the axe

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.”

Under Fried’s tenure, Dewey — which was founded in 1969 as a “modern” school with progressive instruction — earned solidly mediocre scores on the city’s progress reports and saw a spike in violent incidents. After a lockdown in 2008 when a student was seen with a gun in a classroom, the open campus was closed and students could no longer leave during the day.

When the city assigned dozens of schools to “transformation” in 2010, requiring the removal of longtime principals, it left Dewey untouched and Fried in place. In 2011, Fried stayed on after the city assigned Dewey a nonprofit partner through “restart.”

“In 2010 if Dewey got the transformation model, we would’ve gotten a new principal who could’ve helped the school,” said a teacher who has worked at the school since before Fried arrived in 1997. “The DOE clearly didn’t give Dewey a chance by keeping Fried in the school.”

Today, Leo Casey, the UFT vice president in charge of high schools, said Fried was a poor leader, but the city was making matters worse by removing Fried in the middle of the year.”There were longstanding issues concerning his ability to lead the school, but despite acknowledging that, the DOE did nothing to find a replacement,” Casey said. “Now, they are doing it in the middle of the term, which is disruptive, because it suits their organizational purposes to do so.”

Teachers and students at the school have been vigorously protesting the turnaround plan, holding weekly rallies outside the school. Last Friday, Dewey students walked out of classes in protest, and on Monday they turned out en masse for a meeting about turnaround held at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”