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Transition at Tweed
January 2, 2014
On her first day, Fariña to visit M.S. 223 and confront a snow call
Carmen Fariña started her first school day as chancellor with an 8 a.m. photo opportunity at the Department of Education’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse. She'll end it by visiting M.S. 223, a Bronx school whose principal spoke out against last year's Common Core tests.
April 19, 2013
At Common Core talk, a principal says his reality includes vomit
PHOTO: Megan QuitterJoseph McDonald, a professor at NYU Steinhardt, (pictured far left) moderated Friday morning's NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series Common Core discussion. From left to right: Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers president); James Cibulka (president, National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education); Okhee Lee (NYU Steinhardt professor) and Ramon Gonzalez (M.S. 223 principal). Principal Ramon Gonzalez has been a principal for ten years, but this week, he said, he's experienced a lot of firsts. "I've had my first experience of students vomiting on a test. After we cleaned off the test, we had to call testing security to make sure it was still valid," he said. "I have to tell you, I was happy to submit that test to the testing authorities."
September 11, 2012
With federal funds lost, city sending trainees to stronger schools
Chancellor Dennis Walcott talks to teachers at M.S. 223 while principal Ramon Gonzalez looks on during a visit last week. M.S. 223 is working with nine teaching residents this year. A program to train and keep new teachers inside some of the city's most struggling schools is expanding to include better-performing schools as well. The New York City Teacher Residency launched last summer at two schools that were receiving federal funds earmarked for overhauling struggling schools. The point of the program, city officials said at the time, was to create a talent pipeline for schools that have trouble attracting teachers. But because the city and its teachers union did not agree on a new teacher evaluation system by a state deadline, the funds were cut off in January. The city is going forward with plans to double the size of the residency program anyway, but instead of sending new residents only to struggling schools, it is also directing them to schools that the city has touted as success stories. And it is picking up the bill out of the Department of Education's regular budget. The department opened the program to stronger schools in order to expose the teachers-in-training to a wider range of "best practices" and mentorship from experienced teachers, officials said. "Think, what would it actually be like if these teachers were trained at a successful school instead of at a failing school?" said Ashley Downs, the special education director at M.S. 223 in the Bronx who is helping to mentor that school's nine residents.
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.
July 9, 2012
Schools that build summer "bridges" for students pay a price
Ninth-graders at PTECH work on algebra problems in May. On a muggy August afternoon last year, nearly 75 Bronx students could be found playing orchestra instruments to the tune of Duke Ellington's C Jam Blues in the auditorium of M.S. 223. They were gathered to mark the close of three weeks of arts, music, and math instruction they received through the school's first summer "bridge" program. M.S. 223 is one of dozens of city middle and high schools to invite to incoming students for summer classes meant to immerse them in school culture and prevent them from forgetting what they learned the previous year. "Summer bridge is important because we think of our model as a year-round school," said Rashid Davis, principal of Brooklyn's nascent Pathways in Technology Early College High School. "That way we’re not dealing with that summer learning loss than can go from two to four months of material, especially for high-poverty students. We can't expect them to magically come in here with the skills they need." Indeed, researchers have pegged students' regression — known as the "summer slide" — at the equivalent of two months of school or more. City officials recognize the challenge: This summer, the Department of Education is piloting a small program in the South Bronx for students who are struggling but not failing. But the funding for that program, Summer Quest, comes from private donors. Public funds, for the most part, are earmarked only for the thousands of students across the city who are required to attend summer school because of low test scores or poor grades. That means schools that develop programs for incoming students who aren't already in trouble are on their own to scrounge up funding.
August 9, 2011
Bronx principal marshals colleagues around arts enrichment
Sixth-graders at M.S. 223 drew Andy Warhol-inspired portraits during summer arts enrichment program Angel Angel, 13, missed playing in seven baseball games last month so he could mentor students at his middle school, M.S. 223. But Angel, a rising eighth-grader who is also an avid guitar-player, welcomed the opportunity to forgo his usual summer activities to help 96 incoming sixth-graders at the South Bronx middle school study reading, math and music for three weeks. The summer enrichment program, which just finished its first year, is the brainchild of M.S. 223's principal, Ramon Gonzalez, who has gained a reputation as a leader in public school management since he opened the school in 2003. Gonzalez has touted initiatives to increase literacy and parental involvement to school community members throughout District 7, which is largely poor and low-performing. Now he is trying to turn District 7’s attention toward arts education, at a time when many schools are facing cuts to their art and music teaching positions. He is asking a handful of local principals to help him write a large grant to fund after school and summer school arts education at multiple schools in future years. Gonzalez said he wanted to create a free summer program for his students that would address the learning-loss that some students, particularly those from low-income families, experience between June and September. He hoped offering afternoon classes in painting, printmaking, and orchestral music — in addition to trips to Broadway shows and the Museum of Modern Art — would bring the students back each day, even though the classes were not mandatory. Rather than try to carve $85,000 out of MS 223's tight budget, he leveraged his connections — augmented after this spring's appearance in the New York Times Magazine — to win funding. Still, selling the split schedule to donors was difficult.
May 11, 2011
Given a glimpse of where it might have opened, a charter winces
In April, Cynthia Rosario picked up a copy of the New York Times Magazine and began reading its cover story, which chronicled the challenges of a South Bronx middle school and its driven principal. The story talked about M.S. 223's rising test scores, its extraordinarily challenging students, and how its staff of young, but committed teachers was steadily improving. But all that progress was threatened, the school's principal Ramon Gonzalez believed, by the city's plans to open a charter school in the building next year. His building was already nearing capacity and handing the remaining space to a new school would jeopardize his plan to expand into a high school. "I kept reading thinking, 'Oh no,'" Rosario said, just waiting to see her school's name mentioned in the role of the villain. A year ago, when Rosario applied to open a charter school in the South Bronx, she entered the city's opaque space-search process, which nearly pitted her against a high-quality school. When she began, she never imagined the city's Department of Education would look to a school like M.S. 223 for space.
April 8, 2011
At MS 223, a microcosm of reform's benefits and challenges
MS 223 in the South Bronx was the first school I visited when I started covering the city's public schools nearly six years ago.Principal Ramon Gonzalez introduced me to the on-the-ground issues that principals face every day — and now he is doing the same thing for readers of the New York Times. The cover story in Sunday's magazine, a profile of Gonzalez and MS 223, uses the school to examine how former Chancellor Joel Klein's school reforms are playing out in corners of the city far from Department of Education headquarters. Author Jonathan Mahler writes: In certain respects, 223 is a monument to Klein’s success: empower the right principals to run their own schools and watch them bloom. Thanks to Klein, González has been able to avoid having teachers foisted on him on the basis of seniority. He has been able to create his own curriculums, micromanage his students’ days (within the narrow confines of the teachers’ union contract, anyway) and spend his annual budget of $4 million on the personnel, programs and materials he deems most likely to help his kids. And yet even as school reform made it possible for González to succeed, as the movement rolls inexorably forward, it also seems in many ways set up to make him fail.
August 11, 2010
Principals given more latitude in hiring, but only in the Bronx
Teaching jobs in the Bronx have been so slow to fill that the city today released many from year-old hiring restrictions. The Department of Education informed Bronx principals this morning that they are now free to hire English, chemistry, math, social studies, and science teachers from outside the current teaching corps. In other boroughs, a hiring freeze in place since May 2009 require principals to fill most vacancies with teachers who are already working in the system. When Ramon Gonzalez, the principal of MS 223 in the South Bronx, heard about the change, he snapped up four teachers in six minutes. Gonzalez said he had been holding off on hiring from within the system because none of the 40 teachers he had interviewed met MS 223's exacting standards. Plus, he already had four strong candidates ready to sign on with the school the moment he could offer them jobs. Two of the English and social studies teachers had worked in temporary positions at MS 223 last year, one as a substitute and the other as an intern. Another wanted to move to a city school from the suburbs. And the last was coming off a stint as teacher trainer at Teachers College. Gonzalez had been stringing them along all summer, even offering them part-time work in hopes that they'd wait out the hiring freeze. Gonzalez knew that if he lost out on the four teachers, he wouldn't be able to find others.
August 2, 2010
Explaining to middle schoolers why fair isn't always equal
Older M.S. 223 students working with the Summer Bridge program made this bulletin board to welcome the new sixth-graders. (Photo courtesy M.S. 223) School districts around the country are increasingly trying to bring special education students into mainstream classrooms. The challenges this presents — and the possible benefits — were on display last week inside a summer school classroom in the Bronx. Each summer, the South Bronx's M.S. 223 brings in as many of its rising sixth-graders as it can find for a "summer bridges" program to smooth their transition into middle school. This is the first year that the summer program has brought special education students and students learning English together into the mainstream classes. The city school system as a whole is moving in this direction — this school year, about 200 schools will begin to bring special education students at all levels into regular classes. The following year, all schools will be required to do so. M.S. 223 is not a part of the pilot, but is trying to get a head start. During the week-long summer session, each day concluded with "team and family time," where students give thanks or shout-outs as praise to other students, and apologize or call each other out for misbehavior. In a class taught by Ashley Downs, one girl called out another for relying too heavily during class time on the older M.S. 223 student working as the class' counselor. "It's like she wasn't doing the work herself," the girl complained.
July 21, 2010
Keeping a school budget lifted amid a funding roller coaster
M.S. 223's budget over time; the lightly shaded area is what he expects to bring in grants this year. (Source: NYC DOE historical Galaxy allocations) In the last five years, city school budgets have been riding a roller coaster: A historic teacher salary hike was followed by a landmark lawsuit that injected billions in new funds, but then a worldwide financial crisis caused sweeping cuts. So in the long view, are schools better or worse off than in 2005? Ramon Gonzalez, principal of the South Bronx’s M.S. 223, has been able to keep his budget steadily higher than it was five years ago. But his modest boon is less than the courts promised in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and it has as much to do with his own mix of prudent saving and aggressive fundraising as it does with increases in taxpayer support. "The city budget is not made for you to do incredible things," Gonzalez said. "You have to figure out how to do the incredible things. That for me is the bottom line."
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