parent petitions

Parents upset after Lower East Side charter fires its principal

Fresh off a year-long tumultuous space fight, a Manhattan charter school is now facing parent protests over its decision to fire its principal mid-year.

Parents at Girls Prep Charter Middle School found out late last week that the school’s board had fired Kimberly Morcate, who began as the middle school’s first principal at the start of last school year.  A group of parents who support Morcate and who are upset that the school did not solicit feedback before deciding to let her go have started an online petition urging the school to reinstate her.

“I placed my daughter in Girls Prep Charter School because we were told we had a voice in the governance of the school,” the petition reads. “The loss of an amazing principal without so much as an explanation to the students, parents, or staff shows extreme lack of respect for us.”

Since the petition was launched yesterday, nearly 30 parents have signed their names to it. The middle school currently enrolls around 125 students in fifth and sixth grades.

Morcate saw the school through a turbulent first year marked by a heated fight for space in a Lower East Side school building, which mobilized some of the same parents who are now protesting Morcate’s dismissal. After a protracted public fight, the city granted the school space, but State Education Commissioner David Steiner overturned the decision late in the summer. The school was forced to delay the start of its school year before eventually finding private temporary space.

This year the school found itself in political crosshairs again, after the city proposed siting the middle school in space being vacated by Ross Global Academy Charter School, which the city is closing at the end of this year. Ross has accused the city of shutting it down and giving Girls Prep its space as a political favor to well-connected backers of Girls Prep.

Girls Prep was also dealt a blow in the fall when the city ranked the school in the lowest 15 percent of schools in its annual progress reports. Critics of charter schools argued that the city should not support the growth of a school that posted poor academic performance.

The city has proposed letting both Girls Prep’s middle school and elementary school expand in city building space next year. Aside from the protests from Ross, the proposals — which will be voted on by the citywide in the coming months — have not generated the same outcry as last year, and the neighborhood’s parent council leader has endorsed the plans.

Ian Rowe, the chief executive of Girls Prep’s parent network Public Prep, said that he was not concerned that a mid-year leadership change at the school would foster instability at the school, as parents worried in the petition. The school’s board is meeting with parents tomorrow to discuss the changes.

“We’re making this decision because we want to deliver on the commitment that we’ve made to provide their daughters with an excellent education,” Rowe said.

In addition to raising concerns about parent involvement, the petition criticizes the school for allowing Rowe to take the reins of the school. Rowe has two years of teaching experience but no experience or credentials as a school leader.

Rowe said that he would lead the school jointly for the rest of the academic year with Rebekah Marler, the former principal of East Harlem’s P.S. 50 who has also been working as a consultant with Public Prep.

UPDATE: This post originally quoted a signatory to the position and mistakenly identified her as a parent; it has been updated to correct the error.


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.