and protests
Hearings This Week Monday Alfred E. Smith CTE HS, Bronx August Martin HS, Queens J.H.S. 80, Bronx Tuesday John Dewey HS, Brooklyn Long Island City HS, Queens Newtown HS, Queens Wednesday Bronx HS of Business, Bronx Bushwick Community HS, Brooklyn Flushing HS, Queens Richmond Hill HS, Queens Thursday John Adams HS, Queens M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx Debate about the city's controversial plan to "turn around" 26 struggling schools did not pause for spring break, with a legislative hearing and protest focusing on the proposals last week. But the school-based closure hearings, required as part of the turnaround process the city is trying to use, did go on hiatus. Now, after holding 15 hearings in the weeks before the break, the city has a dozen more to race through this week. The turnaround plan will go on trial tonight at August Martin High School, whose principal was replaced the day before the break began. Supporters of Flushing High School, where a hearing will take place on Wednesday, are holding a rally this morning in Queens. Teachers at Brooklyn's John Dewey High School, who were among the first to begin protesting the turnaround plans in January, are planning to turn out en masse at the school's hearing on Tuesday. And supporters of Bushwick Community High School, whose low graduation rate is by design because it serves only students who have fallen behind in other schools, will make yet another attempt to convince Department of Education officials to keep their school open. A full list of the hearings taking place this week is at the right.
April 3, 2012
At two schools not saved from turnaround, the hearings go on
Grover Cleveland High School students march around the Ridgewood, Queens school's perimeter before the closure hearing. When public hearings about the city's plans to "turn around" two large high schools began last night, few of their supporters had heard that other schools had been spared the aggressive reform process. Herbert H. Lehman High School and Grover Cleveland High School were not among seven top-rated schools that the city announced yesterday would not undergo turnaround after all. The controversial process requires schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers. A third school slated for a public hearing Monday night, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, had its turnaround plans withdrawn. But at Lehman and Cleveland, the hearings went on without interruption — with students, teachers, and graduates at each offering more than three hours of testimony about their schools. Cleveland Diana Rodriguez, the senior class president at Cleveland, saw the surprising news about changes to the turnaround list on her phone during a pre-hearing rally organized by students. “Obviously Cleveland is not on the list. This is very disappointing for us but we will not give up,” she said. “Tonight we will show that we have a voice and will not give in.” That voice grew strained over the course of the afternoon and evening from loud chants and cheers. Before the closure hearing, Rodriguez led a band of students — including one dressed in a tiger costume — on a march around the neighborhood. As they passed the Q54 bus on Metropolitan Avenue, the driver honked repeatedly at the procession and other cars joined the chorus. More students joined when the group returned to the school's entrance on Himrod Street, until the rally swelled to nearly 50.
April 2, 2012
Marshaled by Marshall, Queens officials join in turnaround fight
Dozens of Queens elected officials and their policy advisers rallied today in Kew Gardens to denounce the city's plans to turnaround 33 schools, including several from Queens. Standing beside a dozen elected officials this morning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled the anxiety in the voices of the many Queens students, teachers and school leaders who have implored her to help them fight city plans to close their schools this year. "When they came to us, I heard children cry, 'What am I going to do?'" Marshall said at a press conference denouncing the city's plans to "turn around" 33 schools, including eight Queens schools. "They love their schools, they want to stay in their schools. They love learning in their schools. I stand hand in hand here with the children. They do not want this." Marshall convened the press conference just hours before Queens' first public hearing about turnaround, the controversial process the city has proposed for 33 struggling schools. But the event was far from Marshall's first public statement on the plans, which would require the schools to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. She also held a hearing at Queens Borough Hall about the proposals in February, where she unveiled an uncharacteristically aggressive stance against the Department of Education. The shift makes sense: For the previous decade, Queens has seen relatively few of its schools shuttered for poor performance, and of the 23 schools whose closures or truncations were approved in February, only one was in the borough. But the borough is home to a full quarter of the schools proposed for turnaround.
February 14, 2012
Fearing turnaround, Queens schools seek borough prez's help
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, held a hearing Monday night for families and teachers at the eight would-be turnaround schools in Queens. Dozens of teachers, parents, students, and at least one principal from the eight Queens schools facing "turnaround" say they have brought their concerns to district superintendents and other Department of Education officials this month to no effect. On Monday evening, they found a more sympathetic audience: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who vowed to push back against the city's plans to close the schools. Marshall's uncharacteristically aggressive promise came at a meeting at Queens Borough Hall that her office organized about the city's plan to "turn around" 33 struggling schools. Under the plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced last month as a way to secure federal funding, the schools would close and reopen this summer with new names and at least half their staffs replaced. Marshall sat before a standing-room-only crowd with Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, the citywide school board that decides the fate of schools proposed for closure. As a panel member, Fedkowskyj has emerged as a frequent critic of the mayor's school policies, signaling Marshall's endorsement, but she has typically been soft-spoken on education issues. That was not the case on Monday. Marshall often clapped and cheered as she listened to dozens of teachers and families defend their schools. Occasionally she even interjected to describe how her respect for teachers developed over years of working as an early childhood educator.
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