Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of school closures, said the city would consider whether to phase out 24 struggling high schools.
Seven high schools that the city tried in vain to close last year are among the two dozen that the Department of Education might move to shutter this year.
Department officials announced today that they had added 24 high schools to the list of schools they are considering closing. The schools join 36 elementary and middle schools already slated for “early engagement” meetings, the first step in the city's school closure process. The department named those schools in October but postponed the meetings because of Hurricane Sandy.
The high schools were culled from 60 whose progress report scores made them eligible for closure under the city's rules. Their test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and readiness for college do not measure up to city standards, according to Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg, the department official who oversees school closures, who said the schools' presence on the early engagement list indicates that they have deep problems to address.
"What we see in a school that can't demonstrate the capacity to improve dramatically and to improve quickly is a calcification of the systems that lead to good schools," Sternberg told reporters in a briefing on the reports this afternoon. "The adults are not communicating clearly and well with each other, there's a lack of collaboration, a lack of organizational alignment that will enable the kind of instruction we know is important and necessary to lead to good outcomes."
Smoke billows from John Dewey High School following the sound of an explosion on Monday night, during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Sandra Aronowitz-Garron/Youtube
Teachers from John Dewey High School reported for duty to Sheepshead Bay High School on Monday with a sinking feeling. Months after narrowly escaping closure, the school had struggled since September to settle on programs for its 1,900 students and, if that were not enough, its Gravesend building had caught on fire during Hurricane Sandy.
Now they thought students and staff would have spread out among three different school buildings, including Sheepshead Bay, for the foreseeable future.
"It could be, without a doubt, another nail in the coffin," one teacher said about the planned relocation. "It's a whirlwind to be told to go here or there."
The school’s staff spent Monday deciding who would report where on Wednesday, and creating new schedules for their students. Then, late Monday evening, teachers got a phone call from the Department of Education with unexpected news: Dewey would be able to reopen right away after all.
Teachers said the phone call came as a welcome surprise, but some said they thought the location was the least of Dewey’s worries.
Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cited Dewey as one of the most severely damaged schools in the wake of the hurricane. And teachers said they had received no hints that the school would be ready to reopen any time soon, even after Principal Kathleen Elvin stopped by the building to assess repair efforts on Monday morning and afternoon. But department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey’s boiler to work, making the building safe for students and teachers.
The quick return was exactly what some teachers said they thought the school needed.
Staff members at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts say Room 310, where musical instruments, books, and other discarded materials are piled high, is a symbol for deep disorganization at the school this year.
Manhattan’s long-struggling High School of Graphic Communication Arts was supposed to turn a corner this year. But instead, students and staff throughout the school say a recent string of poor leadership decisions is threatening the school's ultimate fate.
The toilet plungers that students were told to wield as hall passes last month — until the Department of Education ended the practice — are a distressing symbol of much larger problems at the school, they say.
A month into the school year, longstanding programs are in disarray, materials and personnel are languishing unused, and many students have had such inconsistent schedules that their teachers say they have learned far less than they should have by now.
"They are all so off-track right now that the first projects we have, I can't really truly grade them as I normally would," one teacher said about students. "I'm going to have to try to make up the knowledge somehow, but I don't know how yet. They should be much further along than they are now."
GothamSchools spoke with nearly a dozen newly hired and veteran staff members under the condition of anonymity, as well as other people close to the school. The staffers span the school's grade levels, program offerings, and organizational hierarchy.
All said that the ultimate responsibility for the problems should fall on Principal Brendan Lyons, who took over at the school last year and was the department’s pick to lead it through “turnaround.” The aggressive overhaul process for 24 schools was halted this summer after an arbitrator ruled the city’s plans violated its contract with the teachers union.
Dennis Walcott, with Principal Magdalen Radovich, students, and several officials from the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, announced an AT&T grant to fund Flushing HS after-school programs.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has quietly visited several former "turnaround" schools in recent weeks, but he has done so without calling attention to the fact that the city planned to close them until just a few months ago.
During the first week of school, Walcott made unannounced visits to two of the schools in Brooklyn. At John Dewey High School, where large-scale scheduling problems are prevailing, he shook hands with students one morning. He stopped by William Grady Career and Technical High School, which was removed from the turnaround roster in April, the same day. Neither visit made his public schedule, and department officials said they had nothing to do with the schools' ex-turnaround status. Instead, the stops were like many that the chancellor, an avid school visitor, has made outside of public view, the officials said.
And on Wednesday, he shared the stage with the new principal of Flushing High School at a press conference heralding a substantial grant from AT&T to the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, which runs an after-school program at the school. Working in about 150 city schools, SASF was only the second group, after the YMCA of New York, to receive a grant through Aspire, a $250 million AT&T grant program aimed at boosting college readiness among high-need students. The grant will help SASF hire staff to support its program at Flushing, which includes targeted efforts to help incoming ninth-graders make up academic ground.
Speaking to the students and staff who attended the press conference, Walcott praised SASF and said, "We expect success from all of you to not just achieve but to achieve at a high level. To do that you need to support great teachers, you need to support great leaders, we need to support families, not-for-profits, the generosity of corporate giving."
But he did not acknowledge the turmoil the school had gone through in recent months as the city tried to close and reopen it using the turnaround process. Nor did he note the school's leadership change, made in turnaround's early stages. And after the press conference, Walcott ducked out without talking to reporters. A department spokeswoman said he was late to a meeting and would be taking questions over email instead, but the spokeswoman did not respond by day's end.
From left to right, teachers Dan Mejias, Mike McQuillen, and Lori Wheal speak to NY1 host Errol Louis about turnaround at their schools. M.S. 22 Principal Linda Rosenbury is obscured behind Mejias.
When three teachers and a city principal sat down with NY1 reporter Errol Louis on Tuesday evening, they had just learned that the city's final chance to "turn around" their schools had fallen short.
The decision meant that, contrary to the city's intention, their schools' names won't change. And even if the teachers had been told not to return — none of them had been — they could. It also means that a two-year experiment in using federal funds to fuel extra programs at the struggling schools has almost certainly come to an end. Receiving the funds, called School Improvement Grants, was contingent on turnaround, but an arbitrator concluded that the city's plans violated its contracts with the teachers and principals union.
Appearing on Inside City Hall, the teachers — all part of an advocacy group that has clashed with the unions — said picking up the pieces would require more than simply blaming the UFT for suing over turnaround, and one even gave an impassioned defense of the union.
The teachers also warned that the schools might actually be in worse shape this fall than before they first received the federal funds in 2010.
"Morale just crashed when we got those letters" telling teachers they had to reapply for their jobs, said Lori Wheal, a "master teacher" who was told she could stay on at M.S. 391 but is leaving for the policy arena instead. "We lost several effective educators."
PHOTO: Caroline BaumanTeachers union attorney Adam Ross and Secretary Michael Mendel talk to reporters after the judge ruled to uphold the arbitration.
The Bloomberg administration's Hail Mary effort to shake up the staffs at 24 struggling schools fell short today when a State Supreme Court judge shot down the city's request to move forward.
An arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, ruled late last month that the city’s hiring and firing decisions at the schools — key aspects of the Department of Education’s "turnaround" plans — violated the city’s contract with the teachers union. The schools were not closing, Buchheit ruled, so the city could not invoke article 18-D of the contract, which sets out staffing rules for schools that are shut down.
In a lawsuit filed quickly afterwards, the city contended that Buchheit had overstepped his bounds. Lobis signaled earlier this month that she thought the city was unlikely to win that argument when she rejected its request to be allowed to continue rehiring and replacing teachers at the schools while she considered its appeal.
Today, after listening to city and union lawyers lay out their cases for 45 minutes this afternoon, Lobis retired to her chambers with a warning that she might return with a decision today.
Seven minutes later, she emerged to say that she had come to a conclusion: The arbitrator's decision would stand.
"I could spend weeks trying to tease out an erudite decision," Lobis said, but she added that all parties sought a speedy resolution and the legal issues at stake were not complicated.
The city will appeal Lobis's decision, according to a statement from Michael Cardozo, the city's top lawyer.
A screenshot from the online petition linked to in an email urging a State Supreme Court judge to allow the city to "turn around" 24 struggling schools.
Twenty-four hours before city and union lawyers were due in court for yet another hearing about turnaround, a Bronx principal launched an email campaign to boost the city's case.
Sarah Scrogin, principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future, sent an email titled "Love NY? Fix our schools!" Monday afternoon to a network of "Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers." The email asks recipients to sign on to a petition or forward a letter supporting the city's bid to overhaul 24 schools.
That bid was rolled back late last month when an arbitrator ruled that the hiring and firing process being used at the schools violated the city's contract with the teachers and principals unions. Today, the city is asking a State Supreme Court judge to overturn the arbitrator's decision.
Scrogin's letter urges the judge, Joan Lobis, to look beyond the legal dispute she is charged with adjudicating.
"In the coming weeks, as the judge ponders her final decision and weighs the legal issues before her, we ask her to weigh also the value to which we hold the futures of our city’s children," Scrogin writes in the email, which multiple people forwarded to GothamSchools. "We believe she must want the best possible teachers and schools for them."
The petition link takes recipients to a form titled "NYC Signatures July 2012" that asks for a name, email address, school, and borough. The petition does not include the names of people who have signed on.
Scrogin said today that she could not comment until she secured permission from the Department of Education to speak to reporters. But as the hearing got underway this afternoon, she distributed a list of 93 signatories by email. The signatories included 19 city principals and 12 city teachers, many from Scrogin's school. They also include dozens of "concerned citizens" and people outside of the city school system, such as the manager of labor relations for the NFL.
It's summer break, so Stuyvesant High School students probably weren't listening to the radio at 7 a.m. today.
But if they were, 69 of them would have found out from Chancellor Dennis Walcott that they will have to retake the end-of-year Spanish exams they took last month. That's the number of students that Department of Education investigators concluded had received exam questions in advance via a text message from a classmate.
Walcott announced during an appearance on the John Gambling Show that also touched on the schools thrown into limbo by an arbitrator's ruling last month and the Department of Education's new focus on college readiness.
The first phase of the investigation, conducted by the department's internal Office of Special Investigations, looked only at student behavior and meted out punishments, including some suspensions, according to the city's discipline code, Walcott said.
The next phase, he said, is to look at whether Stuyvesant's principal, Stanley Teitel, and his staff followed the appropriate protocol after learning about the cheating on the city exams. "We have to look at the process," Walcott said. "Once the allegation was made, what happened after that?"
Teitel sent a letter to parents June 20 alerting them to the cheating and informing them that students suspected of cheating would lose some privileges, such as the right to leave campus for lunch. But the city did not find out about the cheating allegations for nearly a week after that letter went home.
Grover Cleveland High School student Diana Rodriguez spearheaded student protest against her school's closure.
Less than two weeks after graduating from high school, Diana Rodriguez is staying busy. The Queens teenager is up at 6 a.m. to go for a morning run, work her two summer jobs, and take driving lessons a few months before she is set to start college.
It’s a heavy workload — but it's not the biggest responsibility the 17-year-old has taken on. This spring, she led classmates at Grover Cleveland High School in a fight for the school's life.
The school was one of 33 the city planned to close and reopen using an overhaul process, known as "turnaround," that included changing the school’s name and replacing half of the school staff.
Rodriguez was enraged. Already the senior class president, she sprang into action galvanizing her classmates to protest the turnaround plans.
“I wouldn't stand for it,” said Rodriguez. “You can’t mess with my education – education is a right.”
That was Rodriguez's rallying cry as she joined other students in schools facing closure across the city in a group called Student Activists United. The group turned out students for public hearings, called Panel for Educational Policy members who would vote on the closures, and even held an early-morning rally outside Mayor Bloomberg's Upper East Side home.
The Department of Education has replaced the schools' websites with new ones reflecting new names.
Nearly a week after an independent arbitrator ruled that teachers cut loose from 24 "turnaround" schools could have their jobs back, confusion reigns at the schools.
The city's turnaround plans involved closing the schools and immediately reopening them with new names, new leaders, and many new teachers. But an arbitrator rolled back those plans last Friday when he ruled that the schools could not replace teachers using its chosen strategy.
Shortly after the arbitrator's decision, teachers at the schools received a celebratory email from the United Federation of Teachers, which had sued the city over the hiring procedures in place at the schools.
Earlier this week, the city filed suit to get the arbitrator's decision overturned, and a judge is likely to consider the case early next week.
For now, the Department of Education has suspended the hiring committees that had been meeting to consider teacher candidates, according to teachers union officials.
But during the disjointed first week of summer vacation, it has given teachers and principals no guidance about how they can reclaim their positions, according to officials of the unions that represent both sets of educators.
And at least one interim principal who seems likely to be bumped by the arbitrator's decision is reporting for work as usual.
State Senator Michael Gianaris speaks at the Long Island City High School graduation ceremony.
For two high schools that filled a large auditorium at Queens College yesterday for their graduation ceremonies, the festivities were bittersweet.
Long Island City High School and Flushing High School are among 24 city schools graduating their final cohorts before closing and reopening this summer.
Students who were enrolled in the schools this year and didn't graduate will continue to attend them. But their schools will have new names and many new teachers, in accordance with the rules of a federal school reform model called turnaround.
Earlier this year, the schools had packed their own auditoriums to protest the turnaround plans, which Mayor Bloomberg surprised them by announcing in January.
On Wednesday, the room reverberated not with chants but with applause — this time, to honor their newly-minted alumni. Yet the impending closures were not far from the minds of the graduation speakers, a mix of alumni, principals and top students, some who immigrated to the United States shortly before beginning high school.
"It is sad to know we are the last graduating class of Long Island City High School, but it is also an honor," Xi Xi Hu, Long Island City High School's valedictorian, said in her speech.
Three months after the city asked the state for federal funds to fuel school 'turnaround' efforts, the state has responded — with a resounding "maybe."
In a letter released late Friday, State Education Commissioner John King said the way the city plans to overhaul 24 struggling schools meets the state's requirements. But he said he would only hand over the federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants, if the city meets steep conditions.
To meet some of those conditions, the city would need to come out ahead in arbitration with the teachers union over collective bargaining rules at the 24 schools. It must also prove that community members were looped in on the city's planning process.
The arbitration, which covers a dispute over whether the city may use a process outlined in the teachers union contract for schools that close and reopen (called 18-D), is set to end next week. If the union comes out ahead, hiring and firing decisions at the schools would be reversed and, according to King's letter, the city would not be able to collect the SIG grants, which total nearly $60 million.
Earlier this year, King said he saw the city's proposal as "approvable." But he stayed quiet as the city signaled it would not force schools to adhere to a central requirement of turnaround set by the U.S. Department of Education: that they replace at least 50 percent of their teachers.
King's letter today says the city must meet the federal government's staffing requirements.
State turnaround advisors say "the percentage matters," SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said over email. "18-D is the mechanism to achieve the required percentage."