Turnaround

New York

A union skeptic, converted by Steve Barr, befriends the UFT

Steve Barr argues that education activists need to move from campaigning to governing. When Gideon Stein first picked up the 2009 New Yorker profile of California charter school leader Steve Barr, he put the article down without finishing it. The story was all about Barr's decision to work with the teachers union rather than fight it. "I was like, eh, how great can his schools be?" Stein, an entrepreneur and real estate developer based in Manhattan, recalled in an interview this week. A board member of at one of Eva Moskowitz's Success Charter Network schools, where teachers are determinedly not unionized, Stein didn't believe that anyone working with a teachers union had a shot at turning a school around. But at the urging of his family, he finished the piece and was so impressed that he asked Moskowitz to broker an introduction. Soon he flew to Los Angeles to visit Locke High School, the school that Barr's group, Green Dot, took over in 2008. The trip was "transformative," Stein said. In Barr, he saw the solution to the problem that troubles many education philanthropists: Successful transformations urban and rural schools are too rare. They have not achieved "scale." "While I love my work with Eva, and I think Eva is just an unbelievable educator and advocate for children," Stein said, "if you really want scale, I think you're going to have to make some compromises." He asked Barr how he could help Green Dot's mission of re-making schools in partnership with labor. Now Stein is the president of Barr's national organization, which changed its name today from Green Dot America to Future Is Now Schools. And he's rejiggered his social calendar. "I've now had dinner and drinks with Randi 10 times in the last eight months," he said, referring to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Winning the Future
New York

A city principal who favors change warily prepares for more

Graduating seniors celebrated today inside the Cobble Hill School of American Studies Today was a roller coaster for Kenneth Cuthbert, principal of the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn. At 1 p.m., he stood inside a new basement auditorium he excavated from a former garbage dump and watched more than 100 of his students graduate to shattering cheers. A few hours later, he learned that he might lose his job. Cobble Hill has been named one of the 34 city schools the state will attempt "turn around" as part of an Obama administration program. The news Cuthbert received this afternoon, in an e-mail message from Chancellor Joel Klein, is that Cobble Hill will undergo the so-called "transformation" model — the less severe model that preserves a school's teaching staff, but still endangers its principal. State rules say that all schools on the federal list should lose their principals, but city officials are considering appealing for some principals to stay, and the principals union is pressuring them to save these jobs. So far, Cuthbert doesn't know where he falls. "They need to do what’s in the best interest of the children," he told me this afternoon, after receiving the news. "I will be fine. God sends us here with gifts, talents, and abilities. What are you going to do? You play the hand you’re dealt. We’ve played it for the last several years." His mixed feelings reflect the fact that, for the five years that he's been principal, Cuthbert has seen himself as on a war path to improve the school — and he feels like he's made important steps. Last year's four-year graduation rate was 65 percent, up from 42 percent two years before. Since he came, the school has launched several new programs, including a law program that he said is behind increasing enrollment. (Achievement statistics on the school can be found here and here.)
New York

Union contract limits options for school turnaround, city says

New York

Two efforts to improve a school, with two different sets of tools