rebooting renewal

Fariña, de Blasio and Mulgrew aim to fire up principals at Renewal event

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured together last year, each addressed principals of schools in the Renewal program on Monday.

This school year isn’t yet over, but the principals and nonprofit leaders taking part in the city’s high-stakes school turnaround initiative are already focused on the next one.

A private event for the 94 low-performing schools on Monday featured words of encouragement from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, along with time for schools to refine their improvement plans for next year. Principals said the event was part pep rally, part professional development session, and was designed to energize those who will be on the front lines as the city tries to prove it can improve those schools with a combination of academic help and resources to meet students’ non-academic needs.

“I have to say that failure is not an option,” Fariña said, according to a transcript provided by her spokeswoman. “There are many people watching what’s happening in New York City. Not just in the state, but across the country.”

The event, which took place at New York University, also included speeches from teachers union President Michael Mulgrew and principals union President Ernest Logan. Mulgrew told the attendees that the program offered an “opportunity to shut up the critics,” according to a union chapter leader who tweeted some paraphrased remarks.

Their remarks reflect the high stakes attached to the city’s program, which takes a very different approach to school improvement than de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg, whose strategies included closing struggling schools and replacing them. De Blasio’s “Renewal” program is meant to offer schools all the resources they need to succeed before the city considers more dramatic shake-ups or closure. But schools don’t have much time: Many of the new services will make their debut at the start of next school year, giving schools two years to meet their goals.

Principals spent Monday finalizing the school improvement plans that are due to the state by the end of July. Drafts were due June 19, and Monday’s meeting gave principals a chance to revise them with feedback from their superintendents. Revised drafts are due Wednesday.

Those plans will include the student performance benchmarks that the schools will have to hit by 2017. Next year, elementary and middle schools will be expected to show improved attendance, while high schools will also be expected to show some academic gains. All schools also have some choice as to how they will be judged, and can choose other metrics, including parent and student survey results and high school graduation data.

“The best Renewal Schools I’ve been visiting already have data all over their bulletin boards,” Fariña told attendees. “When you walk into that office and right away you know who the bottom quartile kids, which kids need more math support, which kids need more reading support.”

A principal who attended said that the presence of city leaders offered a sense of shared responsibility.

“Those are all the people responsible for the work,” said the principal, who declined to provide her name because she was not authorized to discuss the meeting. “Our success is their success and our failure is their failure.”

Also present at the event were representatives from community-based organizations, which are partnering with schools to provide non-academic services as part of a broader strategy to convert the struggling schools into “community schools.” The city is planning to spend up to $108 million on the Renewal program next year, much of which will go toward paying teachers to work longer school days and for contracts with those outside providers.

“This is not an add-on; it’s not an extra, because these are not after school programs,” Fariña said of the programs. “This is: how do you work in classrooms with teachers, particularly if there’s social-emotional support that you’re giving students and teachers?”

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.”