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November 26, 2012
Among 24 schools city says it could close, some familiar names
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."
November 6, 2012
Dewey gets its building back, but longer-term problems remain
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.
October 18, 2012
HS of Graphic Communication Arts in crisis, staff members say
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.
October 10, 2012
New York City could get $25M for turnaround this year after all
Three of the 24 schools that the city tried to close and reopen this summer could undergo "turnaround" after all. Under the aggressive form of the federally prescribed school overhaul process that the department tried to carry out, all teachers at the struggling schools were required to reapply for their jobs. The city set no quota for rehiring, but the requirement that no more than 50 percent be rehired in order for the schools to qualify for federal funding was widely known. An arbitrator ruled in June that the city's version of turnaround ran afoul of its contract with the teachers union. But three of the schools — some of the smallest proposed for turnaround — turned over more than 50 percent of their teachers last year anyway, so they meet the federal requirements for funding. The schools are Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, J.H.S. 22 in the Bronx, and M.S. 126 in Brooklyn. Now, the city has asked for turnaround funding for them and for 15 other schools that it is shutting down through its regular closure process. Under that process, used for years, one school phases out while others phase in in the same space.
September 20, 2012
Walcott visits ex-turnaround schools without addressing turmoil
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.
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.
August 21, 2012
After rueing SIG funding loss, city will give schools $18 million
A month ago, city officials said 24 struggling schools would have to miss out on costly school improvement programs because they were ineligible for federal "turnaround" grants. Now the city plans to pony up its own funds. In a release to reporters this afternoon that was short on details, officials said the department would allocate $18 million to the schools as "one-time transitional support" to make up for the loss of $30 million School Improvement Grants. City efforts to secure federal funding for these schools have been tense since the State Education Department yanked the funding from them and other schools late last December as a consequence for the city and union's unresolved teacher evaluation negotiations. To secure the funds, the city proposed to have 33 schools, later reduced to 24, undergo a stringent reform regimen called turnaround, which would have required the city to replace at least half the teachers at each school. To hit that quota, the city proposed closing the schools and re-opening them after replacing some teachers through a contractual process called 18-D. But an independent arbitrator ruled that those plans violated the teachers' contracts, and a court upheld the ruling in July. That ruling effectively made the city ineligible to receive the federal "turnaround" aid.
July 31, 2012
City hands long to-do list to principals of ex-turnaround schools
For principals, August is usually a time for putting the final touches on staffing and curriculum decisions for the year — and for sneaking in a long-awaited vacation. The principals of 24 schools that the city tried to "turn around" will spend the month putting their schools back together. The turnaround process would have meant new names, shaken-up staffs, and new programs for the schools. But those changes were undone when an arbitrator ruled earlier this month that staffing plans for the schools violated the city's contract with the teachers and principals unions. Now, on the last day of July, the schools' principals are finding out which teachers intend to return in September, according to a letter they received from the Department of Education this evening. The letter, which the city released to reporters, offered the most detailed guidance the principals have gotten yet about how to proceed after months of uncertainty and disorder. In the email, the department official in charge of turnaround offers instructions ranging from what to call their schools in formal communications (by their original names) to what to do with all of the files generated by the hiring committees that were reviewing teaching candidates for the overhauled schools (lock them in a filing cabinet).
July 31, 2012
City dissolves fleet of "master" and "turnaround" teachers
The teachers union's victory in a legal fight over the city's "turnaround" plans kept thousands of teachers at 24 struggling schools from losing their positions. But it has also put another group of teachers at risk. They are the "master" and "turnaround" teachers, a cohort of experienced educators selected to put in extra hours helping their colleagues in exchange for extra pay. The positions were funded through federal School Improvement Grants, but without turnaround or another overhaul process in place at the schools, those funds will not flow to the city. Last week, just after the city's final bid to reinstate turnaround failed, the 71 master and turnaround teachers got a letter from the Department of Education telling them to look for other positions. The demise of the elite positions has given rise to yet another city-union dispute centered around the schools formerly slated for turnaround.
July 27, 2012
With "turnaround" dead in the water, city releases plan details
Even as city officials swore that they had not set any quota for rehiring at schools it was trying to shake up, they were assuring the state that the schools would replace at least 50 percent of teachers. The assurances were made in nearly 800 pages of documents submitted to the state in March as part of the city's application for federal School Improvement Grants. The city released the original application Thursday, four months after submitting it and two days after a State Supreme Court effectively torpedoed the city's bid for the funds. The documents include a letter addressed to State Education Commissioner John King from the deputy chancellor overseeing turnaround, an outline of the plans, and a 770-page tome on changes the city proposed for each of the 24 schools, along with the city's justification for planning to close each of them. The release did not reflect changes that state and city officials said were made throughout the spring. The city also released a shortlist of programs on Thursday that it says are now at risk after an arbitrator ruled that the city's plans for staffing the schools violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions. Much of the application's content for each schools mirrors the proposals the city released when it began preparing the schools for closure. But a separate section outlines just how changes at each school would meet federal requirements for "turnaround," the overhaul process that the city was proposing.
July 25, 2012
On NY1, "turnaround" survivors discuss the possible aftermath
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."
July 24, 2012
Judge ends year's turnaround saga with a fast, firm "no" to city
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.
July 24, 2012
Before turnaround hearing, unlikely principal comes to city's aid
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.
July 24, 2012
City and teachers union return to court in turnaround saga today
The city and the teachers union are back in court this afternoon to argue over the fates of 24 so-called turnaround schools. Late last month, an arbitrator found 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. With just weeks to go before the school year starts, the city is rolling back those plans and telling teachers and administrators who had been cut loose how to reclaim their positions, in accordance with the arbitrator's remedy. But the city doesn't want to give up the chance at using the turnaround model. So it is still arguing that the arbitrator overstepped his bounds and asking the State Supreme Court to overturn his decision. Two weeks ago, Judge Joan Lobis rejected the city's request to be allowed to continue rehiring and replacing teachers at the schools while she considers the appeal. At the time, Lobis signaled that she did not think the city would be likely to win the case in the end. That's what a city attorney who specializes in labor relations also told GothamSchools before the first hearing with Lobis.
July 20, 2012
Bloomberg says this year's test scores call for more charters
(Credit: WOR) Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning that the test scores announced this week, which showed charter schools had out-paced district schools, are proof enough why the city should be expanding charters. "There's a reason people want to send their children to charter schools," he said during his weekly morning appearance on the John Gambling radio show. The average proficiency rate for charter schools students improved 7 percentage points on the state reading tests and 3.5 percentage points on math. The city's district schools also improved but at a slower pace. Bloomberg blamed the teachers union contract for the districts schools' inability to duplicate the success of privately-managed charter schools, which have longer days and greater flexibility in hiring decisions. But instead of making points about issues such as teacher tenure or seniority-based layoff laws, Bloomberg invoked more salacious news items. "The union keeps protecting people that shouldn’t be in the classroom that touch, have sex, whatever it may be," he said. "It embarrasses other teachers."
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