New York City could get $25M for turnaround this year after all

Three of the 24 schools that the city tried to close and reopen this summer could undergo “turnaround” after all.

Under the aggressive form of the federally prescribed school overhaul process that the department tried to carry out, all teachers at the struggling schools were required to reapply for their jobs. The city set no quota for rehiring, but the requirement that no more than 50 percent be rehired in order for the schools to qualify for federal funding was widely known.

An arbitrator ruled in June that the city’s version of turnaround ran afoul of its contract with the teachers union.

But three of the schools — some of the smallest proposed for turnaround — turned over more than 50 percent of their teachers last year anyway, so they meet the federal requirements for funding. The schools are Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, J.H.S. 22 in the Bronx, and M.S. 126 in Brooklyn.

Now, the city has asked for turnaround funding for them and for 15 other schools that it is shutting down through its regular closure process. Under that process, used for years, one school phases out while others phase in in the same space.

According to materials that the State Education Department presented to the Board of Regents in Albany this week, the State Education Department is currently reviewing the city’s application for the federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants. If the application passes muster, the city would get about $25 million for the 18 schools and, where applicable, their replacements.

Last year, the city received $60 million to fund 11 school closures it had planned before finding out about the grants. The funds went to 16 new schools, two of them charter schools, that opened in space vacated as the 11 low-performing schools shrank, the department said at the time.

SED’s briefing papers to the Regents also give a hint at what happened after the arbitrator’s decision torpedoed the city’s more aggressive turnaround plans this summer. They say that the department formally withdrew its application for the School Improvement Grants in September — more than two months after the arbitrator’s ruling and more than a month after a judge threw out the city’s request to have the ruling overturned.

Now, the city must submit documents that show how it plans to improve the schools. Those documents are due by the end of this month, according to the briefing papers.

The 18 schools that would receive SIG funds if the city’s application is approved are below.

In first year of phase-out:

Washington Irving High School, Manhattan, first year of phase-out
Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School, Bronx, first year of phase-out
Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers, Bronx, first year of phase-out
Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School, Bronx, first year of phase-out
I.S. 296 — The Anna Gonzalez Community School, Brooklyn, first year of phase-out

In second year of phase-out:

Norman Thomas High School, Manhattan
IS 195, Manhattan
School for Community Research and Learning, Bronx
Bronx Academy High School, Bronx
John F Kennedy High School, Bronx
Christopher Columbus High School, Bronx
Monroe Academy for Business and Law, Bronx
Paul Robeson High School, Brooklyn
Beach Channel High School, Queens
Jamaica High School, Queens

Still open:

Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, Manhattan
J.H.S. 22, Bronx
M.S. 126, Brooklyn


Memphis candidate says no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s turnaround district is no longer under consideration, the state Department of Education confirmed Thursday.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat on Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him and said that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second interview with McQueen. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked at the news, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists for the position.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration were: Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools — the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Play nice

How can Michigan schools stop skinned knees and conflict? Use playtime to teach students kindness

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn
Macomb Montessori kindergartner London Comer plays with a ball during a Playworks session at her school.

Kindergartners play four square, jump rope and line up in two rows with outstretched arms to bump a ball during recess. What’s unusual is that the four- and five-year-olds don’t fight over balls or toys, and when one child gets upset and crosses her arms, a fifth-grade helper comes over to talk to her.

This is a different picture from last spring, when the students at the Macomb Montessori school in Warren played during recess on a parking lot outside. The skinned knees and broken equipment were piling up, and school administrators knew something needed to change.

“Recess was pretty chaotic, and it wasn’t very safe,” Principal Ashley Ogonowski said.

The school brought in Playworks, a national nonprofit that uses playtime to teach students how to peacefully and respectfully work together to settle disagreements — also known as social emotional learning, said Angela Rogensues the executive director of the Michigan Playworks branch.

Ogonowski said the change she has seen in her students has been huge. Kids are getting hurt less, and teachers have said they have fewer classroom behavior problems.

The program teaches better behavior through physical activity. Games focus on cooperation, not winners and losers. When tensions rise on the playground, kids are encouraged to “rock, paper, scissors” over conflicts.

Playworks is adamant that their coaches are not physical education teachers, nor are their 30-45 minute structured play periods considered gym class. But the reality is that in schools without them, Playworks is the closest many kids come to receiving physical education.

Macomb Montessori does not have a regular gym teacher, a problem shared by schools across the state and nearly half of the schools in the main Detroit district, and a symptom of a disinvestment in physical education statewide. In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified.

But with Playworks, the 210 elementary-aged children at the school have a daily recess and a weekly class game time lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Another benefit of the program is the chance to build leadership skills with upper elementary students chosen to be junior coaches. Shy kids are picked, as are natural leaders who might be using their talents to stir up trouble.

“I made it because I’m really good with kids. I’m nice and kind and I really like the kids,” Samerah Gentry, a fifth-grader and junior coach said. “I’m gaining energy and I’m having fun.”

Research shows that students are benefitting from both the conflict resolution tools and the junior coach program.

“The program model is really solid and there’s so much structure in place, I can’t really think of any drawbacks,” Principal Ogonowski said.

The program, however, is not free.  

Part of the cost is handled on the Playworks side through grants, but schools are expected to “have some skin in the game,” Rogenesus said. The program at Macomb Montessori costs between $60,000 and $65,000, but poor schools can receive a 50 percent subsidy.

The cost hasn’t prevented eight Detroit district schools from paying for the program. Rogenesus said she is talking with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about putting the program in even more schools next year. He also identified Playworks as one organization that could be brought in to run after-school programs at a time when he’s rethinking district partnerships.

Part of Playworks’ mission is to work together with schools, even if they already have gym and recess in place or plan to hire a physical education teacher.

“PE is a necessary part of their education in the same way social-emotional learning is a necessary part of that education,” she said.