closings

DOE announces 9 more school closures in biggest round yet

In the most sweeping round of school shuttering this year, the Department of Education announced today that it intends to phase out nine more schools, eight of them high schools and three of them opened under Chancellor Joel Klein.

The schools slated for closure today include large high schools in every borough except Staten Island. Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn, Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan, Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, and Beach Channel High School in Queens all will not accept new students for next year, provided that the city school board approves the closures next month. Together, the four schools have nearly 6,000 students.

Beach Channel received attention in 2007 after students and teachers complained about a destabilizing influx of students who had not chosen to attend the school but were placed there. Those students included many who would have been zoned for Far Rockaway High School, a large school nearby that has since begun to phase out.

Today’s proposed closures also include three schools that were opened by the current administration: New Day Academy and Global Enterprise Academy in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s MS 334, which opened in 2005 to replace a failing school in the same building that later closed.

Today’s announcement brings to 17 the total number of schools so far slated for phase out after this school year. The department proposed two sets of closures last week, one of which included another large high school in Queens, Jamaica High School.

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.

The full list of schools and the city’s bullet-pointed reasoning behind the closure of these schools, taken from an e-mail sent to reporters by DOE spokesman William Havemann, is below:

Phase-out of Beach Channel High School (27Q410)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Beach Channel High School, a high school in Queens 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 Beach Channel has consistently remained below 50%:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 46.1%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate was 46.9%.
  • Credit accumulation rates are also low:
    • In 2007-08, only 52.1% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits.
    • In 2008-09, that figure fell to 50.8%
  • Demand for the school is low and declining:
    • In 2008-09 1,522 students enrolled in the school.
    • In 2009-10 this number fell to 1,345.
  • Beach Channel received a C on the 2006-07 Progress Report, a C on the 2007-08 Progress Report, and a D on the 2008-09 Progress Report, including an F in the Progress and Environment sub-sections and a D in the Performance sub-section.
  • Parents, teachers, and students expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the school on the 2009 Learning Environment Survey:
    • Only 59% of students believe that their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 56% of students feel safe at school.
    • Only 56% of teachers believe that order and discipline are maintained at the school.
    • Only 68% of parents believe their child is safe at school.

Phase-out of Paul Robeson High School (17K625)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Paul Robeson High School, a high school in Brooklyn 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 Robeson High School is well below the citywide average and has declined while most other schools have made progress:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 56.7%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate fell precipitously to 40.1%.
  • Credit accumulation rates are also low:
    • In 2008-09, only 58.4% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits.
  • Demand for the school has remained consistently low:
    • In 2008-09 1,049 students were enrolled in Robeson.
    • This year, Robeson enrolls 1,020 students.
  • Robeson received a C on its 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 Progress Reports. In 2008-09 it also received an F in the Environment sub-section and a D in the Performance subsection of the report.
  • Last year, average attendance at Robeson High School was 69.2%.
  • Parents and students expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the school on the 2009 Learning Environment Survey:
    • Only 64% of students feel that their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 64% of students feel safe at school.
    • Only 66% of parents feel their child is safe at school.

Phase-out of the Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence (17K334)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence (MS 334), a middle school in District 17 that currently serves students in grades 6-8. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new sixth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The school has failed to help students make the progress they need. Math and ELA scores lag significantly behind district averages:
    • Only 39.7% of students are proficient in math, compared with 75% district-wide.
    • Only 30.0% of students are proficient in ELA, compared with 62.4% district-wide.
  • The school’s performance is well below that of MS 354, a middle school located in the same building as MS 334 that serves a similar student population and shares MS 334’s zone.
  • The 2008-09 Learning Environment Survey found dissatisfaction with the school among all constituents, and especially among students:
    • Only 76% of students say their teachers inspire them to learn, and only 61% of students feel safe at school.
    • Only 43% of teachers feel order and discipline are maintained at the school.
    • Only 75% of parents reported satisfaction with the education their children have received.

Phase-out of Metropolitan Corporate Academy (15K530)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Metropolitan Corporate Academy, a high school in Brooklyn 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 is low and declining:
    • The 2007-08 graduation rate was 48.0%.
    • In 2008-09 the graduation rate fell to 47.1%.
  • The percentage of students earning Regents Diplomas is very low:
    • In 2007-08, the Regents completion rate was 16.8%.
    • In 2008-09, the Regents completion rate was 25.3%.
  • The school earned a C on the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Progress Reports. The school’s grade fell to a D on the 2008-09 Progress Report, including a D on the Performance sub-section.
  • The school earned an “underdeveloped” on its 2008-2009 Quality Review.

Truncation of the Choir Academy of Harlem’s high school grades (05M469)

  • The Department of Education is proposing to truncate the high school grades of the Choir Academy of Harlem, a middle and high school in District 5 that currently serves students in grades 6-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The school’s graduation rate has declined below the citywide average:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 73%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate fell to 57.5%.
  • First-year credit accumulation is also declining significantly:
    • In 2007-08, 79.3% of first-year students earned 10 or more credits.
    • In 2008-09, that figure declined to 61.5%.
  • Demand for the school is very low:
    • Choir Academy only has 40-50 students in each high school grade, a student population that is too small to constitute a viable high school.
    • The availability for seats in performing arts programs citywide exceeds the level of demand for such seats.
  • The Choir Academy middle school earned an A on its 2008-09 Progress Report, but fewer than 40% of eighth-graders continue on to the high school. Only 25% of Choir Academy ninth-graders attended the Choir Academy middle school. The school’s current configuration is not fulfilling its primary purpose, which is to provide a seamless educational experience for students from grades six through twelve.
  • The Choir Academy’s high school received a D on its 2006-07 Progress Report, a C on its 2007-08 Progress Report, and a D on its 2008-09 Progress Report.

Phase-out of Christopher Columbus High School (11X415)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Christopher Columbus High School, 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.
  • Columbus’ graduation rate is low:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 36.9%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate increased slightly to 40.3%, still 20 points below the citywide average of 60%.
  • First-year credit accumulation is also low:
    • In 2007-08, only 48% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits.
    • In 2008-09, that figure increased slightly to 49.4%.
  • Demand for the school is low:
    • Columbus is a zoned school, but only 11% of students zoned for the school attend it. Just 46% of the students attending Columbus are zoned for the school.
  • Columbus received a D on the 2008-09 Progress Report, down from a C in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Phase-out of Norman Thomas High School (02M620):

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of Norman Thomas High School, a high school in Manhattan that currently serves students in grades 9-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • Fewer than half of Norman Thomas students graduate on schedule:
    • The 2007-08 graduation rate at Norman Thomas was 41.7%.
    • The 2008-09 graduation rate was 42.7%.
  • The school has persistently failed to help students progress toward graduation. In 2008-09, the school had 109 registered twelfth-grade students and 945 registered ninth graders – meaning that half of the total student body was in the ninth grade.
  • The 2009 Learning Environment Survey indicates low satisfaction with the school among all constituents, especially among students:
    • Only 57% of students feel that teachers inspire them to learn and only 64% of students feel safe at school.
    • Only 68% of teachers feel that order and discipline are maintained at the school.

Phase-out of New Day Academy (12X245)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the New Day Academy, a middle and high school in District 12 that currently serves students in grades 6-12. Under this proposal, the school would stop accepting new sixth and ninth grade classes starting in September 2010.
  • The New Day high school received a D on its first high school Progress Report in 2008-09, including Fs on both the Environment and Progress sub-sections. The graduation and credit accumulation indicators from the 2008-2009 year are low:
    • The 2008-09 graduation rate was 56%.
    • For two consecutive years, fewer than 55% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits – a key predictor of future academic success.
  • The New Day middle school received a C on its 2007-08 and 2008-09 Progress Reports, with low ELA and math proficiency rates:
    • In 2008-09, 40.8% of students were proficient in ELA and 34.3% were proficient in Math.
  • Demand for the school is low:
    • 2008-09 enrollment is 461 students.
    • Only 30% of the New Day eighth grade students continue to ninth grade, where they represent about 30% of total ninth-grade enrollment.

Phase-out of the Global Enterprise High School (11X541)

  • The Department of Education is proposing the phase-out of the Global Enterprise High School, 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 graduation rate at Global Enterprise High School is low and declining:
    • In 2007-08, the graduation rate was 52.7%.
    • In 2008-09, the graduation rate fell to 50.9%.
  • First-year credit accumulation is also low:
    • In 2007-08, only 55.8% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits.
    • In 2008-09, 63.6% of first-year students accumulated 10 or more credits.
  • Demand for the school is low:
    • Global Enterprise participated in the supplementary high school admissions round, indicating that the school did not get enough matches during the main high school admissions round to fill its ninth grade class.
  • The school received a C on the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Progress Reports, down from a B in 2006-07.

Counselor Comeback

Years after laying them off, Newark brings back attendance workers to track down absent students

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Superintendent Roger León (center) with more than 40 new attendance counselors the district has hired.

A new school-attendance squad is on the job in Newark, ready to phone families and track down truant students.

More than 40 new attendance counselors and truancy officers made their official debut this week — part of a campaign by Superintendent Roger León to curb rampant absenteeism in the district. The linchpin of León’s approach is the rehiring of the attendance workers, who were laid off nearly six years ago amid questions about their effectiveness.

The employees — some new and some returning — will help craft school attendance plans, contact families, and bring truant students back to class with the help of Newark police officers.

They have their work cut out for them: Nearly a quarter of students have already missed about two weeks or more of school since September, according to district officials.

In his drive to boost attendance, León also launched a back-to-school campaign last fall and eliminated some early-dismissal days when students tend to skip class. At a school board meeting Tuesday, León said those efforts have resulted in fewer “chronically absent” students who miss 10 percent or more of school days for any reason. So far this school year, 23 percent of students are chronically absent, down from 30.5 percent during the same period the previous school year, he said.

“Right now, we’re in a really, really good place,” León told the board. “Having hired these attendance officers will get us where we need to go.”

A long to-do list awaits the attendance workers, who will earn between $53,000 and $95,531, according to a district job posting. They will create daily attendance reports for schools, call or visit families of absent students, and make sure students who are frequently out of school start showing up on time.

They will also be tasked with enforcing the state’s truancy laws, which authorize attendance officers to arrest “habitually truant” students and allow their parents or guardians to be fined. Newark’s attendance counselors will gather evidence for potential legal actions, deliver legal notices to students’ homes, and appear in court “when required,” according to the job posting.

The district is also establishing a new “truancy task force” to track down truant students, as required by state law. The task force will include both district employees and police officers who will patrol the streets searching for truants to transport back to school.

The teams will be “going up and down every one of our corridors and getting kids in school,” León said Tuesday, adding that they will eventually be provided buses.

Criminal-justice reform advocates across the country have criticized state laws, like New Jersey’s, which criminalize truancy. As a result of such laws, parents can face fines or even jail time and students can be put on probation or removed from their homes. Meanwhile, a 2011 study found that truant students who faced legal action were more likely to earn lower grades and drop out of school than truant students who did not face those sanctions.

While truancy laws may be on the books, districts have discretion in how they enforce them.

Peter Chen, a policy counsel for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, has studied absenteeism in Newark and said he did not know how the district’s new attendance workers would carry out the law. But he cautioned against “punitive strategies,” such as issuing court summonses or suspending frequently absent students, which can temporarily boost attendance but eventually drive students further away from school.

“Once the school is viewed as the enemy, as somebody who is out to get the student, it’s incredibly difficult to rebuild a trusting relationship,” he said. “And what we see time and again is that a trusting relationship between a school and a family or student is a critical component to building a school-wide attendance strategy that works.”

Superintendent León declined to be interviewed after Tuesday’s board meeting, saying he would answer written questions. As of Wednesday evening, he had not responded to those questions.

At the meeting, he did not rule out the possibility of the district’s truancy officers making arrests. But he said the police officers’ job was not to arrest truant students, only to protect the attendance workers.

“I need to make sure that any staff members that we hire are safe,” he said.

In 2013, then-Superintendent Cami Anderson laid off all 46 of the district’s attendance counselors. She attributed the decision to budget constraints and limited evidence that the counselors had improved attendance.

The district shifted the counselors’ responsibilities to school-based teams that included administrators, social workers, and teachers. Critics said the district was expecting schools to do more with less, and the Newark Teachers Union — which had represented the attendance counselors — fought the layoffs in court. An administrative law judge sided with the union, but then-State Education Commissioner David Hespe later overturned the decision.

León, who became superintendent in July, promised to promptly restore the attendance counselors. However, his plans were delayed by a legal requirement that the district first offer the new jobs to the laid-off counselors, some of whom had moved out of state. By the beginning of February, all the positions had been filled and, on Friday, León held a roughly 90-minute meeting with the new attendance team.

To create lasting attendance gains, experts advise schools to consider every aspect of what they do — their discipline policies, the emotional support they provide students, the quality of teaching, and the relationship between staffers and families. Simply outsourcing attendance to designated employees will not work, they warn.

Superintendent León appears to agree. In an interview last year, he said he expects all school employees to join in the work of improving attendance.

“The last thing that needs to happen is for people to walk away saying, ‘Oh, attendance is going to be solved because now we have the attendance counselors,’” León said. “No, everyone has to worry about attendance.”

Newark Enrolls

After changes and challenges, Friday’s deadline to enroll in Newark schools finally arrives

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
A student fills out an information sheet at Central High School's booth at the citywide school fair in December.

Newark families have just a few hours left to apply to more than 70 public schools for next fall.

At noon on Friday, the online portal that allows families to apply to most traditional and charter school will close. After that, they will have to visit the district’s enrollment center. Last year, nearly 13,000 applications were submitted.

The stakes — and stress — are greatest for students entering high school. Each year, hundreds of eighth-graders compete for spots at the city’s selective “magnet” high schools, which many students consider their best options.

This year, those eighth-graders have to jump through an extra hoop — a new admissions test the magnets will use as they rank applicants. District students will sit for the test Friday, while students in charter and private schools will take it Saturday.

That’s news to many parents, including Marie Rosario, whose son, Tamir, is an eighth-grader at Park Elementary School in the North Ward.

“I don’t know nothing about it,” she said. District officials have been tight-lipped about what’s on the new test, how it will factor into admissions decisions, or even why introducing it was deemed necessary.

Students can apply to as many as eight schools. Tamir’s top choice was Science Park, one of the most sought-after magnet schools. Last year, just 29 percent of eighth-graders who ranked it first on their applications got seats.

“I’m going to cross my fingers,” Rosario said.

Students will find out in April where they were matched. Last year, 84 percent of families applying to kindergarten got their first choice. Applicants for ninth grade were less fortunate: Only 41 percent of them got their top choice, the result of so many students vying for magnet schools.

This is the sixth year that families have used the online application system, called Newark Enrolls, to pick schools. Newark is one of the few cities in the country to use a single application for most charter and district schools. Still, several charter schools do not participate in the system, nor do the vocational high schools run by Essex County.

Today, surveys show that most families who use the enrollment system like it. However, its rollout was marred by technical glitches and suspicions that it was designed to funnel students into charter schools, which educate about one in three Newark students. Some charter critics hoped the district’s newly empowered school board would abolish the system. Instead, Superintendent Roger León convinced the board to keep it for now, arguing it simplifies the application process for families.

Managing that process has posed challenges for León, who began as schools chief in July.

First, he ousted but did not replace the district’s enrollment chief. Then, he clashed with charter school leaders over changes to Newark Enrolls, leading them to accelerate planning for an alternative system, although that never materialized. Next, the district fell behind schedule in printing an enrollment guidebook for families.

Later, the district announced the new magnet-school admissions test but then had to delay its rollout as León’s team worked to create the test from scratch with help from principals, raising questions from testing experts about its validity. Magnet school leaders, like families, have said they are in the dark about how heavily the new test will be weighted compared to the other criteria, including grades and state test scores, that magnet schools already use to rank applicants.

Meanwhile, León has repeatedly dropped hints about new “academies” opening inside the district’s traditional high schools in the fall to help those schools compete with the magnets. However, the district has yet to hold any formal informational sessions for families about the academies or provide details about them on the district website or in the enrollment guidebook. As a result, any such academies are unlikely to give the traditional schools much of an enrollment boost this year.

District spokeswoman Tracy Munford did not respond to a request Thursday to speak with an official about this year’s enrollment process.

Beyond those hiccups, the enrollment process has mostly gone according to plan. After activating the application website in December, the district held a well-attended school fair where families picked up school pamphlets and chatted with representatives. Individual elementary schools, such as Oliver Street School in the East Ward, have also invited high school principals to come and tell students about their offerings.

American History High School Principal Jason Denard said he made several outings to pitch his magnet school to prospective students. He also invited middle-school groups to tour his school, and ordered glossy school postcards. Now, along with students and families across the city, all he can do is wait.

“I’m excited to see the results of our recruitment efforts,” he said. “Not much else is in my control — but recruitment is.”