Facing state scrutiny, six new ‘out-of-time’ schools must make major changes

The state has labeled six more city schools as “out of time,” its term for long-struggling schools that must make major changes, a group officials have said could face closure if they fail to make rapid improvements.

The schools join two others that the state singled out last year and ordered to make drastic changes, such as having their principals and entire staffs reapply for their jobs and attend extra summer training. City education officials said Tuesday they would treat the steps taken at those schools as a model for how to approach the six newly designated schools, whose status was first reported by Capital New York.

The latest out-of-time schools are: Herbert H. Lehman High School, Banana Kelly High School, Mosholu Parkway Junior High School, and Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx; and August Martin High School and John Adams High School in Queens. They join two Brooklyn high schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive, that earned the label last spring. All the schools have ranked among the lowest in the state for at least three years, are not part of any federal improvement program, and have not made academic gains.

By July 31, the city must submit a framework of an improvement plan for the six schools to the state, along with an agreement from the principals and teachers unions to help craft the plan. The schools must enact the plan next academic year.

The state had identified the six schools and a few others as out of time by last fall, but the city appealed some of the designations, state officials have said. In November, Chancellor Carmen Fariña requested permission from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board to hire retired principals as leadership coaches for those schools. In her request, she laid out the stakes for the out-of-time schools, according to the board’s response to Fariña.

“You also advise that NYSED is requiring these schools be subject to dramatic intervention, including potential for school closure,” the board wrote on Nov. 21, referring to the state education department, “if improved student achievement is not demonstrated by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.”

Lehman High School Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013 that constant changes caused by city interventions at the school had been disruptive.

The state gives districts a short menu of options for out-of-time schools that includes closing them, converting them into charter schools, or putting them under an “alternate governance structure,” which is what the city chose last year. The state said schools in such a structure must receive special oversight, extra resources and training, and more learning time. The city’s “Renewal” turnaround program for struggling schools, which all eight out-of-time schools are part of, adheres to those requirements.

The state also told the city last year that it must screen all the administrators and staff members at its out-of-time schools, replacing those deemed “unwilling or ineffective.” And it ordered the city not to send any new students to the schools mid-year, an effort to relieve the schools of latecomer students who often pose extra challenges.

In response, the city has not sent any of those “over-the-counter” students to Boys and Girls or Automotive this year. And it forged an agreement with the teachers and principals unions to form joint rehiring committees to which the staffs at both schools must apply. City officials said Tuesday that they would seek a similar deal for the six newly targeted schools.

After the deal was announced last November, a top state education official said the state would not be satisfied unless the restaffing plan led to major shakeups.

“If at the end of the day, all we get from this is two teachers who were going to retire anyhow retiring, we’re not going to have much change in that school building,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, on their ability to retool their workforce by the spring, we will move to close them,” she added.

The city has already taken some steps to revamp those schools, sending them coaches, adding extra learning time, and keeping them under close tabs. In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held press conferences at Automotive and Boys and Girls High School to highlight early signs of progress, such as improved attendance and new course offerings.

City education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the agency is offering “aggressive supports” to all the Renewal program schools, including the out-of-time schools.

“This year, interventions will be targeted to each school and a comprehensive plan will be put in place to turn around these historically struggling schools and set a better course of action to drive student achievement,” she said in a statement.

Many of the six schools have undergone previous city interventions, including leadership changes and an attempt by the Bloomberg administration to replace many teachers at the schools, which a labor arbitrator ultimately blocked. Lehman High School, for instance, was threatened with closure several times within a few years, had its enrollment slashed, and lost many teachers who left amid the turmoil.

“If our community had not experienced all of these constant changes,” Principal Rose Lobianco said in 2013, “our growth could have been even more dramatic.”