Process of elimination

Against mounting criticism, city targets 17 schools for closure

The Bloomberg administration is trying to make the most of its last chance to close schools.

The Department of Education today announced plans to shutter 17 low-performing schools in four boroughs and will propose more schools for closure on Tuesday. That means the Bloomberg administration is on track to begin phasing out more schools in its last year than in any previous year — though fewer than some speculated.

Last year, the department proposed closing 17 schools and shrinking eight more during its regular closure process. It also proposed closing and reopening 24 others as part of a controversial overhaul process that ended after an arbitrator ruled that the process violated the city’s contract with the teachers union.

The large number of closure proposals is not a surprise. The city wants to open 50 new schools this fall, and it needs to put them somewhere. Plus, some of the schools proposed for closure today have escaped the city’s ax in recent years, including six that the city wanted to close and reopen through the overhaul process, called “turnaround.” Another school, Choir Academy of Harlem, was one of nearly two dozen schools saved from closure by a union lawsuit two years ago.

The department is proposing to close two of the schools, Freedom Academy High School and M.S. 45 in Manhattan, outright at the end of the year. The rest of the schools would phase out over time.

The closure proposals come as criticism of the Bloomberg administration’s closure policies is coming from new directions. In addition to the advocates and school communities who have dutifully protested school closures each year, several mayoral candidates have said they would halt or dramatically scale back school closures. State Education Commissioner John King has joined the chorus, putting his concern about the impact of closures on high-need students on the record over the last year.

In July, the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Coalition for Educational Justice filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education charging that the city’s school closures have disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities.

Similar complaints filed by advocates in other cities have already triggered investigations, and Maria Fernandez, who coordinates the Urban Youth Collaborative, said the department is set to decide whether to investigate New York City by the end of the month.

“We’re optimistic. I think we have a strong case based on the numbers and data that we’ve seen over and over and over again around school closures in this city,” she said.

Department officials said they selected the schools for closure after weighing community input and assessing how likely the schools are to improve without being phased out or closed. The elementary and middle schools on the list have test scores that average less than half of the city average, while the high schools have an average graduation rate that is 83 percent of the city rate.

“These are difficult decisions that we’ve arrived at after thoroughly evaluating each school’s record — and now is the time to take action,” Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said in a statement.

But critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies said the schools are struggling because of the department’s inaction in the past and should not be penalized now.

“Under his direction the Department of Education does not feel like its job is to support schools,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said today.

The 17 schools were culled from 62 whose academic performance landed them on the Department of Education’s closure shortlist. Two charter schools that the department considered closing will remain open, but with short-term charter renewals, the department announced today.

Last year, the department tried to shutter the two charter schools it shortlisted for closure. But both schools fought back in court, with one arguing successfully that the city’s process for closing schools was “riddled with inconsistencies and lacks a certain level of transparency.”  The city opted to reverse course on the second charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, and kept it open for at least one more year.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposals at its March meeting, after a series of public hearings and, presumably, protests. The panel includes a parent whose child attends one of the schools, but its majority is controlled by the mayor and has never rejected a city proposal.

The schools proposed for closure today are listed below, by borough:


High School of Graphic Communication Arts*
M.S. 45/S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy***
Choir Academy of Harlem
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School*

The Bronx

M.S. 203
Herbert H. Lehman High School*, **
P.S. 064 Pura Belpre
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications
MS 142 John Philip Sousa*, **


Freedom Academy High School**, ***
P.S. 167 The Parkway
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin*
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero
Sheepshead Bay High School*
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science**


P.S. 140 Edward K Ellington
Law, Government and Community Service High School**

*City proposed the school for turnaround in 2012 before the process was halted
**City considered closing the school during the 2011-2012 school year but opted not to
***City is proposing to close the school at the end of the year, rather than phase it out

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”