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

Big money

Chunk of $55 million AbbVie gift will go toward more counselors in schools

PHOTO: Courtesy of Communities in Schools
Counselors in Schools site coordinator Artesha Williams and student Nasje Adams at the King Academy of Social Justice in Chicago

Sixteen more Chicago schools will add full-time counselors charged with reducing dropouts and helping students with critical mental health issues, thanks to a chunk of a $55 million donation gift from a North Chicago pharmaceutical giant.

The AbbVie donation, announced Friday, will be split among three nonprofit groups with a Chicago presence, though not all the money will be spent here. Communities in Schools will receive $30 million for its national efforts to broker relationships between community organizations and schools; the University of Chicago’s Education Lab, which focuses on dropout prevention and college persistence, will receive $15 million; and City Year, which places AmeriCorps tutors and mentors in schools, will receive $10 million.

Communities in Schools, which received the largest gift, will spend $6 million of its $30 million on its Chicago chapter, while the City Year money will be split among Chicago and a project in San Jose, California.

Jane Mentzinger, the executive director of Communities in Schools Chicago, said the $6 million is “transformational” and will be spent on a program that assigns full-time, master’s-level counselors to public schools on the South and West sides.

The AbbVie gift will grow a program that currently places full-time counselors in 15 Chicago schools, adding five schools this year and another 11 next fall.

“In each school, they case manage the 50 highest-need students who are at risk of falling behind and dropping out,” said Mentzinger. “They really work with students is to help resolve conflict, regulate emotions, and provide exposure opportunities, from support and mentoring to counseling.”  

The counselor piece helps fill a dire need within Chicago’s schools: mental health and trauma services. Students, educators, parents, and union leaders regularly lament that the district does not staff enough counselors and mental health practitioners, and that recent efforts have been too focused on college and career-readiness — including helping students draft a post-secondary plan. Starting with the Class of 2020, seniors must produce such a plan to graduate, a controversial idea championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In July, Chicago schools CEO Janice Jackson announced that the district would hire some 250 new social workers and special education case managers for schools.

Mentzinger said the value of sending in counselors who are employed by an outside agency, and not by the district, is that they have fewer administrative duties and so can cast a “wider net” among master’s degree candidates who might have non-traditional degrees such as art therapy or dance. “The level of need of our kids — we need to have more layers, more layers of work.”

A recent Steinmetz High School graduate, Emily Jade Aguilar, told Chalkbeat on Election Day that she was knocking on doors to get out the vote. Aguilar, who identifies as a trans woman, said the biggest issue driving her activism was mental health for students. “We need more mental health resources in our schools,” said Aguilar, whose school had four counselors for 1,200 students last year.

According to federal data from the 2015-16 school year, Chicago had 2.8 guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists for every 1,000 students — fewer than in many other large cities. National guidance counselors and social workers groups recommend having one counselor and one social worker each for every 250 students. In schools with “intensive” needs, that ratio falls to one social worker for every 50 students.

In addition to providing counselors, Communities in Schools brokers relationships between nonprofit organizations and 160 schools to provide art and enrichment, mental health services, health care and college and career readiness programming.

snow fallout

From stalled buses to canceled programs, New York City schools are bearing brunt of snow storm

PHOTO: Guillermo Murcia / Getty Images
A school bus on Dekalb avenue in Fort Greene Brooklyn during a snow storm.

Parents, students, and teachers are dealing with the fallout of Thursday’s snowstorm, which stranded yellow buses for hours, created brutal commutes, and forced teachers to stay late for parent conferences.

Just before 9 a.m. Friday, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced all after-school programs would be cancelled, sending families scrambling to make arrangements. And perhaps anticipating yet another wave of yellow-bus related problems, all field trips involving buses were also cancelled.

Some parents and educators took to social media to vent about the city’s response.

Emergency responders were dispatched to free five children with special needs who had been trapped on a school bus for 10 hours, according to City Councilman Ben Kallos. Traveling from Manhattan to the Bronx, students didn’t make it home until “well after midnight,” Kallos said in a statement. The councilman has sponsored legislation to require GPS tracking on yellow buses after the school year began with horror stories about long, circuitous routes. Many riders are children with special needs who travel to programs outside their neighborhoods.

The education department did not immediately respond to questions about the timing of their decision to cancel after-school programs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would conduct a”full operational review of what happened,” referring to the city’s response to the storm. “We have to figure out how to make adjustments when we have only a few hours but this was—I hate to use this hackneyed phrase—but this was kind of a perfect storm: late information, right up on rush hour, and then a particularly fast, heavy kind of snow.”

The politics of snow-related closures are challenging, forcing city leaders to balance concerns about safety with the needs of working families, who may struggle to make arrangements for emergency childcare.

Snow-day related cancellations have bedeviled previous chancellors; in one famous incident, former Chancellor Carmen Fariña and de Blasio kept schools open despite a forecast of 10 inches of snow. The next day, Fariña proclaimed it was “a beautiful day.”

Still, the de Blasio administration is much more likely to cancel school in response to snow than his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

Christina Veiga contributed.