Dozens of elementary and middle schools told they might close

Three dozen schools that received low grades from the Department of Education on Monday are already getting notice that the city is gravely worried about their performance.

Department of Education officials have identified 36 schools — including 15 middle schools and 25 schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx — for an “early engagement” process that could lead either to closure or another lease on life.

This is the third year that the city, eager to stem some of the public outcry over school closures, has held conversations with low-performing schools before announcing which schools it plans to close. This year’s closures will be the last of the Bloomberg administration.

The potential closure list is nearly twice as long as last year’s, when the city held early engagement meetings at 20 elementary and middle schools and ultimately moved to close 10 of them. It is culled from 217 schools whose progress report scores put them at risk of closure, according to the city’s rules.

This year’s list includes several schools that have already had closure scares. Two schools, M.S. 142 in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, went through early engagement last year. (Chappie’s sister elementary school is now in the process of closing.) M.S. 142 and another school, J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, were also slated to undergo a different closure process called “turnaround” last year until the city was forced to abandon those plans.

The list also includes two charter schools that the city allowed to open, Bronx Community Charter School and Mott Haven Academy Charter School, which serves students in the foster care system. Both of the schools are up for renewal this year.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve.

But in starting early engagement, which includes communication with parent leaders and public meetings at each school, the department hopes to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them, according to Marc Sternberg, the department’s deputy chancellor in charge of school closures.

“These are difficult conversations, but it’s important to have this dialogue and hold our schools to the highest of standards,” Sternberg said in a statement. “We’ll take the feedback that we receive from the school and community into consideration as we explore options to improve performance and support student success.”

Fifteen of the schools are middle schools, signaling where the department could start making room for some of the 25 new middle schools it has vowed to open next year.

The city has vowed to open at least 50 new schools next year, including 25 middle schools.

The schools represent only a small fraction of those with progress report scores low enough to put them on the chopping block. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or below — this year, 217 schools — can be closed, according to the department’s guidelines.

Seven of the schools landed on the list after drawing three straight C grades from the city. Five of the schools earned B’s two years ago, when many city schools saw their grades plummet because of changes to the way state tests were scored.

A teacher at J.H.S. 166 in Brooklyn, reached before the city announced that the school was on the early engagement list, said she thought she school was improving after a rocky year under the specter of turnaround.

“The students are working towards something this year. It’s a very positive tone,” said the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak about the school. Principal Maria Ortega, who narrowly avoided losing her job under turnaround, declined to comment.

The teacher did warn that teachers started the year with very little time to plan after many had left for the summer expecting not to return, something the city could hold against the school when assessing its likeliness to improve.

The department has not yet turned its attention toward high schools, whose progress reports will come out later this month.

Officials from both the teachers and principals union decried the early engagement process as being too little, too late for the long-struggling schools.

“We are troubled by the DOE’s statement that it is beginning conversations with these schools now to gain a better understanding of what is happening,” said principals union president Ernest Logan in a statement. “These conversations should have occurred before these schools ever arrived at this point.”

“Tweed’s measurement system depends almost completely on standardized tests, and its ‘engagement’ process does little or nothing to help struggling schools improve,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, also in a statement. “Unfortunately, closing schools — rather than fixing them — remains the centerpiece of Mayor Bloomberg’s education strategy.”

The schools undergoing early engagement:

J.H.S. Jackie Robinson, Manhattan M.S. 45/STARS Prep Academy, Manhattan P.S. 133 Fred R Moore, Manhattan P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte, Manhattan P.S. 154 Jonathan D Hyatt, Bronx M.S. 203, Bronx Young Leaders Elementary School, Bronx Performance School, Bronx J.H.S. 125 Henry Hudson, Bronx Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School, Bronx P.S. 64 Pura Belpre, Bronx P.S. 132 Garret Morgan, Bronx P.S. 230 Roland Patterson, Bronx M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx Globe School for Environmental Research, Bronx P.S. 6 West Farms, Bronx P.S. 50, Bronx The School of Science and Applied Learning, Bronx P.S. 67 Charles Dorsey, Brooklyn P.S. 167 The Parkway, Brooklyn Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence, Brooklyn J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn P.S. 174 Dumont, Brooklyn P.S. 224 Hale Woodruff, Brooklyn J.H.S. 291 Roland Hayes, Brooklyn J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero, Brooklyn I.S. 349 Math, Science, and Technology, Brooklyn P.S. 73 Thomas Boyland, Brooklyn P.S. 165 Ida Posner, Brooklyn General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science, Brooklyn J.H.S. 8 Richard Grossley, Queens P.S. 140 Edward Ellington, Queens I.S. 59 Springfield Gardens, Queens P.S. 156 Laurelton, Queens Mott Haven Academy Charter School, Bronx Bronx Community Charter School, Bronx