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.



What's your education story?

How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate

PHOTO: Provided
Jean Russell

Jean Russell is on sabbatical from her work as a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School in Fort Wayne after being named the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year. Her work as 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year ignited her interest in education policy, and she is in the first cohort of TeachPlus statewide policy fellows. Nineteen other teachers from urban, suburban and rural areas are also members of the class. Below is Russell’s story condensed and lightly edited for clarity. For more stories from parents, students and educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

When I started this January as the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year, my overarching goal for my year of service is to focus on recruitment and retention of great teachers. One of the things that came up was the opportunity to serve on the ISTEP alternative assessment panel. (The committee was charged with choosing a replacement for the state’s exam.)

I definitely felt like that was something that is affecting recruitment and retention of great teachers in Indiana, and yet I was reticent about whether or not I was equipped to really be a part of that and to be a helpful voice at the table because policy is not something in my 26 years of teaching that I’ve had anything to do with before this.

The first couple of times that I went to those meetings, I like I just was out of my league, and I didn’t really feel like there was much I could contribute. And I think it was the third meeting, there came a point where a couple of people were saying things where I just felt like having the inside-the-classroom, in-the-trenches voice would really help the conversation.

I was so nervous. I remember, I was shaking, and my voice was cracking. The meetings were in the House of Representatives, so I had to push the button and lean into the microphone, and I’m like, “Hi, I’m Jean Russell.”

But I said what I knew, “I’ve been giving this test for 25 years and these are my experiences, and this is what I think.” I think the biggest surprise in that moment — I won’t ever forget that moment — was that they listened. And I knew that because they were asking good follow-up questions and making references back to what I had said. It sort of became a part of that conversation for that meeting. I never became very outspoken, but I think at that point, I realized that there is most assuredly a time when teacher voice at the table is important to decision making.

I feel like the four walls of my classroom just blew down, and suddenly I realized how many stakeholders there are in my little classroom, in my little hallway, in my little school.

(In the past, policy) just did not make my radar. I think I just felt like, nobody was really interested in what I thought. The work of the classroom is so intense and there’s such a sense of urgency every day to move everybody forward that this broader idea of education, I think I just thought it was something that happened to you and you just work within those parameters. For the first time in 26 years, I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily the case.

First Person

It’s time to retire the myth that any counselor can do the job alone — even at a tiny school

A few of the author's students who graduated last year.

I waited five years to get my dream job as a counselor in a New York City public school. After all of that waiting, I was full of ideas about how I would be able to use my experience to help students navigate what can be an overwhelming few years.

I wanted to make our school counseling more individualized and full of innovative support mechanisms. I wanted our guidance department to be a place that anyone could leave with a grand plan.

A few months into that first year, in fall 2015, it was clear that my vision would be, to put it bluntly, impossible to achieve.

When I received my position at a Harlem high school in District 5, I was assigned to not only take on the responsibilities of a school counselor, but also to act as the college advisor, assign (and then frequently re-shuffle) class schedules for every student, and several other tasks. My school had just under 200 students — enrollment low enough that it was assumed this could all be managed.

This proved to be a very inaccurate assumption. I was working with a group of students with low attendance rates, and many were English language learners or students with disabilities. Many students were overage and under-credited, others were in foster care or homeless, some had returned from incarceration, and a couple were teen parents or pregnant.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum school counselor-to-student ratio of one to 250. I know from experience that extremely high student need makes that ratio meaningless. Almost all of these students needed help in order to be ready to learn. Their needs tripled the feel of our enrollment.

This frequent mismatch between need and numbers puts school counselors like me in the position to do a great disservice to so many students. As the only counselor available, a seemingly small mishap with a task as crucial as graduation certification or credit monitoring could have spelled disaster for a student. I know some seniors missed certain financial aid opportunities and application deadlines, and some ninth, 10th, and 11th graders could have used more academic intervention to help them transition to the next grade level successfully.

My success at keeping our promotion and college admissions rates on the upswing was largely due to my outreach and partnership with community-based organizations that helped support several of our students. Had it not been for their assistance, I wouldn’t have achieved anything near what I did.

I’m still a counselor at my small school, and some aspects of the job have gotten easier with time. I love my job, which I think of as the most rewarding yet intense position in the building. But I still believe that there is almost no case in which only one counselor should be available for students.

Principals and school leaders directly involved with the budget must make sure to effectively analyze the needs of their student population, and advocate for an appropriately sized counseling staff. Small schools face real funding constraints. But ones serving students like mine need more than they’ve gotten.

Students’ social and emotional development and their academic success go hand in hand. Let’s not make the mistake of conflating enrollment numbers with need.

Danisha Baughan is a high school counselor and college advisor. She received her masters in school counseling in May 2010 and has held elementary, middle, and high school counseling positions since then.