turnaround tales

A student walkout starts week of "turnaround" protest at Grady

Grady High School students protest the city's "turnaround" plan after a walkout today.

A new phase in school closure protests opened today as hundreds of students at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School walked out of classes this afternoon to protest the city’s plan to “turn around” the school.

The plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced last month as a way to obviate negotiations about teacher evaluations with the teachers union, would require Grady to be closed and reopened with a new name and at least half of the teachers replaced. Grady is one of 33 struggling schools facing turnaround this year.

Grady students were the first to hold a closure protest since Thursday’s massive Panel for Educational Policy, where thousands of protesters railed against 23 school closure proposals that were approved. Now the city’s attention is shifting to the turnaround schools, whose closures are likely to come before the panel in April.

Department of Education officials explained the plan to confused students and parents at the Brighton Beach school late last month.

There was little confusion today as students executed a protest that was tightly scripted by members of the student government. After a rally on the sidewalk outside the school, students marched around Grady on a path that abutted the Shore Parkway and passed a police substation. Their cries of “Save our school!” caused neighborhood residents to lean out of windows and elicited a honk of support from an ambulance driver parked outside a home for the elderly.

Even one of the dozens of police officers who had been summoned to make sure the rally did not get out of hand showed compassion, telling a group of students, “I sympathize for you guys, I really do. I had two sons who graduated from here.”

Members of the student government said they hatched the plan to defend the school after learning about the turnaround plan last month. Grady went from a D to a B on the report card the city uses to assess schools, they pointed out, and some of its vocational programs — including construction and automotive repair — don’t exist in many schools. If the school changes overnight, they worried, the credits in each “shop” that students have accumulated might not transfer over.

“We really need our school to be saved,” said Marika Mattheson, the student government secretary.

Most students said they hadn’t found out about the turnaround plan or the protest until a student-led meeting on Friday or even this morning. A staff member who stood outside the school to corral students on the sidewalk — and who reassured some anxious protesters that they wouldn’t be suspended for leaving the school building — said students had kept the action under wraps until about half an hour before the 1 p.m. walkout time.

Students said they had planned an entire week of action that would include an hour’s trip to City Hall and even an attempt to “Occupy Grady” by camping in tents on the school grounds.

Jonathan Pamphile, a junior in the school’s media arts program, said students had already been working on a mural and other activities to celebrate Respect For All week, the city’s week to promote tolerance and oppose bullying. He said the week had an important message as the city contemplates Grady’s fate.

“We just want the mayor to respect us as students,” he said.

Oshin Powell, a senior, said she was determined to graduate this year and go to college. She said she would be let down if her teachers weren’t staying behind to be there when she came to deliver updates about her success.

“We have a real bond with the teachers,” said Kareem Lewis, 18. “We’re not going to have that bond anymore. … I just don’t know if Mayor Bloomberg will listen.”

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news