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September 28, 2011
City says it has started letting schools know they risk closure
Some schools who pulled low grades on the progress reports handed out last week are already getting notice that the city is seriously worried about their performance. Department of Education officials have identified 20 schools — 11 with middle school grades and 12 in Brooklyn alone — for "early engagement conversations" that could lead either to closure or another lease on life. This is the second year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year's notice comes even earlier than last year, by a few weeks. Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools' progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they've already undertaken to improve. But in starting the early conversations, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the DOE deputy chancellor in charge of school closures. So far, the DOE has sent letters to elected officials in the schools' districts, the districts' elected parent councils, and their superintendents. Next, principals and DOE officials will jointly begin holding a series of meetings with families and teachers to discuss each individual schools' options. "We'll take the feedback into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success, and continue to work with all of our schools to ensure that students have access to high quality options," Sternberg said in a statement. One principal, whose school received an F on its progress report, said she was "shocked and humiliated" when she found out her school would be listed publicly. "Even though the F grade implies that we’re failing, we’re certainly not a failing school and we're not failing our children," the principal said.
September 27, 2011
Principals outline the strategies they used to save their schools
Long before there were federally funded "turnaround" schools, Nyree Dixon was turning around Brooklyn's P.S. 12. When she became the Brownsville school's principal in 2006, barely a fifth of the elementary school’s students were passing state exams and the school was being considered for closure. Since then, P.S. 12 has seen a jump in test scores and has stayed off the city's list of schools on the chopping block. Dixon attributes the improvement to changes in the school’s culture and instructional practices. She joined Deidre DeAngelis, principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island, on a panel during the conference on alternatives to school closures that several advocacy groups organized Saturday. The pair discussed the strategies they used to help their once-failing schools stay open and, in New Dorp's case, turn into a model of successful school improvement for the city and federal education departments. Those strategies — adding tutoring, offering more teacher training, connecting students and teachers, and engaging families — predate the structural and human capital changes the Obama administration has mandated for failing schools. They suggest that strong leadership is enough to change a school's course — a view that a top Department of Education deputy shared at Saturday's conference. “Nothing that happens in Tweed is going to move student achievement as much as 95 percent of things that happen in a school building,” said Marc Sternberg, the deputy chancellor in charge of closing and opening schools.
September 23, 2011
Event aims to teach city to help schools instead of closing them
The city official in charge of closing schools and the union chief who has sued to keep schools open are both set to speak at a conference tomorrow about what can be done to help schools without shuttering them. The conference, "Effective Alternatives to School Closings: Transforming Struggling Schools in NYC," was organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the Urban Youth Collaborative, all advocacy organizations. The event is meant to send a message to city policymakers that there are ways to reform failing schools without shutting them down, according to Ronnette Summers, a parent and CEJ member who helped organize it. The city Department of Education has closed 117 schools since 2002 and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said this week that he plans to close additional schools, particularly middle schools, that do not meet the department's standards. “Every year there’s more and more schools on the closing list and that seems to be the only reform strategy that the Department of Education uses to improve schools,” Summers said. “People in places where they know [closure] is not working felt that it was important to bring it to New York City to let them see that there’s other ways to improve schools.”
September 20, 2011
Walcott's middle school plan puts new spin on old approaches
In his first major policy speech, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called for major changes to the ctiy's worst middle schools. To shake middle schools from mediocrity, the city is turning to school reform strategies it considers tried and true. In the next two years, the Department of Education will close low-performing middle schools, open brand-new ones, add more charter schools, and push more teachers and principals through in-house leadership programs, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today in a 30-minute policy speech, the first of his six-month tenure. For 10 schools, the city will ask for $30 million in federal funds to try a new reform strategy set out by the federal government, “turnaround,” in which at least half of staff members are replaced, Walcott said. The efforts — which the city plans to pay for with a mixture of state and federal funds — are meant to boost middle school scores that are low and, in the case of reading, actually falling. "People have tried and struggled with the complicated nature of middle schools for decades," he said. "But the plan I've laid out is bolder and more focused than anything we've tried here in New York City before." Experts and advocates who helped engineer the last major effort to overhaul middle schools, a City Council task force that produced recommendations but short-lived changes at the DOE in 2007, disputed Walcott's characterization. They said Walcott's announcement reflects a change in style but not substance. "Much of what he said is not new," said Carol Boyd, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice, which has long urged more attention for middle schools. "There is a definite party line, except Joel [Klein] wasn’t able to deliver it with the same believability that Chancellor Walcott does," she said. Boyd sat on the task force. “There’s nothing new [or] interesting about this plan," said Pedro Noguera, the New York University professor who chaired the council's task force and has spoken out against school closures. "It sounds like more of what they’ve been doing, shutting down failing schools."
September 7, 2011
City getting federal grants to assist with long-planned closures
The city is getting a total of just under $60 million in federal grants to help dozens of struggling schools. The grants, which the State Education Department formally announced today, are hardly unexpected. In July, the city and teachers union hashed out an eleventh-hour deal on teacher evaluations to clear the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive them. The surprise is that 11 school closures — many of which the city had planned since 2009 — are being chalked up to "turnaround," an overhaul model that the city said it was dropping. Turnaround requires a new principal, most teachers replaced, and organizational changes — all hallmarks of the city's longstanding closure program, in which low-performing schools phase out and new schools open in their place. But for months, the city had not mentioned turnaround as an option. In fact, back in May, when it looked like the city would have to filed its grant application without the UFT's support, the city said it was abandoning its plan to use the turnaround model and would instead adopt the less-invasive "restart" approach.
July 22, 2011
As co-location construction starts, the UFT weighs its next steps
Hours after a judge ruled that the city can go ahead with a controversial slate of school closure and openings, union lawyers are starting to sketch out their response. Department of Education officials said construction projects planned to ready school buildings for co-locations were free to begin. At PS 308 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, workers were painting classrooms. But Rafiq Kalam Id-Din said he was still waiting for the city to approve construction for the school he runs, Teaching Firms of America Charter School. Meanwhile, lawyers for the United Federation of Teachers, one of the leading plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are studying the decision and deliberating their next steps. The ruling last night denied a preliminary injunction that would have barred the city from moving forward with its plans, but it did not assess the merits of the UFT and NAACP's claims that the city's plans would lead to inequities among schools. Last night, the union said it would not drop the lawsuit, and any future adjudication would focus on those equity claims. But it could take some time for union lawyers to wade through questions that could influence how they proceed. One question is just what the union would seek to get out of such a suit. With the start of the school year just weeks away, the chance of any further action preventing the start of phase-outs and the beginning of co-locations is virtually nil.
July 21, 2011
Judge rejects UFT-NAACP claims, allows co-locations, closures
A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that the city can move forward with its plans for 22 school closure and 15 co-locations. In May, the UFT and NAACP filed a suit charging that the city had not adhered to the law and its own promises when planning the closures and charter school co-locations. In a decision released late tonight, Judge Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP's request for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the city from moving forward with its closure and co-location plans while those charges are considered. A temporary restraining order preventing the plans from advancing had been in place since early June. Feinman's decision came just hours after State Education Commissioner John King approved 12 of the closures, of schools on the state's list of "persistently low-achieving" schools. The UFT and NAACP suit had argued that the city could not close schools on that list without state approval. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration's approach to fixing low-performing schools.
July 7, 2011
As closure looms, Columbus teachers plan curriculum revamp
Christopher Columbus High School students wait to receive their diplomas at graduation in the Lehman College auditorium.Tamjid Chowdhury, this year’s valedictorian of Christopher Columbus High School, said in his graduation speech that the fight to save his school from closing had ironically provided some of his favorite memories. Tamjid Chowdhury, this year’s valedictorian of Christopher Columbus High School, said in his graduation speech that the fight to save his school from closing had ironically provided some of his favorite memories. "It was one time I was awed by the sense of unity in the school,” he said of the rallies. For teachers and staff at the Bronx school, another year under the threat of closure has ended with stories of coming together to improve. The unity extended beyond protests at public meetings. Without anyone asking them to, a group of teachers at the school spent the year huddling together to redesign the school's curriculum. “We knew if anything good was going to come out of this year, we would have to generate it, and we would have to execute it," said Christine Rowland, an English teacher who also works for the UFT. City officials tried to close Columbus this year and last year, and they want Columbus phased out by 2014 to open a new school in the building. Teachers have tried to save the school multiple times by rallying behind efforts to convert Columbus into a charter school, and Columbus remains at the center of the lawsuit filed by the teachers union and the NAACP to stop school closures. “It’s a really big blow to our psyche,” said Larry Minetti, an art teacher who has taught at Columbus for 16 years.
June 22, 2011
At 'memorial,' students lament inattention to school closures
Led by Anzhela Mordyga, students leave a "memorial service" for closed schools outside Tweed Courthouse today. Carrying small coffins and wearing mostly black, a group of about 100 high school students held a "memorial service" today for schools the city has closed. The teens were organized by the Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of activist groups that is advocating for the city to add new resources for struggling schools instead of closing them. A recent graduate, Anzhela Mordyga, wore a black gown as she conducted the mock funeral service outside Department of Education headquarters. Another student scattered flowers as the group recessed to City Hall Park. "This funeral service represents the damages and pain when schools are closed," said Joseph Duarte, a freshman at Samuel Gompers High School, where students are worried that their school could be next to land on the city's chopping block. Students who spoke at the event said they mourned not only school closures — Mayor Bloomberg has attempted 91 since he took control of schools — but also a lack of public engagement in education. The memorial service drew attention to an issue that is at the heart of the UFT-NAACP lawsuit currently working its way through the courts.
June 13, 2011
Parent group says it will file separate suit challenging closures
More litigation could be targeted at Tweed's plans to close struggling schools, even as one lawsuit seems to be headed toward an amicable settlement. The New York City Parents Union announced this afternoon that it plans to file a separate lawsuit against the Department of Education, charging that its policy of closing low-performing schools and co-locating charter schools in district space was illegal. The lawsuit, according to the announcement, would effectively stop all school closure and co-locations from moving forward. "We, the public school parents, challenge the cynical chicanery of Chancellor Walcott and the DOE. We reject the privatization agenda supported by Mayor Bloomberg and his appointees. Our children deserve the best education and a supportive administration, and we will fight for all children to receive equal access to a quality education," the statement said. The lawsuit would also seek to reverse charter school co-locations because they aren't charged market rent for space in district school buildings.
May 18, 2011
Teachers union lawsuit takes aim at 22 school closures
For the second time in two years, the city teachers union is suing to stop the Bloomberg administration from closing schools and opening new ones in their place. The union's lawsuit, which it filed along with the NAACP and a host of elected officials and parents, challenges plans to close 22 of the 26 schools that education officials hope to phase out this year. Last year, the union successfully stopped the city from closing 19 schools by persuading a State Supreme Court judge that the closures violated various requirements in the state's education law. These ranged from not following the law about public notification of hearing dates to failing to failing to map out the predicted impact of school closures. This year, the city took pains to follow public notification rules, beginning the process earlier in the year, and by last month, 26 schools had ended up on the chopping block. Perhaps as a result, the United Federation of Teachers' argument against closures this year is broader and more complicated. And unlike last year, the union is also seeking to prevent charter schools from moving into public school buildings, charging that the city did not prove the co-locations would be equitable. “The department continues to insist that phase-outs and closures of schools and co-locating untested schools is the answer, while depriving the remaining students in those designated, 22 schools of the resources to succeed academically,” said Kenneth Cohen of the NAACP at a press conference this morning. Chancellor Dennis Walcott — who said he learned about the suit not from UFT President Michael Mulgrew but from a reporter this morning — said he was "saddened" by the suit. As deputy mayor, Walcott decried the NAACP last year for its involvement in the school closure lawsuit because he said the group prevented the city from improving school choices. "We totally disagree with the union," Walcott said. "We have met the letter of the law and we will continue to meet the letter of the law as far as these schools are concerned."
April 29, 2011
City panel votes to close three more schools, bringing total to 27
Three more schools will begin closing next year, following a vote by the citywide school board last night that brought the total of schools closed this year to 27. Members of the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close two transfer schools — Pacific High School and the Bronx Academy High School — as well as P.S. 30, an elementary school in Queens. A spokeswoman for the city's Department of education said that, including the decision to shutter Ross Global Charter School, 27 schools will begin closing next year. It was Chancellor Dennis Walcott's first panel meeting since Mayor Bloomberg named him to the post. Walcott said he hoped to change the tenor of the meetings by answering parents' questions and publicly debating policy issues at a deeper level than his predecessors did. Walcott began the meeting by walking down from the stage and into the crowd, where he promised parents, teachers, and students that he and his staff would respect them. "You will never hear me be disagreeable with you," he said. "The one thing we understand is these are emotional issues for you...the approach we’re going to take moving forward is be responsive to those issues even when we don’t agree." If audience members heard Walcott's plea for civility, they betrayed no signs. The boos and catcalls that have peppered panel meetings for months reappeared last night, as did animosity between charter school supporters and the district schools they will have to share space with next year.
April 27, 2011
Walcott announces new networks for phase-out schools
Several months ago as the citywide school board considered whether to close nearly two dozen schools, critics of the plan accused the city of turning its back on schools once they begin phasing out. Now, the city says it has a plan to help them. During a visit this morning to Paul Robeson High School — one of the schools that the Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out over the next three years — Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced plans to place all of the phase-out schools in the same networks. The change, which would take effect next school year, would mean that the new, as well as currently phasing out, schools would receive administrative and instructional guidance from the same set of people. Currently, schools are grouped into networks — called Children First Networks (CFN) — that provide resources ranging from professional development to budget writing. Phase-out schools have remained within the same networks before and after the closure decisions, even though their needs often change as their size dwindles. Under the new plan, schools like Robeson will leave their current networks and join new ones composed only of other schools that are phasing out. Typical networks have a staff of about a dozen people and focus on giving guidance to 25 schools.
April 19, 2011
In a first, city plans to end contract with a support organization
For the first time since introducing school support organizations in 2007, the city plans to end its contract with one of them. But unlike when the city closes failing schools, it has refused to publicly release data showing how the network has performed. (Update 4/20: City officials now say they are planning to publicly release the data next week.) Replications — one of several non-profit organizations that provide schools instructional and administrative assistance — will not be able to contract with schools next year, a Department of Education official confirmed today. Every year, the DOE ranks how well support organizations and networks are doing based largely on the test scores and graduation rates of the schools they work with. These rankings have been used to close low-performing networks, but this is the first time a support organization has lost its contract because of them. Replications' founder John Elwell said today that the decision to cut ties with the DOE was a mutual one. "I was going to ask them to let us out of the contract," he said. Elwell said that for two years, DOE officials have been threatening to end the department's contract with him based on his network's ranking at the bottom of the list. He said this year 20 other networks placed lower than his in the rankings, but Replications did not do well enough to keep its contract. DOE officials have refused requests for the rankings, though they have shown them to principals. Former Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern disagreed with the DOE's decision not to release the rankings showing how Replications' schools had performed.
April 11, 2011
Chancellor Tisch visits a Bronx high school with charter hopes
Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch visited a struggling Bronx high school today that is hoping to convert into a charter school in order to prevent the city from closing it. A teacher at Christopher Columbus High School said that Tisch toured the school today, stopping into teachers' classrooms and talking to principals at several of the schools that share the building. The teacher said that Tisch was there to discuss the school's charter conversion aspirations. Though city school officials have said that they have no intention of allowing the school to convert into a charter school, teachers took Tisch's visit as a sign of hope that state officials haven't ruled the plan out. Tisch has personally campaigned for more charter high schools, calling on charter school networks to take a risk on older, more difficult students. “It’s really time for charter schools to say to me, ‘I don’t want to just grow my own, I don’t want to operate in this zone where I am the darling,’” Tisch said at Hunter College in 2009. “I want them to dig in and say, ‘what can we do to help?’” City Department of Education officials said today that Columbus should not be allowed to convert into a charter school — keeping its staff and students the same — because of its years of poor performance.
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