Process of elimination

Among 24 schools city says it could close, some familiar names

Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of school closures, said the city would consider whether to phase out 24 struggling high schools.

Seven high schools that the city tried in vain to close last year are among the two dozen that the Department of Education might move to shutter this year.

Department officials announced today that they had added 24 high schools to the list of schools they are considering closing. The schools join 36 elementary and middle schools already slated for “early engagement” meetings, the first step in the city’s school closure process. The department named those schools in October but postponed the meetings because of Hurricane Sandy.

The high schools were culled from 60 whose progress report scores made them eligible for closure under the city’s rules. Their test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and readiness for college do not measure up to city standards, according to Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg, the department official who oversees school closures, who said the schools’ presence on the early engagement list indicates that they have deep problems to address.

“What we see in a school that can’t demonstrate the capacity to improve dramatically and to improve quickly is a calcification of the systems that lead to good schools,” Sternberg told reporters in a briefing on the reports this afternoon. “The adults are not communicating clearly and well with each other, there’s a lack of collaboration, a lack of organizational alignment that will enable the kind of instruction we know is important and necessary to lead to good outcomes.”

To keep off the official closure list, the schools will need to show officials they have “a way forward,” Sternberg said. That could come in the form of a dramatic leadership or staffing change, or the addition of new programs meant to address the department’s concerns. Typically, the department moves to close around half of the schools selected for early engagement.

A quarter of the schools potentially on the chopping block this year were there just a few months ago. Early this year the city’s Panel for Education Policy voted to close five schools on the new list through a stringent federal school reform process called “turnaround.”

At the time, city officials said those schools and 19 others lacked the institutional culture, leadership, and systems necessary to improve without being closed over the summer and reopened in the fall with new names and many new staff members. The schools escaped closure in July when the city lost a lawsuit filed by the teachers and principals unions over the plan, but officials warned that they still needed dramatic interventions.

Other former turnaround schools escaped the chopping block this year by posting higher scores. Among them are John Dewey High School, which rose from a C to a B this year after a tumultuous spring of student and teacher protests and the abrupt removal of longtime principal Barry Fried.

Several schools that were removed from the original turnaround proposal on the basis of last year’s city grades netted a second year of high scores. The School for Global Studies, W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School, and William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School all earned Bs.

Other schools on the early engagement list did not face turnaround last year, but have still struggled in recent years to help their students meet graduation requirements and go on to college. They include Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High School and the Bronx’s DeWitt Clinton High School, which both received their second F in a row this year. And five of the schools on the list remained open after undergoing the early engagement process last year, including Brooklyn’s Juan Morel Campos Secondary School.

Department officials compiled the shortlist by looking at schools’ progress report grades, their Quality Reviews, the results of state evaluations, and the efforts they’ve already undertaken to improve. During the early engagement meetings, the department aims to learn why the schools are struggling and whether other efforts could help them. Last year, 21 high schools underwent early engagement during the regular closure process, and the city ultimately moved to close nine of them.

High schools that the department is considering closing:

High School of Graphic Communication Arts
Coalition School for Social Change
Academy for Social Action: A College Board School
Choir Academy of Harlem
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School
Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research
Herbert H. Lehman High School
Leadership Institute
Bronx High School of Business
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications
West Bronx Academy for the Future (only grades 6-8 will undergo early engagement)
Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology
DeWitt Clinton High School
Bronx Regional High School
Freedom Academy High School
George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School
Juan Morel Campos Secondary School
Foundations Academy
Boys and Girls High School
W.E.B. Dubois Academic High School
Sheepshead Bay High School
Flushing High School
Law, Government and Community Service High School
Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship High School

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”