school closures

City plans to close struggling Bronx middle school that faced threat of state takeover

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodriguez De Tio.

New York City will shutter a long-struggling Bronx middle school that has been under threat of state takeover, according to a city plan released Friday, and open a new school in its place.

The plan to close J.H.S. 162 Lola Rodriguez de Tio at the end of the school year allows the city to skirt a state program that would have forced the city to either name an independent manager to run the school or take more dramatic action. An “independent monitor” selected by Chancellor Carmen Fariña and approved by the state education commissioner will oversee the closure.

City officials say they want to open a new school in the building in time for the 2017-18 school year with a dual-language and STEM program, pending state approval.

“This proposed plan is what’s best for the J.H.S. 162 community,” District 7 Superintendent Elisa Alvarez said in a statement, “and I’ll continue to work closely in the coming weeks and months to provide a smooth transition and support students, families and school staff throughout the process.”

The decision is a first step toward clarity for the J.H.S. 162’s teachers and students, who have been waiting to find out how the state’s rules would affect its future. If the plan is approved, many may not return: the school’s current sixth and seventh graders will be able to choose the new school or other nearby options, and teachers will have to compete with others for jobs at the newly created school.

A sudden closure would be a rare move for the de Blasio administration. But the uncertainty that has swirled around J.H.S. 162 this year was a microcosm of the conflict between the city’s approach to improving its struggling schools and a more aggressive approach codified in state law.

Under the state’s 2015 receivership law, schools that had performed poorly on state tests for years were given only a year or two to show academic gains or face the prospect of outside management. The city, meanwhile, has been infusing schools like J.H.S. 162 with extra resources and social services while expecting incremental but steady improvement.

By a couple of measures, J.H.S. 162 was showing signs of improvement. Last year, the school met most of its goals within the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program, and its low English proficiency rates rose from 4 percent to 9 percent. Only 3 percent of its students were proficient in math.

It has also maintained enrollment of roughly 375 students over the past several years, underscoring the unusual nature of the closure. Recently, the city has closed schools immediately when sagging enrollments made them effectively unsustainable.

In recent weeks, there has been little organization at the school to save J.H.S. 162 from closure — neither parent groups nor the school’s principal have spoken out. Even though the city formally submitted its proposal earlier this week, school officials were apparently not part of the decision to close the school, and several parents said there was confusion about the school’s future.

Multiple parents said the school seemed to be making progress. Nelson Santiago, whose daughter attends sixth grade, pointed out that J.H.S. 162 was removed last year from the state’s list of persistently dangerous schools.

But, he said, he was not necessarily opposed to a closure.

“If it’s not up to par, then that means my daughter’s education is not up to par,” he said.

City officials said that parents received phone calls and letters about the plan Friday, and that a town hall meeting was scheduled at the school on Monday at 6 p.m. The proposal must also be approved by the city’s Panel for Education Policy, which will likely vote on the plan in February.


Week in review: A raise for some Detroit teachers — no pay for others

PHOTO: John/Creative Commons

The situation at the Detroit charter school where teachers won’t get their summer paychecks is a reminder about the precarious finances that can affect both district and charter schools.

Charters don’t typically have historic debts like those that nearly drove the Detroit Public Schools into bankruptcy last year, but Michigan does not provide charter schools with money to buy or renovate their buildings. Unlike districts, charter schools can’t ask voters to approve tax hikes to pay for improvements. And when charter schools borrow money, that debt isn’t supported by the state or backed up by district taxpayers the way some school district debt is. So when a charter school shuts down and money stops coming from the state, there could be many people — that includes teachers — who simply won’t get paid.

Scroll down for more on that story as well as updates on the just-ratified teachers contract and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent


Paying teachers — or not

  • Detroit teachers who mailed in ballots this month have narrowly approved a new three-year contract in a vote of 515 to 474. “We certainly deserve more,” the union’s president said in a statement “but the package offers us the opportunity to build our local, move our school district forward and place students first.”
  • The new contract, which will now go to a state financial oversight board for approval, would raise teacher salaries by more than 7 percent over the next two years but would not increase wages enough to bring them back to where they were before pay cuts a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, teachers at the shuttered Michigan Technical Academy charter school — which had a lower school in northwest Detroit and a middle school in Redford — were furious to learn that they won’t get money they’re owed for work they did during the school year. The money will instead go to pay off debts. More than 30 teachers are collectively owed more than $150,000.
  • The school is the second Detroit-area charter school to run into financial problems affecting teacher pay. Educators at the Taylor International Academy in Southfield say they haven’t been paid since their school shut down abruptly in early June. Taylor and MTA also have this in common: Both schools had their charter authorized by Central Michigan University.
  • Meanwhile, across the state, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay. The finding is included in a six-story series on state teacher pay from Michigan Radio that already has detractors.
  • An investor service says the controversial changes Michigan made to its pension system are a “positive” for the state.
  • A University of Michigan economist says substitute teachers are paid less in Michigan than other states — part of why the state has a sub shortage.
  • A suburban district got 952 applicants for a single teaching job but the district’s superintendent says that doesn’t mean there’s not a teacher shortage.

On the home front

In Detroit

Across the state

  • A judge has blocked the state from spending public money on private schools. A Catholic leader explains why he thinks private schools should be entitled to the money.
  • MIchigan has dumped its school ranking system in favor of a dashboard.
  • An advocate who wants schools to face tougher consequences for poor performance slammed Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent school reform efforts. “Parents are tougher on their kids when they don’t eat their vegetables than Detroit’s turnaround plan is with its hometown failure factories,” he wrote.
  • Many of the hurdles that make it difficult to provide enough early education in Detroit also exist in rural Michigan communities.
  • A New York writer says Betsy DeVos might be powerful and influential in Michigan but in Washington without her checkbook, she’s “like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

In other news

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”