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April 5, 2012
CEJ: Hiring costs at turnaround schools could top $60 million
Parents and students rallied at City Hall this afternoon to protest the city's closure plans Replacing teachers at the remaining 26 turnaround schools could cost the city as much as $60 million, according to a new analysis released today by one of the city's most vociferous opponents. The report, released by the Coalition for Educational Justice in advance of an organized student and parent protest at City Hall, also took aim at the process the Department of Education used to assessed many of the schools that remain on the turnaround list. A dozen schools are doing well enough on their annual progress reports that they cleared the city's own closure benchmark. The CEJ cost analysis found that up to 849 teachers in the 26 schools could be replaced in order to qualify for federal school improvement grants, which require that no more than 50 percent of teachers can be retained under the turnaround model. The analysis omitted teachers who were hired in the last two years because they are likely to be exempted from the total pool of teachers that must reapply to their positions. The final figures will almost certainly be less than CEJ's projections because DOE officials have begun telling principals they won't be on the hook any specific number of teachers. The report details the salary and tenure profile at each of the 26 schools. For instance, teachers at John Dewey High School, where college-readiness rates exceed the city average, earned the highest average salary, $82,641, and just 7 percent of its staff was hired in the last two years. At Banana Kelly, where more than half of its teaching staff joined the school in recent years, just one teacher would need to be removed at the school to qualify for the funds.
April 4, 2012
Pace of change yields mixed reactions at Bryant closure hearing
Bryant High School teachers and students rally outside the school's 31st Avenue entrance before the closure hearing. Over a hundred teachers, students, and alumni converged at from William Cullen Bryant High School closure hearing last night to warn city officials that undergoing "turnaround" next year would harm the school. But some teachers said that rapid changes are already hitting the school under the hard-charging leadership of first-year principal Namita Dwarka. Bryant is one of eight Queens schools proposed for turnaround, which would require them to close and reopen this summer with a new name and many new teachers. The school counts former schools chancellor Joel Klein among its graduates, but it has struggled in recent years to meet the city's expectations. It landed on the turnaround list because of its lagging graduation rate, which last year was 56.5 percent, slightly lower than the city average. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer invoked Bryant's century-old legacy in a press conference outside the school and during the hearing. Sporting a lapel pin with the school's mascot, an owl, and other alumni, Van Bramer said the school's tradition of excellence brought pride to the community and should be preserved. Many teachers who spoke at the hearing shared his concern. But others expressed enthusiasm about changes at the school. The conflicting feelings reflected some of the tensions that have arisen since Dwarka took over as principal in September and, according to at least half a dozen teachers who have spoken with GothamSchools, began issuing low ratings to teachers who had never received them before.
April 3, 2012
Walcott: We respond on "rare occasions" of closure objections
Walcott answers questions about the city's decision to remove schools from its 'turnaround' list. The morning after abruptly withdrawing "turnaround" proposals for seven schools, Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the Department of Education's strategies for determining which schools to close. The seven schools were among 33 slated for turnaround, which would require them to close and reopen, even though they had A's and B's on their city progress reports and thus did not meet the city's closure criteria. Speaking to reporters after delivering a speech about his middle school reforms, Walcott said the fact that the seven schools had received top scores from the city did work in their favor. But he said visits from top department officials had really made the difference. "It's not just the progress report, while the progress reports are extremely important. It's also what's happening within the four walls of the building, and that to me is something that's extremely important," he said. "A lot of us can tell when an institution is doing well or doing better and when an institution is not. You have educators ... who know the questions to ask and see what's happening in the classroom." He added, "With these schools, they were one A and six B's, and that played into it."
April 3, 2012
In many tongues, Newtown students attempt to save their school
After months of relative quiet, students and staff of Newtown High School are joining the chorus of opposition to the city's "turnaround" plans — with a heartfelt video produced by four engineering students.
April 3, 2012
At two schools not saved from turnaround, the hearings go on
Grover Cleveland High School students march around the Ridgewood, Queens school's perimeter before the closure hearing. When public hearings about the city's plans to "turn around" two large high schools began last night, few of their supporters had heard that other schools had been spared the aggressive reform process. Herbert H. Lehman High School and Grover Cleveland High School were not among seven top-rated schools that the city announced yesterday would not undergo turnaround after all. The controversial process requires schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers. A third school slated for a public hearing Monday night, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, had its turnaround plans withdrawn. But at Lehman and Cleveland, the hearings went on without interruption — with students, teachers, and graduates at each offering more than three hours of testimony about their schools. Cleveland Diana Rodriguez, the senior class president at Cleveland, saw the surprising news about changes to the turnaround list on her phone during a pre-hearing rally organized by students. “Obviously Cleveland is not on the list. This is very disappointing for us but we will not give up,” she said. “Tonight we will show that we have a voice and will not give in.” That voice grew strained over the course of the afternoon and evening from loud chants and cheers. Before the closure hearing, Rodriguez led a band of students — including one dressed in a tiger costume — on a march around the neighborhood. As they passed the Q54 bus on Metropolitan Avenue, the driver honked repeatedly at the procession and other cars joined the chorus. More students joined when the group returned to the school's entrance on Himrod Street, until the rally swelled to nearly 50.
April 2, 2012
City pulls seven schools with top ratings from turnaround plans
Just days after telling the state that it wanted to "turn around" 33 schools, the city has knocked that number down to 26. Department of Education officials notified principals at seven of the schools with top grades on the city's internal assessment of school quality their schools would no longer be slated for turnaround. Turnaround is a federally prescribed school reform process that requires half of teachers to be replaced. In the model the city is using in order to win federal funds, the schools would have been closed and reopened with new names and new staffs this summer. The department had been criticized roundly for proposing to turn around seven schools that had met the city's own benchmarks by receiving A's or B's on their annual progress reports. The city's shocking about-face comes less than a week after the city submitted formal applications to the state for approval and just hours before one of the schools on the list, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, was set to have a public hearing about its closure. Another school on the list, Harlem Renaissance High School, had a closure hearing last week. In addition to Global Studies and Harlem Renaissance, the five other schools no longer slated for turnaround are William E. Grady Career and Technical High School, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, I.S. 136, William Maxwell Career and Technical High School, and Cobble Hill School of American Studies. Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement that department officials had concluded the schools could improve without radically overhauling their staffs.
April 2, 2012
Marshaled by Marshall, Queens officials join in turnaround fight
Dozens of Queens elected officials and their policy advisers rallied today in Kew Gardens to denounce the city's plans to turnaround 33 schools, including several from Queens. Standing beside a dozen elected officials this morning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled the anxiety in the voices of the many Queens students, teachers and school leaders who have implored her to help them fight city plans to close their schools this year. "When they came to us, I heard children cry, 'What am I going to do?'" Marshall said at a press conference denouncing the city's plans to "turn around" 33 schools, including eight Queens schools. "They love their schools, they want to stay in their schools. They love learning in their schools. I stand hand in hand here with the children. They do not want this." Marshall convened the press conference just hours before Queens' first public hearing about turnaround, the controversial process the city has proposed for 33 struggling schools. But the event was far from Marshall's first public statement on the plans, which would require the schools to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. She also held a hearing at Queens Borough Hall about the proposals in February, where she unveiled an uncharacteristically aggressive stance against the Department of Education. The shift makes sense: For the previous decade, Queens has seen relatively few of its schools shuttered for poor performance, and of the 23 schools whose closures or truncations were approved in February, only one was in the borough. But the borough is home to a full quarter of the schools proposed for turnaround.
April 2, 2012
A Lehman teacher reflects at start of week's turnaround hearings
Hearings This Week Monday School for Global Studies, Brooklyn Grover Cleveland HS, Queens Herbert H. Lehman HS, Bronx Tuesday HS of Graphic Communication Arts, Manhattan William Cullen Bryant HS, Queens Wednesday J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn Thursday I.S. 339, Bronx Richmond Hill HS, Queens Among the many people set to attend a hearing tonight about the city's plan to "turn around" Herbert H. Lehman HIgh School is a teacher who has spent time on both sides of the documentary eye. James McSherry, who has taught writing and film at Lehman for the last 20 years, was the subject of not one but two recent student reporting projects at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. In one story (above), by Nabil Rahman, McSherry empathizes with his students and shares pieces of his life story, saying, "I know what it's like to be hungry, to be lost, to be forgotten by a system that really doesn't care." A second story by Alex Robinson (below) focuses on the turnaround plans and McSherry's response to them. McSherry won't be alone in opposing the turnaround plan tonight. Anne Looser, the school's UFT chapter leader, sent a press release last week drawing attention to the hearing and calling on the Department of Education to keep Lehman open with the same teachers. And students, too, are organizing to oppose the turnaround plan, which would require the school to be closed and reopened with a new name and many new teachers. Lehman's hearing is among eight taking place this week. They are listed at the right.
March 29, 2012
Scenes from three schools as turnaround hearings get started
A panel of speakers, with student Ajee Joyner seated third from left, was situated in front of a display of student work at Harlem Renaissance High School. Three schools facing the same fate — a federally prescribed school reform strategy known as "turnaround" — registered their opposition in very different ways at public hearings Wednesday evening. The hearings are a required part of the city's school closure process. In order to execute turnaround at 33 schools, qualifying them for a total of about $60 million in funding, the city must close and reopen the schools after changing their names and many of their teachers. Tuesday's hearings were the first in a series that extends to April 19, a week before the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the turnaround plans. At Sheepshead Bay High School, students and staff argued that the school is doing well despite a challenging student population. At Automotive High School, teachers acknowledged that the school desperately needs help — but they said past failures gave them little confidence the city could deliver it. And the community struck an entirely different tone at Harlem Renaissance High School, which would only be lightly touched by turnaround's most stringent requirements. Harlem Renaissance High School Opposition to turnaround was all in a name for students, parents, and teachers at Harlem Renaissance, a transfer high school that accepts students who have been unsuccessful at other schools. A large portion of the school's 200 students turned out for the hearing, and many of the people who testified said their top priority was maintaining the school's name. A representative of the local community district testified that "Harlem" is an essential part of the name to preserve as the neighborhood continues to gentrify and change in character. Ajee Joyner, a senior, focused on the word "renaissance" and explained that she had learned it meant "rebirth" — a poignant definition for students who failed at or even dropped out of other schools. "From the moment I walked through the doors, the theme of experiencing your own personal renaissance was constantly reinforced," said Joyner. "Every staff member reminds us on a regular basis that we can become whatever we want if we allow ourselves to be reborn in our learning and our educational paths." Few schools' turnaround protests appear to focus on the renaming requirement. But at Harlem Renaissance, that could be the biggest disruption because it won't have to replace any teachers: 10 of the 18 teachers joined the staff in the last two years, so they would be counted as new under the federal rules about teacher replacement.
March 28, 2012
As hearing nears, Sheepshead students indict turnaround plan
In preparation to protest the closure of Sheepshead Bay High School tonight at a public hearing, students interrogated a cardboard cutout of Mayor Michael Bloomberg on video. In the video, a student posing as an attorney stages a mock "cross-examination," of the mayor and his plans, which involve closing and re-opening 33 schools this year under a federal reform model known as "turnaround."
March 28, 2012
City formally lodges applications for "turnaround" with the state
More than two months after the city announced plans to "turn around" 33 struggling schools, the Department of Education has asked the state for permission to move forward. Since Mayor Bloomberg announced the turnaround plans, which would require schools to close and reopen after replacing many of their teachers, the city has begun replacing some principals and asking others to develop plans for their new schools. The city also launched its school closure process by releasing "Education Impact Statements" with details about each turnaround plan. But until now, the city had not formally informed the state about its plans, even though State Education Commission John King must approve them in order for them to receive federal funding. The department missed a self-imposed deadline to submit the applications in early February and then delayed the submission further as plans for the new schools were being formed. The department finally turned in the applications late Tuesday, about 24 hours before a spate of city hearings about the turnaround plans was set to begin. Its cover letter, which the city released today, emphasizes that department officials have already spent "several months" preparing for the turnaround processes. Now, it is up to King to decide whether the city should receive nearly $60 million a year in federal School Improvement Grants for the schools.
March 28, 2012
City: "Turnaround" schools won't have to replace half their staff
Department of Education officials are telling principals of schools slated for "turnaround" not to worry about quotas when they decide which teachers to hire for next year. This guidance conflicts with the federal guidelines for the reform model, which require a school to replace at least half its teachers. It also contradicts the words of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials, who have done little to dispute this figure before alarmed teachers, students and parents at meetings held throughout the city. The 50 percent figure has been repeated again and again in months since Bloomberg's announcement, at forums, protests, union press conferences, and city presentations. Superintendent Aimee Horowitz told families and staff at Brooklyn's William E. Grady High School and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School that "up to 50 percent of the remaining faculty can be re-hired," while at least 50 percent will have to leave. At a meeting of the Citywide Council on High Schools, Deputy Chancellor Elaine Gorman distributed a presentation that said part of the plan was to "re-hire no more than 50 percent." But behind the scenes, department officials have been telling principals to ignore this requirement. They said they have told principals at the 33 schools to hire the best teachers available without fretting over whether they are new or would be returning. "Our goal is for schools to hire and recruit the most qualified teachers who meet the high standards set by their principals — not to remove a certain percentage of staff," said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. "As that happens, we will work with the state to secure millions of dollars in funding that these new schools need and deserve." Principals who have been working on developing plans for the replacement schools say they plan to follow the department’s instructions and are anticipating replacing far fewer teachers than 50 percent. Multiple principals said they were expecting to replace about a quarter of their teachers over the summer.
March 20, 2012
State labor board agrees to appoint mediator in evaluation talks
The state's labor relations board has heeded a teachers union request to appoint a mediator to broker a compromise on teacher evaluations at 33 struggling schools. City officials say will contest the decision, which could undermine the Department of Education's chief justification for pursuing a reform strategy at the schools that would require many teachers to be displaced. The ruling by the Public Employees Relations Board is a response to a request for mediation filed by the United Federation of Teachers in January. That request came a day after Mayor Bloomberg said that he would circumvent a collective bargaining requirement at the schools, which had been receiving federal funds to help them improve. Because the city and union had not been able to agree on new teacher evaluations at the schools by a Dec. 31 deadline, Bloomberg announced that the city would switch the schools from the "transformation" and "restart" reform processes, which require new evaluations, to "turnaround," which does not. Chancellor Dennis Walcott argued at the time that the switch made PERB's intervention moot because the board has authority only in collective bargaining matters, and turnaround does not require collective bargaining. But the city has not formally asked the state for permission to assign the schools to turnaround or withdrawn its application, submitted last summer, for funding for transformation and restart. PERB's director of conciliation, Richard Curreri, said those facts led him to conclude that the city is still bound by its 2011 agreement to negotiate new teacher evaluations at the 33 schools.
March 20, 2012
Exodus of principals at turnaround schools continues in Bronx
Turnover is continuing in the principals' offices of schools facing "turnaround," the federally prescribed reform process that the city has proposed for 33 struggling schools. Enrique Lizardi, the founding principal of the Bronx High School of Business, has resigned, according to a Department of Education spokeswoman. The spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, said Lizardi took another job within the department and would be replaced in the short term by an assistant principal. Teachers at the school were told that a new administrator would arrive next week. Turnaround requires principals who have been in place for more than a few years to be replaced, and the city has started informing principals at some of the schools that they would be removed at the end of the year. But at least some are leaving mid-semester, just as the city is fleshing out details of the turnaround plans, which require half of teachers at the schools to be replaced this summer. Lizardi is at least the second principal to move on in recent days. Barry Fried, the longtime principal of Brooklyn's John Dewey High School, was removed abruptly on Friday and replaced by the founding principal of a successful small school who had trained teachers helping to overhaul some of the 33 schools.
March 16, 2012
John Dewey HS principal removed as city preps for turnaround
Barry Fried, the longtime principal of John Dewey High School, was removed from the Brooklyn school suddenly this morning, according to several teachers at the school. It was not immediately clear whether Fried's removal was related to "turnaround," the federally prescribed reform process that the city has proposed for Dewey and 32 other struggling schools. Turnaround requires principals who have been in place for more than a few years to be replaced, and the city has started informing principals at some of the schools that they would be removed at the end of the year. But Fried's departure happened abruptly, suggesting that the city might have had more immediate concerns. Department of Education officials did not respond to requests for details about Fried's departure today. At a faculty meeting this afternoon, Kathleen Elvin was introduced as the school's interim acting principal. Elvin was the founding principal of a successful small high school, Williamsburg Prep, and most recently trained teachers assigned to schools undergoing less agressive overhaul strategies. She is likely to help engineer staffing and programming changes at the school through the turnaround process. The change, according to people familiar with the school, was sorely needed — but comes after too long with subpar leadership. “Principal Fried sits in his office all day and can’t control the students,” City Councilman Dominic Recchia, a 1977 Dewey graduate, said at a public meeting earlier this year, according to the Brooklyn Daily. “This principal should have been gone years ago. The school could prosper but it needs new leadership.”
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