Transition at Tweed

Here are all of the schools with axed or edited space plans

Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced earlier this afternoon that the city was nixing three district and three charter schools’ space-sharing plans, out of 49 approved since last October.

She said those decisions were based on four main criteria: their impact on programs serving students with disabilities, whether they would place elementary students in high school buildings, logistical concerns, and whether the proposed school would have fewer than 250 students.

“We set out consistent, objective criteria to protect school communities from unworkable outcomes,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, adding that they rejected “those proposals that do not meet our values.”

Here’s the full list, with our notes on how they do or don’t meet those criteria:

1. Co-location of grades 5-8 of Success Academy – Harlem 4: axed

The building has a program for autistic and for emotionally disturbed students, and many speakers at the public hearing said the co-location could threaten that program. This would have put a middle school inside a building with two K-8 schools and another elementary school.

2. Opening of a new district middle school (04M204): axed

It’s unclear how this co-location meets the criteria. This would have put a new middle school inside a building with an elementary school. There was little public outcry, as only seven people spoke at the joint public hearing.

3. Expansion of Central Park East II from current K-5 to K-8 and co-location: axed

This would have added middle school grades to a building with elementary, middle, and high school students. It would have been a small school and made for a total of six schools in building. Some of the principals already in the building were opposed to the plan.

4. Opening of new district middle school (16K762): axed

It’s unclear how this co-location meets the criteria. It would have put a middle school into a building with elementary and middle school students, and there is no special program for students with disabilities. Only two people spoke at the public hearing.

5. Opening of Success Academy – New York 1 at Murry Bergtraum: axed

This would have put an elementary school into a high school building.

6. Opening of Success Academy – New York 5: axed

This also would have put an elementary school into a high school building. De Blasio submitted written testimony opposing the plan as public advocate.

7. Opening of a new 9-14 CTE high school (01M203): new site to be proposed

This would have added a high school to a building with another high school. Many from University Neighborhood opposed the plan.

8. Opening of new district high school at John Dewey High School: new site proposed

This would have added a high school to a building with another high school. There is a District 75 school for students with disabilities in building. There was a lot of community opposition, with 490 present at the public hearing, where many spoke in support of a comprehensive school—a concept Fariña favors.

9. Enrollment reduction and opening of new district CTE high school at Long Island City High School: enrollment reduction axed, new site proposed for CTE school

This also would have added a high school to a building with another high school with a District 75 school for students with disabilities in building. Long Island City High School is already at 117 percent of target enrollment, and the plan to decrease its enrollment would have been another blow to a comprehensive neighborhood school. De Blasio personally expressed concern about Spanish-language outreach as public advocate.

10. American Dream Charter School: reduced in size

The original plan would have left the school building between 114 and 135 percent capacity in 2016-17.

“We will take this setback as an opportunity to prove our value to the community and this administration,” Principal Melissa Melkonian said in a statement.

No decision yet: Co-location of Explore Exceed grades 6-8, expansion of Clinton Academy from 6-8 to 6-12, co-location extension of M.S. 311, which were all approved to open in fall 2015.

Untouched: These aren’t the only space proposals that will go into effect in 2014-15. More than a dozen were passed before last October, including three Success Academy schools.

One, Success Academy Charter School – Harlem 2 (grades 5-8), will be a middle school in a building with middle and high school grades, though a spokesman for the Department of Education said today that one of the department’s beliefs is that high school campuses should serve high school students. (High school and middle school students in one building is still a much more common arrangement than high school and elementary school students in one building.)

End of an era

Longtime deputy chancellor Kathleen Grimm to retire

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm (left) at a City Council hearing to discuss the department's five-year capital plan in March 2014.

Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for operations and a fixture in the Department of Education under four chancellors, is stepping down, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Wednesday.

Grimm oversaw a sprawling portion of the department, including the offices overseeing safety, school support, school food, athletics, space planning, enrollment, human resources, and construction. The only official to have remained in a top post at Tweed since the beginning of the Bloomberg era, Grimm saw her responsibilities expand even further under Fariña, who moved some offices under Grimm when she shrunk the department’s cabinet.

“It is with deep personal regret that I announce a leave pending retirement of Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, an esteemed colleague who has worked tirelessly to create safe, nurturing environments in which all of our students can learn and thrive,” Fariña said in an email to department staff members.

Grimm, a tax lawyer, was brought on in 2002 for her budgeting and finance expertise and experience in navigating city and state bureaucracy. She had previously served in the state comptroller’s office and the city finance department.

Over her 14-year career at the Department of Education, Grimm preferred to stay behind the scenes, but was thrust into the spotlight when changes to school bus routes, budget cuts, and space planning made headlines.

Her oversight of the city’s transportation of students meant she faced fierce criticism when repeated changes to bus routes angered parents and City Council members. Her oversight of the capital budget and the Blue Book, which sets guidelines for school space use, also made her a frequent target of class-size reduction advocates, who often said the city’s calculations did not reflect reality.

But Grimm was revered within the department for her calm under pressure. She frequently defended the school system in front of the City Council, bearing the brunt of then-education committee chair Eva Moskowitz’s relentless criticism of the city’s toilet-paper offerings in 2004 and, more recently, testifying at hearings on toxic lighting fixtures and school overcrowding.

“Cool and effective, Kathleen stayed for the full twelve years of the Bloomberg administration and did a tough, unglamorous job with distinction,” Klein wrote of Grimm in his memoir “Lessons of Hope.”

On Wednesday, Fariña offered her own praise. “As a senior member of my leadership team, Deputy Chancellor Grimm has provided a strong foundation for our most critical initiatives, including Pre-K for All, Community Schools, and our expanded school support and safety services,” she said.

Grimm’s chief of staff Elizabeth Rose will take over as interim acting deputy chancellor during a search for Grimm’s replacement, Fariña said.

year in review

In first year as chancellor, Fariña counts on fellow educators to drive changes

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks to superintendents and principals overseeing the city's designated renewal schools.

To understand how things have changed since Carmen Fariña became schools chancellor, consider where she has chosen to be on roughly 200 occasions this year, often five times per week: in schools.

She uses the hour-long visits to find model schools that other educators can tour and to size up principals, noting whether teachers seem surprised to see their bosses (a sign they aren’t poking into classrooms enough) and if the principals bring any deputies along for the tours (a hint they know how to delegate). She inspects students’ writing and asks the principal to show her a strong teacher in action and a weak one.

Twelve months into her stint leading the nation’s largest school system, Fariña’s attention to such details seems misplaced to some critics, who worry that it comes at the expense of big-picture thinking and suggests a shift away from the greater autonomy that principals gained under the previous administration.

But to her many admirers, the visits reflect a belief that even in a system of 1.1 million students and 75,000 or so teachers, change can happen school by school and classroom by classroom when educators are empowered, without the seismic policy shakeups that seemed to occur routinely under her recent predecessors. As Fariña, who has spent nearly half a century working in schools, likes to say, “The answers are in the classroom.” In other words, this is educator-driven education reform.

“There’s a sense,” said Alison Coviello, principal of P.S. 154 in the Bronx, “that we’re all in this together.”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled Fariña from semi-retirement last January, she decided that she would have to roll back the Bloomberg-era policies she disagreed with even as she put her own into place: To “undo while [she’s] doing,” as she told Chalkbeat earlier this year.

And that’s just what she’s done. She downsized the office that helped create new schools — a signature Bloomberg initiative — while resurrecting the department devoted to teacher training. She re-empowered superintendents, who were marginalized under Bloomberg, and insisted that would-be principals and superintendents both spend more years in schools (a rejection of the Bloombergian idea that talent trumps experience). And she axed the Bloomberg policies that tied student promotion to test scores and assigned schools letter grades as she launched her own signature program, which sends educators to visit successful schools to pick up ideas.

That program, called Learning Partners, exemplifies Fariña’s approach. It is educator-led, cooperative, and subtle, allowing Fariña to spread her ideas through proxies rather than edicts.

“We have gotten more schools to change practices not by mandating, but by collaborating,” she said in an interview Monday. “I could have said across the board, ‘Every middle school needs to do X, Y and Z.’ And we didn’t do that.”

She also helped forge new contracts with the principals and the teachers unions, which had given up on negotiating with the previous administration. The teachers got a big payout in the contract (though not big enough to satisfy everyone), while Fariña was able to embed time for training and interacting with parents into teachers’ weekly schedules (at the cost of student-tutoring time, which was repurposed). Cynics charged that the city secured the contracts by giving into most of the unions’ demands, but Fariña argues that they were the product of her collaborative approach.

“What we got out of those contracts,” she said, “probably would not have been possible without that kind of partnership.”

She also helped the mayor fulfill his promise to get 53,000 four-year-olds into classrooms.

“How could I forget?” Fariña said. “Pre-K!”

For all that she has already done and undone, Fariña has a big year ahead of her. On Monday, she ticked off a few of the biggest items on her to-do list.

First, she must help de Blasio add the 20,000 additional pre-kindergarten seats he has promised, even as charter schools demand more space of their own. Then, she must turn two of his most ambitious plans into reality: to convert nearly 130 schools into service hubs for students and their families, and to turn around more than 90 low-performing schools.

That last task will be especially daunting. Rather than shut down chronically underachieving schools or replace their staffs, Fariña has proposed lifting them up through a mix of supports for students and coaching for educators. That is a big gamble, which Fariña made clear at a meeting Monday with the leaders of those struggling schools.

“I’m holding you even more accountable,” she told the principals. “Because I went out on a limb, as did Mayor de Blasio, and said, ‘We’re not closing schools. We’re giving everybody a second chance.’”