suspended suspension

City touts justice reform, other Young Men's Initiative outcomes

Jim St. Germain (second from left), who attended a Boystown school, said he thought the "Close to Home" law would help juvenile offenders.

More than 4,000 black and Latino young men have already been affected by the constellation of programs and services in the city’s Young Men’s Initiative, Mayor Bloomberg announced today.

Over one thousand young black and Latino men found jobs through expanded training and placement programs, according to a city report about the initiative’s first year. Hundreds of men between the ages of 17 and 24 received special instruction aimed at boosting their reading skills. And dozens fewer students were suspended at 20 schools that piloted a less punitive approach to discipline.

But it was a change that has so far involved just 50 young men that dominated Bloomberg’s attention at a press conference to tout the progress.

When the Young Men’s Initiative kicked off in August 2011, Bloomberg said the city would lobby for juvenile justice reform to stop young offenders in New York City from being sent to private detention centers upstate. The “Close to Home” law that does just that passed in March.

Already, 50 juvenile offenders have been relocated from upstate facilities to residential treatment centers in the city. As many as 250 will arrive before the end of the year, city officials said.

Joined at a press conference by Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Deputy Schools Chancellor Dorita Gibson at Passages Academy, one of five alternative schools expected to enroll the new arrivals, Bloomberg said the shift would give court-involved students a better chance of graduating from high school. For the first time this year, the credits the students earn during their time at the centers will count towards their high school graduation requirements.

“If these kids don’t get an education, what’s their future? They’re going to at some point get out of the prison system and aren’t going to be able to make a living,” Bloomberg said. “Even if they got an education [upstate] they got back to the city and it wasn’t accredited, so they fell behind.”

Passages Academy and the other “alternative learning centers” that will enroll the teens relocated under Close to Home serve students who have been convicted of non-violent crimes or are awaiting trials, and some who are undergoing long-term suspensions from their high schools.

Principal Stephen Wilder said the ratio of teachers to students is 10 to one, and all teachers are licensed employees of the Department of Education.

“The curriculum is aligned to the Common Core and we’re offering same high level of expectations you find at a typical school in the community,” Wilder said.

Jim St. Germain, a 23 year-old Brooklyn native who attended Passages between 2005 and 2008 after he broke the law as a teen, said the program gave him the motivation he needed to graduate from high school and college. He is now a student at Albany Law School.

“I was able to step away from an environment that promotes negativity to an environment that promotes positivity,” he said of Passages and Boys Town, the residential center with which it is affiliated. He added, “Most of the kids know that this is a chance they won’t get again in life.”

In many ways, St. Germain epitomizes the New Yorkers the Young Men’s Initiative is trying to help: Raised by his grandmother, St. Germain, who is black, said he felt he “was not cut out for school,” and thought his future was to play professional football until he broke his hand at 14. He said the city’s programs targeting youth in the justice system and providing mentors to boys of color could inspire more to make smarter life decisions.

“It’s really easy to give up on our kids who are on the streets committing crime, but it is hard to do something for them, to help them pay taxes, have jobs and go to school,” he said.

Close to Home and other juvenile justice reforms comprise only one prong of the Young Men’s Initiative. The initiative is also aimed at improving educational outcomes for male students of color.

Already, the Department of Education has begun giving high schools extra credit on their annual assessments when those students make academic progress. Schools have also started to benefit from a literacy program and a middle school mentoring initiative administered by other city agencies. And after seeing suspension rates drop by 38 percent in 20 schools that piloted changes to discipline policies, the department has tweaked the discipline code for all students.

But the main education initiative, the $24 million Expanded Success Initiative, is only now getting into full swing. This spring, the city picked 40 schools that have a track record of success with black and Latino students to receive extra funds for services geared toward college readiness. In exchange, researchers will study the schools’ practices with the goal of sharing the best ones with other schools.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

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.”