Telly Tale

Deputy chancellor: High schools have 'higher calling' than test prep

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg.

Students’ exit-exam scores and performance in college are important, but high schools ultimately should be judged by the type of citizens their graduates become a decade or more into the future, Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg said this week.

“We also have a higher calling, which goes beyond those kind of metrics. And that is about good thinking, about strong skill ability, which may not be measured by those exams,” Weinberg said Wednesday during a visit to the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, or Telly, where he worked for 27 years. He also noted the limitations of measuring high schools by when or if their graduates earn college degrees, saying that some low-income students drop out for financial reasons.

“In the end,” he added, “the judgment that we make about our schools happens 10 or 15 or 20 years down the road, when we know what kinds of citizens we’ve produced.”

His comments follow the announcement this month that 32 percent of high school graduates this year had high enough test scores to avoid remedial math and English classes at the city’s public colleges, a one-point increase from the previous year. A study released Wednesday showed that of 21,000 city students who enrolled in college after high school, only 36 percent had earned degrees after four years.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Carmen Fariña is considering how student data could be made more useful to schools. She has quietly scrapped reports that told high schools how their students did in college (the city will repackage that information for schools this spring), and she formed a new group this week to study how data can be used to help schools improve.

The school's college office is situation at the school's main entrance and is always open to students.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
The school’s college office is situated at the school’s main entrance and is always open to students.

Weinberg was back at Telly to mark College Application Week, a national campaign that now includes 161 city high schools. Weinberg began teaching at the Bay Ridge school soon after it opened in 1985 and was principal from 2001 until this year, when Fariña asked him to oversee teaching and learning for the entire school system.

During his visit Wednesday, he was swarmed by teachers and students wanting to shake his hand or hug him. He had taught some of the students’ parents and at least one assistant principal; the new principal, Xhenete Shepard, was a student-teacher in his classroom.

College preparation is a major part of Telly’s mission: 70 percent of its students enroll in college or a work-training program within six months of graduating, compared to 51 percent of all city students.

Telly propels students toward college partly by making sure they don’t fall behind. The lower grades are divided into sections overseen by teacher teams and assigned academic advisers who keep close tabs on student progress.

“We try to put more effort in the front end,” explained assistant principal Christina Mednick, “before there’s a failing grade on the transcript.”

To keep students’ sights set on college, campus visits begin in ninth grade and repeat each year. Students can stop by the college office, situated at the school’s main entrance, to meet with a college adviser (a staff member) or a “college expert” (a fellow student who’s mastered the art of applications).

Students put the finishing touches on their applications.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students put the finishing touches on their applications.

On Wednesday, seniors who needed help putting the final touches on their applications dropped by the school library, where advisers and a dozen student-experts were on hand. One of them, Krystal Coppola, helped classmates submit online forms and pare their essays down to 650 words — and having applied to 17 schools, she knew what she was talking about.

On Friday, the seniors will dress in formal attire, turn in their applications, and then celebrate — a way for the school to acknowledge their efforts and motivate younger students. In the spring, they will cover a giant bulletin board in the lobby with their acceptance letters.

“It’s actually a beautiful process to see,” Weinberg said.

Correction: A previous version of this article said the city would repackage some of the information in reports that high schools used to receive, which contained information about their graduates’ performance in college. In fact, an education department spokeswoman said all of that information will still be available to schools.

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.