breaking

Judge rejects UFT-NAACP claims, allows co-locations, closures

A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that the city can move forward with its plans for 22 school closure and 15 co-locations.

In May, the UFT and NAACP filed a suit charging that the city had not adhered to the law and its own promises when planning the closures and charter school co-locations.

In a decision released late tonight, Judge Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the city from moving forward with its closure and co-location plans while those charges are considered. A temporary restraining order preventing the plans from advancing had been in place since early June.

Feinman’s decision came just hours after State Education Commissioner John King approved 12 of the closures, of schools on the state’s list of “persistently low-achieving” schools. The UFT and NAACP suit had argued that the city could not close schools on that list without state approval.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration’s approach to fixing low-performing schools.

“I am incredibly heartened by the court’s decision tonight,” Walcott said in a statement. “I know this decision will come as great comfort and relief to the thousands of children who have been in limbo, wondering what the outcome of this case would be, and for that I am very happy.”

Feinman ruled that the UFT and NAACP had not proven that schools facing closure would have performed significantly better if the city had fulfilled all of the promises set out in an agreement that followed a similar lawsuit last year. That suit resulted in 19 school closures being halted. He also ruled that the Department of Education’s co-location plans — all of which were revised after the lawsuit was filed — contained enough detail to suggest that they were crafted in accordance with the law.

But the ruling did not address the lawsuit’s substantive claims, particularly that the school closures and charter school co-locations would introduce inequities.

“The court notes that the question of where the equities lie is not clear-cut, and the facts do not lean inexorably in the direction of either party,” Feinman wrote.

The United Federation of Teachers said it did not plan to drop its suit, particularly because of the equity claims that Feinman did not assess.

“While Judge Feinman has declined our request for an injunction, his decision does not affect the underlying issues of fairness and due process in the school co-locations and closings that are part of this lawsuit,” a UFT spokesman said in a statement. “These issues remain to be resolved, and the  UFT intends to continue to litigate this matter.”

Charter school advocates lined up to call on the UFT and NAACP to drop the suit.

“Let’s hope the UFT and NAACP drop their opposition and allow schools to open as planned in a few weeks,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

“With classes beginning in just a few short weeks, it’s long past time for the UFT and the NAACP to put their lawyers away, drop their claims and not put families through any more needless uncertainty,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

The ruling frees Feinman up to start his summer vacation. At a June 30 hearing where he allowed construction to start at one co-location site, the judge said he was nervous that the case would not be resolved before his summer vacation. The vacation was set to start July 22 — tomorrow.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.