City seeks next group of PROSE schools, as Fariña praises first round of changes

Nearly 120 schools are vying to opt out of some city regulations and union rules to experiment with class sizes, school scheduling, and teacher evaluations, though some schools already in the program are still waiting to implement their plans.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have touted the program as an opportunity for innovation, and more than 100 schools pulled together proposals on a tight deadline last year after it was negotiated into the new teacher contract. And six months after the program’s launch, officials said applications were on the rise, as Fariña visited a school experimenting with class sizes Tuesday that she said far exceeded her expectations.

The experimentation program, Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, or PROSE, allowed 62 schools to start putting plans into place in September. (PROSE plans are approved by a panel of representatives from the education department, principals union, and teachers union, and 65 percent of each school’s unionized staff have to vote in favor, too.)

“You see something here that in some other schools would raise peoples’ eyebrows,” Fariña said at the School of Integrated Learning in Crown Heights, a PROSE school. “You have one teacher with almost 40 kids in a class and you have another teacher with eight kids in a class … This is something that was part of what we were hoping PROSE would do.”

As the Department of Education works to decide within the next month which schools will be approved for the upcoming school year, though, some of the schools already in the program are waiting to implement the plans that were given preliminary approval last summer.

Jackie Bennett, United Federation of Teachers assistant to the president, said that “almost all have made significant changes” to their teaching methods and have implemented basic scheduling changes. Slightly less than half of the schools are already using an alternate teacher evaluation system that often involves teachers visiting each other’s classrooms, she added.

But many of the existing 62 schools’ plans require more complicated changes to the teachers union contract, including schools’ plans to end the school day at 7 p.m., extend school hours for students five days per week with teachers working four days, increase Saturday instruction, or change state-level graduation requirements. Those are subject to another review by the PROSE panel and another teacher vote at the end of this school year.

This year, 118 additional schools turned in applications by the Feb. 27 deadline – an increase from last year’s 107 applications – and morale among teachers was high as Fariña visited the School of Integrated Learning.

Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan speaks with students at The School of Integrated Learning, during a visit to the PROSE school in Brooklyn Tuesday. (Stephanie Snyder)

Principal Monique Campbell led Fariña through several classrooms, where teachers had collaborated across subjects to divide classes into unequal sizes by pulling certain students into groups for specialized instruction – who can be students performing at a high level that need a challenge or those who need more time with a lesson.

Teachers “saw this as a way of integrating the students and really allowing the students to engage in conversation across grades,” Campbell said. “It really allows us, as teachers, to learn from each other.”

But, Campbell added, “it really does take a lot of time to get it right.”

More than six of 10 schools that applied for the PROSE program for the 2015-16 school year are in Brooklyn and the Bronx, but schools from all boroughs applied. The city has said it plans to include 200 schools in the program over five years, with the next round of schools expected to receive panel approval by mid-April.

“I want models for the rest of the city,” Fariña said. “In the beginning people were not sure of our intentions with PROSE, and now that they see we really are supporting them and asking them to do things differently.”