pre-prose

In wake of new union contract, 62 schools approved to 'break the rules'

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
City and teachers union officials on Monday announced the schools that were selected to join a school-experimentation program.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city and the teachers union had agreed on a new contract two months ago, he promised that one provision would let schools “reinvent themselves.”

On Monday, city and union officials announced which schools will be able to do so by opting out of certain union rules and chancellor’s regulations, starting this September. Sixty-two schools were selected from 107 applicants to take part in the experimentation program, known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence.

The participating schools will be able to “break the rules,” as Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris put it, though the city offered few details about the dozens of plans for doing so that it approved in conjunction with the teachers union.

Particulars were provided for three of the schools, including the Community Health Academy of the Heights in Washington Heights, a neighborhood struggling with high obesity rates. The school wanted to incorporate lessons in the kitchen to teach students healthier eating and cooking habits, but was restricted from doing so because of rules related to the use of the kitchen, Principal Mark House said. Access to that space lets them experiment with ways to teach kids about health.

“This just makes sense,” House said.

Next year, the Academy, which teaches students in grades 6-12, will stagger class times so that older students begin school later than younger students. More than student learning, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that change will help with teacher retention.

Debbie Mendez, a parent at the school and head of the PTA, agreed, recalling her own time as a teacher. Flexible schedules gives teachers “an opportunity to not burn out,” she said. “The amount of time and tolerance a teacher has [for students] is wonderful, but it gets challenging.”

Science teacher Amir Tusher, who has been at the school for eight years, said he is excited about changes to the school’s teacher evaluations. There will be an option for teachers to choose a specific skill to focus on, instead of having the principal sitting in the classroom and then deciding what skill the teacher should hone, he said.

In another proposal, the School of Integrated Learning, a middle school in Brooklyn, will mix large lecture classes with small classes for high-needs students. And Brooklyn International High School, where students are exempt from most Regents exams, has also developed a new teacher evaluation model that would include visits from peer teachers. The city did not explain what changes had been approved at the other 59 schools on Monday.

The scope of the changes has been the subject of debate since the contract was introduced, with some union members voicing concern about the implication that union contracts restrict innovation and that the program would weaken protections for teachers. Other union critics say the program won’t give enough freedom from contract rules for true experimentation.

“The lack of detail makes us wonder if this is just meant to distract us from the fact that the teachers’ contract puts too many restrictions on how schools are run,” Jenny Sedlis, executive director at StudentsFirst NY, said in a statement.

Without information on financial or other support for participating schools, there are also questions about how the schools will implement the changes.

The schools whose plans were announced Monday have already cleared two hurdles. The 62 schools met a tight deadline to develop their plans and have them approved by parent leaders after the contract was ratified. Once approved by the city and the union, 65 percent of a school’s unionized staff also approved the proposals.

The city and the union have said they plan to include 200 schools in the program over the next five years. The initial proposals, Fariña said, will “serve as a guide for all of our school communities.”

Participating schools:

Brooklyn
Brooklyn Democracy Academy
Brooklyn International High School
Brooklyn New School
Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies
East Brooklyn Community High School
Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders
Gotham Professional Arts Academy
Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School
Lyons Community School
Mark Twain Intermediate
Olympus Academy High School
P.S. 188 – The Michael E. Berdy School
The International HS at Prospect Heights
The School of Integrated Learning

Bronx
Bronx Arena High School
Bronx Collaborative High School
Bronx Community High School
Bronx High School for Law and Community Service
Bronx Lab School
Bronx Park Middle School
Bronx Writing Academy
Community School for Social Justice
Comprehensive Model School Project
East Bronx Academy for the Future
English Language Learners and International Support Preparatory Academy
Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
KAPPA International High School
Pan American International High School at Monroe
The Bronx Compass High School
The Highbridge Green School

Manhattan
Academy for Software Engineering
Beacon School
Castle Bridge School
Central Park East II
City as School High School
Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH)
East Side Community School
Essex Street Academy
Frank McCourt High School
Harvest Collegiate
Humanities Preparatory Academy
Innovation Diploma Plus HS
Institute for Collaborative Education
Manhattan International High School
NYC iSchool
P.S. 353 The Neighborhood School
Satellite Academy High School
The Earth School
The Ella Baker School
The Facing History School
The James Baldwin School
Urban Academy Laboratory High School
Vanguard High School
West Side Collaborative Middle School

Queens
Academy for Careers in Television and Film
International High School
Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College
North Queens Community High School
P.S. 71 Forest Elementary
The Flushing International High School
The International High School for Health Sciences
Voyages Preparatory South Queens

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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.