DOE to close four more schools, including Jamaica HS

Jamaica High School, a long-beleaguered school in central Queens, is among four more schools the Department of Education today said it would phase out beginning at the end of the school year.

The other schools are the School for Community Research and Learning, a Bronx high school; the Academy for Collaborative Education, a middle school in the Bronx; and PS 332, a neighborhood K-8 school in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. All four schools have poor state test scores and problems maintaining enrollment and discipline, according to the department. They join four other schools whose proposed closures were announced yesterday.

According to the school governance law passed in August, the proposed closures must be given public hearings and approved by the city school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy. The panel has never rejected a DOE policy proposal.

At more than 1,500 students, Jamaica is the largest school the department has so far this year indicated it would close. It has jumped on and off of the state’s list of “persistently dangerous” schools, and its graduation rate has hovered below 50 percent. This year, it has more than 500 ninth-graders but fewer than 200 twelfth-graders, according to DOE enrollment data.

Back in September, Arthur Goldstein, who teaches at Francis Lewis High School, offered some recent history about Jamaica’s trials in a column on GothamSchools asking why more wasn’t being done to help Jamaica improve. He wrote:

The city labeled Jamaica a “priority” school, and then an “impact” school. Ultimately, the state labeled the school “persistently dangerous.” Under NCLB, this triggered a letter home to all Jamaica parents, offering them an opportunity to transfer their kids to another school. Understandably, the school population dropped precipitously. Was Jamaica persistently dangerous, or was it just reporting more incidents than its neighbors? …

The DoE’s position was that Jamaica needed surveillance cameras, police, and metal detectors to improve. [UFT chapter leader James] Eterno felt it would’ve benefited more from additional counselors, teachers, and social workers. But that was not to be the case.

Below are the city’s bullet-points about why it is moving to close the schools, taken from an e-mail sent to reporters by a DOE spokesman, William Havemann:

Phase-out of PS 332 (23K332):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of PS 332 Charles H. Houston, an elementary and middle school in District 23 that currently serves students in grades K-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new kindergarten classes starting in September 2010.
  •  The school has earned a C grade on its annual progress report for three consecutive years.
  • Student performance at PS 332 lags behind student performance district-wide:
    • In 2008-09, 51.8% of PS 332 students were proficient in ELA, compared with 58.9% of students district-wide.
    • In 2008-09, 61.2% of PS 332 students were proficient in math, compared with 85.9% of students district-wide.
  • Demand for the school is low.
    • Only 60% of the students attending the school are zoned to the school.

Phase-out of the Academy of Collaborative Education (05M344)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Academy of Collaborative Education (ACE), a middle school in District 5 that currently serves students in grades 6-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new sixth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • ACE earned a C on the 2007-2008 Progress Report and a D on the 2008-2009 Progress Report, including Fs in both the Environment and Student Progress sections.
  • There is widespread dissatisfaction with the school across all constituencies:
    • The school earned zero points out of fifteen on the Environment section of the 2008-09 Progress Report.
    • Only 44% of students feel that their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 27% of students feel safe at school.
    •  Zero percent of teachers feel that order and discipline are maintained at the school.
    • Only half of the school’s parents indicated that they were satisfied with their child’s education.
  • Safety is a serious problem at the school:
    • The school was named to the State’s list of “Persistently Dangerous” schools in August 2009, even though other schools in the same building do not experience the same level of safety incidents as ACE.
  • Student achievement at the school is consistently low:
    • In 2008-09, only 38.1% of ACE students were proficient in ELA.
    • In 2008-09, only 47.0% of ACE students were proficient in math, a more than 10 point decline from the 2007-08 in a year when most schools experienced significant gains on State math exams.

Phase-out of Jamaica High School (28Q470)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Jamaica High School, a Queens high school that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The graduation rate at Jamaica High School has stagnated below 50% for years:
    • In 2008, the graduation rate was 44.5%.
    • In 2009, the graduation rate increased slightly to 46.2%. This slight increase still leaves the school twenty points below the projected Queens average of 67%.
  • Jamaica received a C on its 2006-2007 Progress Report, a C on its 2007-2008 Progress Report, and a D on its 2008-2009 Progress Report, declining in all three sub-categories.
  • Students fall behind early in their education, and the school doesn’t successfully get these students back on track.
    • Only 46.7% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits in 2007-08.
    • In 2008-09, this figure declined, with only 44% of first-year students accumulating ten or more credits.
  • Demand for the school has increased slightly, but remains extremely low.
    • The school currently enrolls 1,527 students, and is significantly under-enrolled despite the presence of severely overcrowded high schools elsewhere in Queens.

Phase-out of School for Community Research and Learning (08X540):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the School for Community Research and Learning, a high school in the Bronx that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The school graduates fewer than half of its students:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 47.3%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate was 43.9%.
  • The school received a C on its 2006-2007 Progress Report, a B on its 2007-2008 Progress Report, and the lowest possible C on its 2008-09 Progress Report — with a D in both the Progress and Performance sections.
  • Students fall behind early in their education and the school doesn’t successfully get these students back on track:
    • In 2007-08, 48.9% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits.
  • In 2008-09, 53.1% of first-year students accumulated ten or more credits.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”