Future of Schools

New report describes recipe for deputy chancellor’s success as Telecommunication principal

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Phil Weinberg announced a major reorganization to his office, the second in five months.

When Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a longtime teacher and principal of younger students, acknowledged her limited secondary-school cred in a February interview with Chalkbeat, she pointed to one person who would fill that void: Phil Weinberg.

An educator who spent nearly three decades at a single Brooklyn high school, Weinberg is now deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. A new report reveals some of the strategies that Weinberg concocted as principal of the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, or Telly, which saw its graduation rate shoot up by more than 35 percent during his tenure.

The school zeroes in on its ninth and tenth-graders, keeping them in small classes and enrolling them in a common set of courses designed to build their basic skills and propel them toward graduation, according to the report by New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions is a large school-support organization that oversees 75 city schools, including Telly.

The Bay Ridge school keeps a close eye on each student’s march (or crawl) toward a diploma, the report says.

Each incoming class is assigned an academic advisor who sticks with those students for four years, monitoring their attendance and grades to catch students before they fall off track. The school also splits its freshmen and sophomores into three “small learning communities” of about 100 students apiece, which are led by a team of three core-subject teachers who meet daily to discuss their charges’ progress.

“Kids know very quickly that if something happens in one class, the teacher from their other class is going to know about it,” Weinberg told the report’s authors.

Telly, which is open to all students, achieves a higher graduation rate than the city average (83 percent compared to 61 percent) while serving a greater share of students with disabilities (22.5 percent at Telly versus 17.5 percent citywide).

The report attributes this in part to those learning communities. The school mixes typical students and those with special needs in each of the three groups, but it clusters the special-needs students strategically: those with disabilities in one group, English language learners in another, and students who are behind in reading in the third group.

“It’s a complicated idea,” said Susan Fairchild, one of the report’s authors, “but it’s brilliant.”

Still, the report notes that Telly struggles to push “chronically low-performing students,” including those who enter the school far below grade level, to graduate within four years — or at all. Schools across the country grapple with a similar problem, the report adds.

It remains to be seen whether Weinberg will try to spread any of these strategies to other high schools in his new role at Tweed. But it seems likely that his boss will back him up if he tries — after all, Fariña penned the foreword to the Telly report.

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.”