space wars

City and union agree to fewer school colocations in September

Afraid of another lawsuit from the teachers union, city officials have decided to force fewer new schools to share space this year.

Originally, the Department of Education planned to begin closing 19 schools next September and open 16 schools — most of them brand new — in their buildings. But that plan was put on hold when the union successfully sued to stop the closures. With the court silent on whether new schools could still open, the city announced that it would proceed to open them.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he was concerned that opening new schools while keeping the original schools in business would mean severe overcrowding in some buildings.

Now the two sides have reached an agreement that will change some of the planned colocations and, as part of the deal, the UFT has waived its right to sue over the colocations.

Under the agreement, five new schools that would have co-located with closing schools will open elsewhere, including one in the union’s office. The deal also gives the saved schools more support and possibly more staff, but not more money.

The Manhattan Academy for Arts & Language is going to open on the fifth floor of the union’s Lower Manhattan offices, which the city will rent.

The Academy for Health Careers, which was slated to open in the William H. Maxwell CTE High School, will now spend its first year in the Department of Education’s office in District 13 in Brooklyn. Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School will open in a new DOE building and two schools will open in leased space.

KAPPA International High School, which was supposed to move in with Christopher Columbus High School, will stay in its current building for another year. And one school will not open next year. P.S. 747, which would have co-located with P.S. 332, will now open in September 2011.

Nine schools that were marked for closure will still have new schools co-located with them next year.

Lennel George, the principal of Metropolitan Corporate Academy — one of the schools the city wanted to close — said the deal was good news.

“It would have been physically impossible to open another school here if we’re going to have an incoming class,” George said. “It’s a very very small building.”

MCA’s incoming class could be quite small — currently, there are only eight students on the rosters. The city expects that number to grow when students who change schools or move to the city are assigned to empty seats over the summer.

Folded into the city and union’s deal is an agreement to give the struggling 19 schools — the city has described them as “failing” — more support. This could include partnering with community based organizations, improving schools’ curricula, and bringing in excessed teachers to lower class sizes.

If schools choose to bring in excessed teachers, it could mean a strange game of musical chairs, as many of these schools are already losing teachers to budget cuts and lower enrollments.

Even with these additions, city officials have not gone back on plans to try and close the schools next year and no new funds will go to covering the new costs.

“We expect that school budgets will cover the costs of the additional supports,” said department spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “If there are issues about funding at a particular school, we will work with the school to find a solution.”

It appears the city and union did not consult principals before coming to an agreement. Reached by phone today, one principal said she hadn’t heard about the deal and another said he’d only learned via email minutes before.

  • 16 schools (10 new district schools, 4 new charter schools, 1 existing district and 1 existing charter) were originally proposed to locate in buildings that housed schools slated for phase-out.
  • 9 of these 16 schools (8 new schools, 1 existing charter) are going into the buildings for which they were originally approved. Please note that the names in parentheses are the building names, not the names of the school organizations proposed for phase-out.
    • Murray Hill Academy into M620 (Norman Thomas)
    • Renaissance Innovation Charter High School into M099 (IS 99)
    • Harlem Success Academy II into M030 (PS30)
    • Democracy Prep 2 into M092 (PS92)
    • Bronx Bridges High School into X450 (Adlai E. Stevenson Educational Campus)
    • Dr. Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School into X158 (IS158)
    • Rockaway HS for Environmental Sustainability into Q410 (Beach Channel High School)
    • Hillside Arts & Letters Academy into Q470 (Jamaica High School)
    • High school for Community Leadership into Q470 (Jamaica High School)
  • Based on community feedback, space assessments and enrollment projections, 5 of these 16 schools (all new) are going into alternative locations instead of their originally approved sites.
    • Academy for Health Careers is opening in the District 13 Offices at 355 Park Avenue
    • Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School is opening in a new DOE building
    • Manhattan Academy for Arts & Language is going into leased space in District 2, pending the signing of a lease
    • Brooklyn High School for Young Men is going into space in upper Manhattan. There are two options- Transportable classroom units at the GW Campus or leased space at 4111 Broadway.
    • Cambria Heights Academy is going into leased space in District 29, pending the signing of a lease.
  • PS 747 will postpone opening for one year
  • KAPPA International High School is remaining on the Roosevelt Campus, its current location, for the 2010-2011 school year.

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.”