a five-borough tour

On her 50th first day, New York City chancellor tours schools carrying out her vision

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Chancellor Carmen Fariña and City Council education committee chair Daniel Dromm on Wednesday.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña spent her 50th first day of school traversing New York’s five boroughs, showing off schools that highlight her favored initiatives: “community schools,” dual-language programs, the city’s school-turnaround program, and pre-kindergarten.

This school year will begin with 130 new community schools, which provide wraparound services such as counseling and health services; 94 “Renewal” schools, which will have an infusion of resources designed to boost academics; 40 new dual-language programs, designed to mix native English speakers with those who speak other languages; and more than 65,000 students registered for full-day pre-K.

Those efforts come with greater stakes than ever for Mayor Bill de Blasio. He will soon have to mount a new campaign for mayoral control of the city’s schools, and he faces continuing questions — from local critics and state officials alike — about the city’s plans for improving education.

On his first-day-of-school visit, he said some additional initiatives would be coming soon. For her part, Fariña seemed pleased with the progress the city has made under her 20-month tenure as she criss-crossed the city Wednesday.

“I’ve always loved the first day of school,” she said at P.S. 59 on Staten Island. “I generally do not sleep the night before, but I will tell you that I slept very well last night,” she said, a reference to her belief that New York City schools are on the right path.

Staten Island: Universal pre-K

Three-year-old Ameya Weichun swung on a playground outside P.S. 59 a few feet from where Mayor Bill de Blasio, flanked by Fariña, would soon say the city is experiencing a “moment in history.” De Blasio and Farina both touted the growth of the city’s universal pre-K programs, which will allow children like Ameya to attend a full day of school.

Ameya donned a polka dot skirt and a purple Band-Aid on one side of her head, which her mother, Jo Weichun, said was from a “hula-hoop incident.” Ameya, her mother said, loves to paint and loves to dance. She is thrilled that Ameya will now have another outlet for her creativity.

“A child’s brain is like a sponge,” Weichun said.

Brooklyn: A personal trip

Next Farina visited P.S. 29, an elementary school in Brooklyn. The trip was a personal journey for the chancellor.

“Many, many years ago I used to be a teacher in this classroom,” Fariña said, as she walked into a room of students saying “wow” as they watched reporters file in with cameras.

The students sat on a rug as their teacher asked whether anyone had a question for the chancellor. A student with a red shirt and a star shaved into the side of his head raised his hand and asked about when Fariña taught in the school.

“What was it like?” he inquired.

It was a different time, Fariña said, but “kids are pretty much the same.”

Queens: Dual language

At P.S. 212 in Queens, Fariña spoke in Spanish and English about the city’s new language programs. The school that Farina visited is one of the 40 with new or expanded dual-language programs, which group native English speakers and students who speak different languages.

Inside one fourth-grade classroom, students were asked to write their goals for the year on Post-it notes.

Some said the classroom should be “clen” and others wrote “clean.” A student wrote that the classroom should be “foucused” and another wrote that students should “work together and pay attcion.”

As for their goals, students wrote that they wanted to be better at math, reading, spelling or “sciecns.”

Bronx: Community schools

The trip to the Bronx included a stop at Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies, a small high school designed to provide wraparound services to help address student needs.

A billboard on the wall outside the school’s health center detailed a host of medical services that students could seek, from dental check-ups to birth control. Words like “vaccines,” “community health” and “female condoms” peppered the board.

Farina made a point of discussing the school’s mental health services as well, noting that the city’s community schools initiative will be focusing on helping students address mental health issues that can make it difficult to learn.

Manhattan: Renewal schools

The last stop on the tour was Renaissance School of the Arts, a Manhattan middle school that is part of the city’s school-turnaround effort. This is a high-stakes year for the Renewal schools, which have received additional funding, added time to their school days, and new community partnerships but face reorganization or closure if they do not improve.

The chancellor praised the art curriculum at the Renaissance School, which she said will help students with social and emotional skills. Then she listened to students play their first day of band music.

“And now we’re going back to energize the troops at Tweed because we have a lot of work to do,” Fariña said.

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”