Future of Schools

A new plan emerges among parallel discussions at Manual High School

What does the future hold for Manual High School? One possibility — designed by the school’s current leadership — goes public tonight.

The plan that will be presented publicly on Thursday comes out of one of two planning processes that are currently taking place at the school and that occasionally happen at the same time, just classrooms apart.

Manual has been in upheaval since district officials fired its principal midway through this school year following several years of declining test scores. (For background, see Chalkbeat’s series on the school’s struggles.)

To chart the path forward for the school, the district has solicited proposals for new school models for Manual and convened a group of community members, staff and parents — known as “Thought Partner meetings” — to determine how to improve the persistently struggling school’s performance.

Simultaneously, a group spearheaded by current assistant principal Vernon Jones, Jr., has focused on creating a plan that would keep the school’s current leadership team and staff intact. That plan, which Jones is presenting to the community this evening to solicit feedback, includes a focus on International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and another request for a longed-for middle school at Manual, which would also have an IB focus. (See the full description of the plan here.)

The school-led group is among several that submitted a proposal to the district during its call for new school models. Along with the other applicants, the Manual-led group will present their plans to the district-run Thought Partner group at next week’s official meeting. The Thought Partner group will make recommendations about what model the school should adopt to the district by May.

In its current form, the Manual-designed plan represents a departure from the school’s current experiential learning model, which is focused heavily on social justice instruction.

“A lot of hours, thinking, grappling, collaborating, challenging, and anything else that you can say that great teams do has gone into this plan,” Jones said. “Our process has included the voices of our staff, our scholars, our parents and guardians, and our community partners that believe in the strength of us.”

Jones says that the school’s current staff are best positioned to lead the school’s improvement efforts.

“We believe that we are best positioned to serve our scholars and our community well,” Jones said. “We know them and knowing scholars is essential to success.”

Students and staff have complained about the constant turnover in school model and leadership at the school, which they say has prevented the school from improving.

Stability and a strong desire for a middle school have been common threads at the Thought Partner meetings as well. Several staff members are parts of both groups, including Jones, Don Roy, the school’s principal whose name adorns the official letter of intent for the proposal, and English teacher Ben Butler, who is one of the school’s few veteran teachers.

The Thought Partner meetings have recently attracted the attention of high profile district officials. At Monday’s meeting, both superintendent Tom Boasberg and assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson were in attendance.

“We’re here to be part of the discussion and to listen,” Boasberg said. He also tried to allay concerns that the discussion about the school’s future was abbreviated. The meetings kicked off in March and the board planned to make a final decision about which program to place at Manual in the beginning of June, based on the group’s recommendations.

But Boasberg also said that if the Thought Partner process took too long, any school leader would not have the time they needed to craft a plan for Manual. “I think one of the things we didn’t do well enough is allow time for planning back in either 2007 or 2000,” he said, referring to the school’s 2007 closure and re-opening and early-2000’s restructuring, which led to its closure.

The group will continue to meet through the end of the school year. Times and dates are below:

  • Tonight, 6 p.m. in room 106, Manual High School: Presentation of the Manual Plan by Vernon Jones and student leaders.
  • April 15, 5:30 p.m. at Vickers Boys and Girls Club: Presentations by all applicants for Near Northeast schools, including Manual.
  • April 21, 5:30 p.m. at Manual High School (room unknown): Manual Thought Partner meeting (these take place every Monday evening).

For full dates, see here.

Note: the article has been updated to reflect the leadership of the school design working group.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”