school closing season

City adds 16 schools to possible-closure list, bringing total to 47

The city is eyeing 47 schools for possible closure next year, including 16 that have not previously been targeted by the city or the state.

On the watch-list, which education officials released today, are 19 schools that the city tried to close last year but were saved by a successful union lawsuit. It also includes most of the 23 schools currently on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools that did not begin federally-mandated interventions this year. All 16 of the newly-identified schools are elementary and middle schools.

City officials said today they had learned lessons from last year’s thwarted closure process and are re-strategizing for this year.

The city is hoping to avoid some of the confusion and shock that marred their efforts to close schools last year by announcing their plans early and by clarifying their rationale for shuttering schools, officials said. Last year a state appeals court ruled that the city failed to meet legal requirements for notifying the community about its closure plans.

Officials have already posted their criteria for adding schools to their watch-list to the Department of Education’s website: schools were tagged if they received three consecutive C’s, or a single D or F, on their progress reports, or if they received anything below a proficient rating on their last Quality Review.

Some schools met this criteria but are not on the city’s list: elementary schools that outperform their districts on state tests; high schools with higher graduation rates than the citywide average; schools that received high marks on their Quality Review; and new schools that received a report card for the first time this year.

Three schools that are on the state’s list of lowest-achieving schools are notably absent from the city’s list of schools targeted for possible closure: Washington Irving High School, Boys and Girls High School and P.S. 65 (Mother Hale Academy). Officials said today that they have decided not to close these three because of strides the schools have made under new leadership.

City officials stressed today that their list is not definitive. More schools could be added to the list once the state releases this year’s update to its “persistently lowest achieving” schools list and after high school progress reports are released in several weeks.

Decisions about which elementary and middle schools the city plans to close will be handed down by the end of next month; decisions about high schools will follow by mid-December. The city will then begin its formal public approval process, which involves hearings at the schools and eventual votes by the citywide school board.

If the city eventually decides to close all or most of the schools identified today, it would be a drastic jump in the number of schools it has closed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has phased out — or is in the process of phasing out — 91 schools since Bloomberg took office.

Last year, the mayor promised to turn around the lowest-performing 10 percent of city schools over the next four years, double the number federal officials have required the state to identify.

Teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew sharply criticized the city for the potential surge in closures. “If Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg want their legacy to be closing every school in New York City, they should be ashamed,” Mulgrew said. “They should be focused on fixing schools, not shuttering them.”

City officials also said they are changing their strategy of communicating with the schools marked for possible closure as it evaluates them. Last year, teachers and parents protested that the first time they had heard from the DOE was when the city announced its plans to close the school.

This year, the city is planning early meetings with principals, school leadership teams, parent associations and community groups before they finalize plans for the school. City officials characterized those meetings both as attempts to learn more about the school beyond what is captured in their data and to prepare the schools for whatever final decision is announced.

Those meetings have already begun or have been scheduled for 33 of the schools; officials said today they are waiting to schedule meetings at the schools slated for closure last year until this year’s high school progress reports have been released.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”