flat-lined

Second straight F puts Boys & Girls High's future on the line

Boys and Girls High School is one of 24 schools that now face closure.

Boys and Girls High School’s latest progress report grade — an F, its second in a row — came as no surprise to its principal, Bernard Gassaway.

“We definitely fell short,” Gassaway said in a phone interview today. “When you get the progress report and you are surprised by it, that means you haven’t been looking at the numbers all along.”

But even though it is one of just four schools to score a second straight failing grade, Gassaway said he is not concerned about the future of the school, a Bedford-Stuyvesant institution revered by some neighborhood leaders despite posting graduation rates well below the city average in recent years.

“Closure is not an option,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an option that’s on the table. … I’m not entertaining any conversations about closure.”

Department of Education officials said they remain confident in Gassaway’s leadership. But at the same time, they are making Boys and Girls the subject of a formal conversation about closure for the first time.

The department has informed Gassaway that the high school is among 24 that will undergo “early engagement,” a process through which officials meet with community members to assess whether struggling schools are likely to improve or should be closed.

Last year, Boys and Girls was one of just three F-rated schools that did not undergo the early engagement process, even though its performance on some measures ranked near the lowest citywide. Department officials also considered closing the school through an atypical federal reform process called turnaround earlier this year, but quickly abandoned the plan.

Gassaway said he has already prepared his strategy to defend the school. He will argue that the city and union have not worked together to give him enough authority over his staff, and that new programs to help the school’s many high-need students cannot be expected to pay off right away.

“[The] case that I made last year is the same case I’ll make this year,” he said. “If you ask yourself honestly, what has changed as it relates to, let’s say, the makeup of the staff from last year to this year, the plan that everyone agrees is a good idea has not been implemented.”

Since Gassaway came on as principal in 2009, he has pressed department and union officials for the power to overhaul his staff, charging that as many as half the teachers aren’t equipped to address the school’s many challenges. The city’s contract with the teachers union precludes principals from sending teachers away in most cases.

He has also maintained that the school needs new services to address students’ health and emotional needs, and special programs for the many under-credited and overage students who make their way to Boys and Girls after spending parts of high school outside the city or in jail. With new programs only starting to get underway, Gassaway said today, it will be years before the school begins to reap their benefits on paper.

Gassaway said he asked teachers, administrators, and support staff to take a hard look at the school’s performance data last week when he shared the preliminary progress report data.

“We basically looked at the different data sets: credit accumulation, Regents pass rates, the graduation rate, [students in] the bottom third,” he said. He added, “The primary focus is on instruction. There’s no magic bullet other than hard work.”

Despite concerns over the numbers, Gassaway may continue to find the support from top department officials he needs to keep the school afloat.

“We have a very high opinion of Bernard Gassaway,” Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg told reporters earlier today. “We’re going to take the time to go out to the school and talk with Bernard, talk with parents and students and teachers, and a group of community organizations that have deep roots in support that school, and ask that same question about Boys and Girls as we will about the others: Is there a capacity to improve?”

Sternberg said it is possible the early engagement team will find that the school has its best chance of succeeding if it has more time to see Gassaway’s vision through.

“If a principal is saying they want more flexibility to get the right adults in a building so they can improve their capacity to execute on a good plan, I would, as a former principal, I would say I agree with that,” Sternberg said. “The question is whether there is the right plan…and that’s what we’ll explore.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.