New proposal

Rebuffing city’s plans, local education council offers its own vision for controversial Upper West Side rezoning

The District 3 Community Education Council includes P.S. 241 the STEM Institute of Manhattan, pictured above, in its rezoning proposal. The school is slated for merger with P.S. 76. (Photo by Alex Zimmerman)

The Community Education Council in District 3 is pushing its own sweeping rezoning proposal to address overcrowding and integrate Upper West Side schools, according to a lengthy letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

The CEC doesn’t have the authority to redraw zone lines — that responsibility lies with the city Department of Education. But it is ultimately up to CEC members to approve whatever the city puts forward.

“We intend to control our own fate. We will not have a plan dictated to us by the Department of Education, by City Hall,” said CEC President Joe Fiordaliso. “The Department of Education can either stand with us in support of overcrowding relief and efforts to desegregate our schools or not. I certainly hope they chose to stand with us.”

Members are calling for: moving P.S. 452 to give the co-located school room to grow, a larger zone for P.S. 191 to ensure it doesn’t wind up under-enrolled, and the rezoning of schools in Harlem after the DOE’s announcement, reported by Chalkbeat on Monday, that P.S. 241 will possibly be merged with P.S. 76.

In what promises to be a controversial stance, the CEC is sticking with city recommendations to rezone some buildings in the Lincoln Towers community from high-performing P.S. 199 to P.S. 191 — two schools that are separated not only by state test scores but also racial and socioeconomic lines.

“We know many people are going to be very unhappy and we don’t relish that,” said Kim Watkins, chair of the CEC zoning committee. “We empathize with every single family not getting what they want. But for the district moving forward, I really believe the time for this bold plan is now.”

Fiordaliso also said he hopes the council can leverage the rezoning process to call for a moratorium on charter school co-locations.

“Let them go to other districts. We’re drawing the line in District 3. No more,” he said.

District 3 has been locked in a rezoning battle for more than a year. The city already tabled one previous proposal amid community backlash last year. CEC members expected the city to present a final draft of their current plans at a meeting on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the City Department of Education said that’s not the case.

“We value the CEC’s leadership and partnership, and will continue to solicit feedback, host meetings and engage in robust conversations as we work to submit a final proposal that best serves all of the students and families in District 3,” spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.

New York City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents much of the district, came out in support of the CEC’s proposal. She said it represents exactly what Fariña has called for when it comes to school integration: an “organic” solution developed by the community.

“I think what the CEC represents is the larger Upper West Side community, so their job is to see the bigger picture and I think that’s exactly what they’ve done,” she said.

Here are some highlights of the CEC’s proposal:

P.S. 191

Much of the controversy has swirled around parents who would be rezoned to P.S. 191, a school that scores below the district average on state tests and where more than 70 percent of students live in poverty. The school, which has made gains under a relatively new principal, is slated to move into a brand new building with room for almost 700 students in 2017.

The CEC is calling for a larger zone to be drawn around the school to make sure it doesn’t end up under-enrolled. An additional building from the Lincoln Towers, 205 West End Avenue, would be added to the zone.

The council also wants a name change to help fight the stigma P.S. 191 gained after briefly (and, the council argues, incorrectly) being labeled “persistently dangerous.”

P.S. 199

Parents currently zoned for P.S. 199 have hosted rallies and protested at community meetings against proposals that would make P.S. 191 their zoned school instead.

But the CEC, in its own plan, is largely sticking with the city’s proposed zones around P.S. 199, where fewer than 10 percent of students are poor. Under the CEC’s recommendation, the Lincoln Towers community would remain split among P.S. 199 and P.S. 191.

To relieve overcrowding at the much sought-after school, the council is also asking for a commitment to limit the number of kindergarten classes to five.

P.S. 452

Another element of the CEC’s proposal that is sure to cause controversy: The council is recommending that P.S. 452 move about 16 blocks, into the building being vacated by P.S. 191. The CEC is “uncomfortable” with the prospect of starting an untested school in the old building, according to the proposal.

“We strongly believe that an already successful school with an excellent reputation and respected leadership makes it significantly more likely that District 3 will have a highly successful school,” the letter states.

In the meantime, the CEC wants the city to provide temporary busing to make the move easier for families.

Long term, the council’s plan calls for a middle school to open up in the space vacated by P.S. 452’s move.

Harlem

Perhaps the biggest departure from city plans surround the CEC’s proposal to include schools in the northern end of the district in the current rezoning process. As they stand, the city’s rezoning plans only address schools south of 110th Street, leaving out schools near Morningside Park.

Chalkbeat reported on Monday that the DOE is proposing to merge one school in the area: P.S. 241 the STEM Institute of Manhattan would fold into P.S. 76, about eight blocks away.

Given the possible consolidation, the CEC plan calls for the current P.S. 241 zone to be split among three schools: P.S.180 to the west, P.S. 76 to the north, and P.S. 185 to the east. Fiordaliso said that would make it easier for families to get to their neighborhood schools.

“It comes down to distance,” he said. “If we have other schools closer, we felt it was responsible and appropriate to split that zone.”

The CEC also calls for the city to engage with schools in the north to come up with special programming and other ways to boost enrollment and academics.

You can read the CEC’s full proposal here.



Achievement School District

Tennessee’s turnaround district gets new leadership team for a new chapter

PHOTO: TN.gov
Malika Anderson became superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District in 2016 under the leadership of Gov. Bill Haslam.

Tennessee is bringing in some new blood to lead its turnaround district after cutting its workforce almost in half and repositioning the model as an intervention of last resort for the state’s chronically struggling schools.

While Malika Anderson remains as superintendent of the Achievement School District, she’ll have two lieutenants who are new to the ASD’s mostly charter-based turnaround district, as well as two others who have been part of the work in the years since its 2011 launch.

The hires stand in contrast to the original ASD leadership team, which was heavy with education reformers who came from outside of Tennessee or Memphis. And that’s intentional, Anderson said Friday as she announced the new lineup with Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“It is critical in this phase of the ASD that we are learning from the past … and have leaders who are deeply experienced in Tennessee,” Anderson said.

New to her inner circle as of Aug. 1 are:

Verna Ruffin
Chief academic officer

PHOTO: Submitted
Verna Ruffin

Duties: She’ll assume oversight of the district’s five direct-run schools in Memphis called Achievement Schools, a role previously filled by former executive director Tim Ware, who did not reapply. She’ll also promote collaboration across Achievement Schools and the ASD’s charter schools.

Last job: Superintendent of Jackson-Madison County School District since 2013

Her story: More than 30 years of experience in education as a teacher, principal, director of secondary curriculum, assistant superintendent and superintendent in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. At Jackson-Madison County, Ruffin oversaw a diverse student body and implemented a K-3 literacy initiative to promote more rigorous standards.

Farae Wolfe
Executive director of operations

Duties: Human resources, technology and operations

Current job: Program director for the Community Youth Career Development Center in Cleveland, Miss.

Her story: Wolfe has been city manager and human resources director for Cleveland, Miss., where she led a health and wellness initiative that decreased employee absenteeism due to minor illness by 20 percent. Her work experience in education includes overseeing parent and community relations for a Mississippi school district, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Leaders continuing to work with the state turnaround team are:

Lisa Settle
Chief performance officer

PHOTO: Achievement Schools
Lisa Settle

Duties: She’ll oversee federal and state compliance for charter operators and direct-run schools.

Last job: Chief of schools for the direct-run Achievement Schools since June 2015

Her story: Settle was co-founder and principal of Cornerstone Prep-Lester Campus, the first charter school approved by the ASD in Memphis. She also has experience in writing and reviewing curriculum in her work with the state’s recent Standards Review Committee.

Bobby White
Executive director of external affairs

PHOTO: ASD
Bobby White

Duties: He’ll continue his work to bolster the ASD’s community relations, which was fractured by the state’s takeover of neighborhood schools in Memphis when he came aboard in April 2016.

Last job: ASD chief of external affairs

His story: A Memphis native, White previously served as chief of staff and senior adviser for Memphis and Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton, as well as a district director for former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

A new team for a new era

The restructuring of the ASD and its leadership team comes after state officials decided to merge the ASD with support staff for its Achievement Schools. All 59 employees were invited in May to reapply for 30 jobs, some of which are still being filled.

The downsizing was necessary as the state ran out of money from the federal Race to the Top grant that jump-started the turnaround district in 2011 and has sustained most of its work while growing to 33 schools at its peak.

While the changes signal a new era for the state-run district, both McQueen and Gov. Bill Haslam have said they’re committed to keeping the ASD as Tennessee’s most intensive intervention when local and collaborative turnaround efforts fail, even as the initiative has had a mostly lackluster performance.

“Overall, this new structure will allow the ASD to move forward more efficiently,” McQueen said Friday, “and better positions the ASD to support the school improvement work we have outlined in our ESSA plan …”

In the next phase, school takeovers will not be as abrupt as the first ones that happened in Memphis in 2012, prompting angry protests from teachers and parents and outcry from local officials. Local districts will have three years to use their own turnaround methods before schools can be considered for takeover.

It’s uncertain where the ASD will expand next, but state officials have told Hamilton County leaders that it’s one of several options on the table for five low-performing schools in Chattanooga.

transfer talk

This seemingly small change could make it easier for guidance counselors to send students to transfer schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A guidance counselor at Bronx Academy of Letters

New York City is planning to make it easier to refer students to alternative high schools — part of a broader effort to remove obstacles for students seeking admission to them.

The change will affect the city’s 52 transfer schools, which are designed to catch up students who have dropped out, are over-age or behind in credits. Guidance counselors at traditional high schools will be able to electronically recommend up to three transfer school options for students they believe would be better served in different settings.

That change might seem minor, but it is at the center of a wider debate playing out behind the scenes between the city’s education department — which has indicated that transfer schools are being too picky about who they admit — and transfer schools themselves, some of which worry the new policy could lead to an influx of students who have been pushed out of their high schools.

“There’s a significant fear from transfer schools that these will essentially be over-the-counter placements,” said one Manhattan transfer school principal, referring to a process through which the city directly assigns students who arrive after the admissions process is over, often mid-year. “It doesn’t necessarily make for a better fit for a student.”

Unlike most high schools in New York City, transfer schools admit students outside the centrally managed choice process. Instead, they set their own entrance criteria, often requiring that students interview, and meet minimum credit or age requirements. The schools themselves largely determine which students they admit, and accept them at various points during the year.

Some transfer school principals say this intake process is essential to maintaining each school’s culture, which depends on enrolling students who genuinely want to give school another try after dropping out or falling behind elsewhere.

But city officials have quietly scaled back the type of sorting transfer schools can do, banning them from testing students before they’re admitted, for example, or looking at attendance or suspension records. The transfer school superintendent also now has the power to directly place students if they are rejected from three transfer schools.

Given those changes, some transfer school principals are wary of the latest policy, which will allow guidance counselors at traditional schools to electronically “refer” students for up to three specific transfer schools, and requires transfer schools to track their interactions with those students.

The city says the new system will make it easier to find the right match between schools and students. It will “make the transfer high school admissions process easier and more transparent for students and families, while also ensuring better tracking and accountability,” education department spokesman Will Mantell said in a statement.

He noted the city is still working on implementation and the change won’t will happen before spring 2018. (The education department currently doesn’t have a way to track how many students are being recommended to transfer schools versus how many are actually accepted.)

Mantell could not say whether guidance counselors would need a student’s consent before electronically referring the student to a transfer school, and could not point to any specific policies on when it is appropriate for guidance counselors to refer students — though he noted there would be additional training for them.

Ron Smolkin, principal of Independence High School, a transfer school, says he appreciates the change. He worries about students who have fallen behind being told they “don’t qualify” for a transfer school, he said. “That’s why we exist.”

But other principals say it will make it easier for traditional schools to dump students because they are difficult to serve, regardless of whether they are good candidates for a transfer.

“There’s a greater risk of pushouts,” the Manhattan transfer school principal said.

Transfer school principals also worry about the consequences of accepting students who might be less likely to graduate than their current students — a potential effect of the new policy. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires high schools to graduate 67 percent of their students; those that don’t will be targeted for improvement.

Some transfer schools have called that an unfair standard since, by design, they take students who have fallen behind. The state has said transfer schools will not automatically face consequences, such as closure, if they fail to meet that benchmark, but it remains to be seen whether that entirely solves the problem.

One transfer school principal said the city’s desire to better monitor the admissions process makes sense, but won’t prevent schools from gaming the system — and is being implemented without adequate input from principals.

“Our voices haven’t been heard in this process,” the principal said, “and there are a lot of reasons to distrust.”