lesson leaders

City doubles Learning Partners program and gives some principals a raise

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
The city's Learning Partners program in action in 2014 at High School for Law and Finance. Carmen Fariña announced she is expanding the program in the 2015-16 school year.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña is expanding her signature school-collaboration initiative, doubling its ranks and giving some principals a larger role.

Ten principals in last year’s “Learning Partners” program are getting $25,000 raises to work with groups of up to seven schools next school year in what the city is calling “Learning Partners Plus,” officials said Thursday. A total of 146 schools will participate in one of the two programs starting this fall, up from 73 schools last year.

The expansion underscores a larger shift underway at the Department of Education since Fariña took over more than 18 months ago. Fariña was critical of the school ranking system that the Bloomberg administration had used for its accountability system, which she saw as discouraging schools from working together. Under Fariña and her Learning Partners initiative, the department has pushed principals and teachers to visit other schools to learn what works there, like a new curriculum or teacher leadership models, and bring those ideas back to their own buildings.

“It is the purest form of collaboration and sharing of practices,” said J.H.S. 088 Principal Ailene Mitchell, one of the 10 principals chosen for the “plus” program. “There’s no more secrets.”

Learning Partners launched last April and expanded to 73 schools at the start of the 2013-14 school year. The schools were organized into groups of three or four led by “host” schools, whose staff visited the other schools and met regularly.

The department is evaluating both programs, officials said, but it is too early to know if they will move the needle on student achievement, with even one year’s worth of state test scores and graduation rates not yet released. Participants in 2014-15 said their school had made “positive” changes and that they feel better-connected to colleagues outside the school because of Learning Partners, according to an internal survey.

The lynchpin of the new program are the 10 school leaders, Fariña said, who are among the first group to be named “master principals” since the positions was created in the city’s new contract with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. In exchange for their salary boost, they will be required to coordinate visits among up to seven schools and provide other principals with monthly training. The program will be partially funded through grants from the Wallace Foundation.

“Learning Partners Plus recognizes strong leaders in our schools and utilizes them to help improve student outcomes,” Fariña said in a statement.

The master principal raises are different from merit pay bonuses that the city gives to principals and assistant principals. Those bonuses, which have gone to administrators of schools with top-ranking progress report scores in the past, are still part of the CSA contract, although Fariña is tasked with deciding how to rank the top schools in upcoming years.

As with last year, the Learning Partner cohorts in both programs are organized by grade levels. Of 35 groupings, 13 are only high schools, nine are only middle schools and seven are only elementary schools. Two groups include prekindergarten programs and the rest include schools with mixed grades. (Complete lists of schools for both programs are available below).

Most of the Learning Partner Plus host schools will be paired up with at least one school they worked with last year, although Mitchell said principals said they had more say in deciding the groupings this year. She said she was particularly excited about working with P.S. 230 in Windsor Terrace, where many students in her middle school come from.

“Now those teachers can plan with my sixth and seventh grade teachers,” Mitchell said.

All 148 of the Learning Partner schools will be able to have up to three model teachers, which are leadership positions that require extra work and come with a $7,500 raise, a department official said. The 10 host principals in Learning Partner Plus schools will be allowed to promote more teachers.

Ed Tom, principal of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, said having model teachers was a highlight of last year’s program and is promoting an additional five teachers to the position this year.

“I think the biggest gains for our school community is model teachers,” Tom said.

Nearly 100 schools will be new to the programs this fall. Of the 73 schools that participated last year, 50 will be involved a second year, with some moving onto the “plus” program. Learning Partners Plus will consist of 71 schools and Learning Partners will consist of 75 schools.

Over 260 schools applied for the programs, city officials said on Thursday.

Fariña’s vision for collaboration has expanded beyond the Learning Partners programs, too. An entire office at the department is now dedicated to helping schools work together, absorbing the existing the Middle School Quality Initiative and launching Showcase Schools, a group of 17 schools that hosted tours and shared ideas directly with the department.

A complete list of Learning Partner Plus schools below. For a list of Learning Partner schools, click here.

P.S. 112 Jose Celso Barbosa, host 
P.S. 57 James Weldon Johnson
P.S. 206 Jose Celso Barbosa
Dos Puentes Elementary School
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte
Professor Juan Bosch Public School
P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith
Samara Community School

P.S. 249 The Caton, host
P.S. 161 The Crown
New Bridges Elementary
P.S. 49 Willis Avenue
P.S. 208 Elsa Ebeling
P.S. 268 Emma Lazarus
P.S. 276 Louis Marshall

P.S. 214, Bronx, host
P.S. 109 Sedgwick
P.S. 143 Louis Armstrong
P.S. 106, Queens
J.H.S. 052 Inwood
Global Technology Preparatory
Ronald Edmonds Learning Center II

P.S. 321 William Penn, host
P.S. 009 Teunis G. Bergen
P.S. 282 Park Slope
Academy of Arts and Letters
The Maurice Sendak Community School
Sunset Park Avenues Elementary School
Riverdale Avenue Community School
Riverdale Avenue Middle School

I.S. 034 Tottenville, host
I.S. 075 Frank D. Paulo
I.S. 051 Edwin Markham
South Richmond High School I.S./P.S
I.S. 061 William A Morris
P.S. 001 Tottenville
P.S. 6 Corporal Allan F. Kivlehan School
P.S. 042 Eltingville

J.H.S. 088, host
Corona Arts and Sciences Academy
I.S. 5 – The Walter Crowley Intermediate School
Sunset Park Prep
I.S. 392
P.S. 230 Doris L. Cohen
Bronx Writing Academy

School for Global Leaders, host
M.S. 267 Math, Science & Technology
J.H.S. 383 Philippa Schuyler
The School for the Urban Environment
J.H.S. 210 Elizabeth Blackwell
Middle School for Art and Philosophy
Life Sciences Secondary School 

J.H.S. 216 George J. Ryan, host
P.S./M.S 042 R. Vernam
I.S. 254, Bronx
The Forward School
J.H.S. 185 Edward Bleeker
Village Academy

Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, host
Bronx Leadership Academy High School
Bronx High School for Law and Community Service
Belmont Preparatory High School
Pelham Preparatory Academy
Theater Arts Production Company
Bronxdale High School

East Brooklyn Community High School, host
Brooklyn Frontiers High School
High School for Excellence and Innovation
Brooklyn Democracy Academy
Brooklyn Bridge Academy
Green School: An Academy for Environmental Careers

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.