Politics & Policy

New York

Fearing turnaround, Queens schools seek borough prez's help

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, held a hearing Monday night for families and teachers at the eight would-be turnaround schools in Queens. Dozens of teachers, parents, students, and at least one principal from the eight Queens schools facing "turnaround" say they have brought their concerns to district superintendents and other Department of Education officials this month to no effect. On Monday evening, they found a more sympathetic audience: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who vowed to push back against the city's plans to close the schools. Marshall's uncharacteristically aggressive promise came at a meeting at Queens Borough Hall that her office organized about the city's plan to "turn around" 33 struggling schools. Under the plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced last month as a way to secure federal funding, the schools would close and reopen this summer with new names and at least half their staffs replaced. Marshall sat before a standing-room-only crowd with Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, the citywide school board that decides the fate of schools proposed for closure. As a panel member, Fedkowskyj has emerged as a frequent critic of the mayor's school policies, signaling Marshall's endorsement, but she has typically been soft-spoken on education issues. That was not the case on Monday. Marshall often clapped and cheered as she listened to dozens of teachers and families defend their schools. Occasionally she even interjected to describe how her respect for teachers developed over years of working as an early childhood educator.
New York

Principals union chief urges state to reject city's turnaround bid

The city's bid to "turn around" 33 struggling schools is politically motivated and should be quashed, according to the head of the city's principals union. The city is days away from submitting a formal request for State Education Commissioner John King to release millions of dollars in federal funding for the 33 schools even though the city has not yet negotiated new evaluations with the teachers union. Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, sent a letter to King Tuesday urging him to reject the city's request. Logan charges that the city's announcement last month that it would abandon two in-process school improvement strategies, "transformation" and "restart," was meant only to sidestep a requirement that the city negotiate with CSA and the United Federation of Teachers. Without an agreement, King froze federal funds to the schools last month. "Simply stated, if the Turnaround model were the most educationally sound plan of intervention for the 33 schools, it would have been selected for any or all of them in 2010 and 2011," Logan writes. "It was not. It is being proposed now only as a means of evading the ... evaluation requirements." The city is required to negotiate new evaluations in order to receive federal funds and, in a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month, additional state school aid. But Cuomo also said he would push changes to the state's 2010 evaluation law if districts do not adopt new evaluations by mid-month. City officials are lobbying legislators to take that route, even though a statewide teachers union, NYSUT, has said it is on the verge of agreement for nearly all districts other than New York City.
New York

At Grady, parents probe distinction between closure, turnaround

The entrance of Brighton Beach's William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School. Is the school being closed, or is it staying open? Parents repeated variations of that question often over the course of a two-hour-long meeting Department of Education officials held at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School Monday evening to detail the city's plan to overhaul the school. The answer, they were told, was more complicated than a matter of semantics. "This school is not being closed," Aimee Horowitz, the school's superintendent, told families, teachers, and the School Leadership Team in three meetings at the school over the course of the day. But she also said a new school with a different name would be opening in the building in the fall, and just half of Grady's current teachers would remain. Those are the conditions of the school improvement model known as "turnaround," she explained. Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this month that the city would use turnaround at 33 struggling schools so that they could continue receiving federal funds even if the city and teachers union do not agree on new teacher evaluations. Since 2010, Grady had been undergoing a different federally mandated overhaul process, "transformation," which relies on changing leadership, bringing in extra support services, and experimenting with longer school days and new teacher training. The details Horowitz outlined were puzzling for several of the 40 parents and students who crowded into Grady's cafeteria to learn about the turnaround plan. "First you say in your speech that the school was going to do transformation. And then as you go on you started saying things like, this is going to be a new school. So where are we, which one should we believe?" said Ade Ajayi, whose son is a junior. "A lot of things are going to change. Teachers are going to change. We don't even know if the name is going to be the same."
New York

City could try to replace fewer teachers at 33 turnaround schools

Two weeks after Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to to replace half of all teachers at 33 struggling schools, efforts are underway to soften the threat. Department of Education officials said today that the city is exploring the option of replacing fewer teachers at the schools under an allowance included in federal guidelines for the school improvement strategy known as "turnaround." The turnaround process, which Bloomberg announced two weeks ago to sidestep a requirement of other school improvement strategies to negotiate new teacher evaluations with the teachers union, mandates that 50 percent of teachers be replaced. But the U.S. Department of Education makes special allowances for some teachers who have been hired in the last two years. Now the city is looking to take advantage of that flexibility when it files formal turnaround applications with the state next month. The catch is that not every teacher hired in the last two years is automatically eligible for the exemption.The federal guidelines make an allowance only for teachers who were selected "according to locally adopted competencies as part of a school reform effort" headed by a principal handpicked to lead it. That means, according to the guidelines, the teachers should have been screened for an ability to "be effective in a turnaround situation." It's not clear how many of the roughly 3,400 teachers at the 33 schools would fall into this category. As recently as Monday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told state legislators that there would be "possibly up to 1,500, 1,700 teachers" cut loose from the schools.
New York

As some schools protest turnaround plans, others wait and see

New York

Students, staff defend John Dewey in face of turnaround plans

Students and teachers from John Dewey High School protested outside of the Brooklyn school on Friday, brandishing signs reading: "Fix Schools, Don't Close Them!" and, "Save John Dewey." Anger and uncertainty about the city's plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools reigned today at a "Fight Back Friday" protest organized by teachers at one of the schools. The handful of teachers who braved the cold to demonstrate outside John Dewey High School this afternoon were joined by about a dozen students, who all defend the strength of the school's programs and longtime staff. Mayor Bloomberg announced last week that in order to secure federal funding, he would require the schools to undergo a process called "turnaround," in which they will close and reopen immediately with half of the teachers replaced. Dewey, a large high school with over 2,700 students in southern Brooklyn, is one of 14 schools that had been receiving federal funds to undergo a different process known as "restart." Teachers said the nonprofit group brought in to manage the school under the restart process, Institute for Student Achievement, has so far revamped Dewey's schedule and offered new after-school activities to combat truancy. City officials said the relationship would continue even under turnaround. Teachers said the startling news has already had a negative impact on the school community. Dewey narrowly escaped closure last year and now is set to get a new name as part of the city's rapid close-and-reopen plan.
New York

At one school, turnaround news called surprising, low on details

Students at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts work on web-design projects Jan. 9. When the city unveiled its school closure proposals last month, the High School of Graphic Communication Arts was not on the list. So students and staff there were surprised to learn last week that their school might well be closed in June after all. Many students walking to the Manhattan school's Hell's Kitchen building this morning said they were primed for a typical school day, despite the news that Graphics, which received an F on its most recent progress report, would be one of 33 schools to undergo the "turnaround" process this year. Under that plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced in his State of the City speech last week, the school would reopen in September with a new name and at least 50 percent of the current teachers gone. Brendan Lyons, the school's first-year principal, said the news was "definitely a surprise for our organization and our community," but said he would wait for more details from the city before commenting on potential changes in store for the school. If the turnaround plan is approved by the State Department of Education, Lyons would be eligible to stay on. But along with a team of educators and union officials, he would be responsible for selecting a new staff, drawing on current teachers for exactly half of the slots. "Every crisis is an opportunity," Lyons said. "I'd like to show how our school is a model turnaround that other schools can learn from."