big plans

City unveils plan to grow Park Slope’s P.S. 282 and phase out its middle school

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
P.S. 282

In Park Slope, Brooklyn, where popular elementary schools inspire cultish devotion, P.S. 282 has long been an outlier, struggling to attract families who live nearby. But in recent years, thanks in part to a new principal, the school has been on the rise — and now a new city plan could help it grow.

The Department of Education has proposed doing away with P.S. 282’s middle school grades — and replacing them with roughly 300 more students in the elementary school. The proposal would boost elementary school enrollment by around 50 percent over the next three years, while eliminating grades six through eight over the same period.

Education officials said the plan would help meet increased demand for elementary school seats in one of the city’s fasting growing districts. Meanwhile, a new middle school in Dumbo and another in development in Prospect Heights could help offset the loss of middle school seats.

“Our goal is to provide a strong learning environment and expanded resources to all students, and this proposal will help increase the number of elementary seats in District 13,” said Department of Education spokesman Michael Aciman.

P.S. 282 has been in flux since Principal Magalie Alexis, who had a contentious relationship with parents and staff, resigned in 2014. She was replaced by Rashan Hoke, a longtime teacher at Inwood’s P.S. 5.

“It’s like night and day,” said PTO co-president Andrew Marshall, whose daughter is now a fifth-grader at the school. “He’s firm, he’s fair. He looks at the parents as equals.”

Unlike P.S. 321, where approximately 75 percent of students are white, P.S. 282 serves a more diverse population. Last year, it was 59 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic, 9 percent white and 3 percent Asian.

The percentage of students who passed state tests last spring was up from the year prior. Just over 44 percent passed English, compared to a citywide average of 38 percent; and around 34 percent passed math, just under the citywide average of 36 percent.

“We’ve got a strong foundation for growth,” Stephen Hamill, chair of the School Leadership Team, wrote in an email. “But we want to make sure that this proposal will be good for our families and we retain a strong pipeline to excellent middle schools.”

A meeting will be held at the school to discuss the plan on Monday and public hearings will follow. The proposal is expected to be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy on Dec. 21.

Principal Hoke said in a statement that he welcomes the chance to discuss details of the plan. “I look forward to the opportunity to engage our school community as we continue to consider our options,” he said.

talking it out

At NAACP hearing on charter school moratorium, foes and fans find common ground

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
Nyla Jenkins, a first-grader at KIPP STAR Harlem College Prep Charter School

When the NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools last fall, the group’s president and CEO Cornell Brooks said the group wanted a “reasoned pause,” not a “doomsday destruction” of charters.

Still, it ignited a firestorm among charter school supporters and sparked a series of hearings nationwide, the last of which was held Thursday in New York City. But rather than a heated debate, the panelists and public speakers took pains to find common ground.

“We cannot have a situation where schools are pitted against each other,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the packed auditorium at Harlem Hospital Center.

Many panelists said the problem wasn’t school choice, but the fact that too many parents felt compelled to seek alternatives to struggling district schools.

“If you go into communities where education is working, you don’t see people scrambling around, trying to figure out what school to put their child in,” said Lester Young, a member of the state Board of Regents. “We have communities in New York City right now where parents say there is not one middle school I can place my child in. Now, that’s the issue.”

Still, many of the speakers also acknowledged problems with charter schools, particularly in states where the laws governing them are more lax than they are in New York.

“We want to make sure that those schools are going to accept students that have special needs,” said Rebecca Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association. “We want to make sure that we do not create separate systems that are unequal.”

The charter school advocates on the panel seemed to agree that some charters weren’t working. They were quick to denounce for-profit charters, for instance. “For-profit operators have no business in education,” said Katie Duffy, CEO of Democracy Prep Charter School. Our children “are not assets and liabilities and they shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Rafiq Kalam id-Din II, who founded a charter school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, spoke about the need for more schools like his, founded and staffed by black and Hispanic community members. Without naming names, he called out charter schools that believe “if you don’t sit a certain way, you can’t learn” or are using suspension as a “first response” rather than a last resort.

“Criminalizing the behavior of our children — there should be a moratorium on that,” he said.

But it was Nyla Jenkins, 7, a first-grader at KIPP STAR Harlem College Prep Charter School, who drew the most applause of the night when she took the microphone and declared herself a junior lifetime member of the NAACP. “Let’s find a solution for all of us,” she said.

Building Better Schools

IPS broke its own rules to work with a for-profit charter operator. Now it’s having second thoughts.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Donnan Middle School was taken over by the state and handed off to be run by Charter Schools USA in 2012. The school now includes an elementary school in partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools.

An unusual partnership between a for-profit charter operator and Indianapolis Public Schools could be on the rocks.

That’s because during its first year of operation, Emma Donnan Elementary School students had some of the lowest test scores in the district and did not make significant gains from the prior year — landing it on the shortlist for district intervention.

If scores are not good this year or in 2018, the district might terminate its contract with Charter Schools USA to operate Donnan, according to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

“They struggled in last year’s performance,” he said. “They did not perform at our standard.”

Florida-based CSUSA began managing three Indianapolis schools, including Emma Donnan Middle School, after the schools were taken over by the Indiana State Board of Education six years ago. In 2015, they opened Donnan Elementary as an IPS innovation school in the same building as the middle school. The district is responsible for the school’s — so far low — test scores, but the staff are employed by the charter operator, which handles daily operations.

IPS suspended a policy against working with for-profit operators when it agreed to work with CSUSA to launch Donnan Elementary. The move was intended to give the district more involvement in a building that otherwise would be state-controlled and give CSUSA a chance to work with students earlier. Middle schoolers at Donnan often enroll far behind grade level.

Eric Lewis, a senior official with CSUSA, said the organization is “thrilled to be in partnership” with IPS, and he is not concerned about pressure from the district to improve test scores because “we always intend to improve.”

CSUSA operates 77 schools across the country, many of which also have struggled academically. In the six years since Indiana handed management of three IPS schools over to the charter-manager, those schools have not shown significant improvement.

In recent years, CSUSA has appeared poised to expand in Indiana, but earlier this week the Indiana Charter School Board canceled charters for two schools that were expected to be managed by CSUSA because the company had stopped communicating about its plans.

IPS board members have been skeptical of Donnan Elementary’s progress in the past, but they were relatively quiet during a presentation from CSUSA at their meeting Thursday. (Innovation schools must present their progress to their board twice a year.)

Board member Diane Arnold said the report, which included information on enrollment and scores on tests used to track student progress throughout the year, showed more improvement than the last report school leaders presented to the board.

She is cautiously optimistic Donnan will improve with support.

“We kind of pushed the envelope to give them the elementary school,” she said. “My expectation is we should see results. … And I am hopeful.”

But it’s unclear what help the school will get from the district to improve test scores. Lewis said he did not “have any sense” of what resources the district could provide the school through its new intervention process, but “we look forward to partnering with them.”

Board president Mary Ann Sullivan said she was concerned that Donnan appeared on the list of low-performing schools, and she is relying on the staff overseeing innovation schools to track its progress.

“When we have partners … their purpose is to improve student achievement, and (if) that doesn’t happen, then yes, we will absolutely intervene in those schools,” she said. “We are going to be looking for accountability.”