listening in

What do Bronx parents want from Mayor de Blasio?

In the quiet neighborhood around Bronx Latin, residents had no clue Tuesday that Mayor Bill de Blasio was inside the high-performing public school preparing for a major education speech he would deliver there the following morning.

But, when asked, they had plenty of thoughts about what they’d like to hear the mayor say.

They wanted him to attend to perennial concerns like crowded classrooms and outdated textbooks, and to deliver on promises like more after-school programs and better-trained teachers. Several of the parents and students interviewed in the Longwood section of the South Bronx have ties to both charter and district schools, so many said they wanted the mayor to signal his support of both types of schools by fostering more cooperation among them.

And while many praised the mayor’s signature education initiative — his vast expansion of free, full-day pre-kindergarten — they also wondered how he plans help the many older students whose troubles at home or experiences at school have caused them to fall behind.

“Yes, you have to have a strong foundation,” said Toya Guy, 32, who has students in P.S. 146 as well as Success Academy Bronx 3 Charter School, and who commended the pre-K expansion. “But what about the children who are there already who didn’t have a strong foundation?”

De Blasio’s speech will offer some answers to that question, according to previews that City Hall provided to some media outlets Tuesday.

For instance, the city will hire reading specialists to make sure all elementary school students can read materials at their grade level, and will add more Advanced Placement classes in high schools, according to an Associated Press report. It will also require all schools to eventually offer computer-science instruction, according to the New York Times.

But if the mayor plans to announce some buzzworthy initiatives, many Bronx residents said they’re still waiting for the basics in a borough that — as in years past — fared far worse than any other on this year’s state exams.

Amari Rolle, an eighth-grade student at Accion Academy, a district middle school in the Tremont section, said his teachers often struggle to manage the many students packed into their classrooms, which never seem to have enough textbooks or computers.

“We’re always sharing,” he said.

Gail Gadsden is the parent liaison at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School. Her son attends Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School, a district school in the same building. She said charter and district schools should work together more.
Gail Gadsden is the parent liaison at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School. Her son attends Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School, a district school in the same building. She said charter and district schools should work together more.

Strong teachers can be found in every school, including those in the Bronx, several people said. Yet so can educators who seem under-prepared or ill-suited for the job.

The South Bronx has more new teachers and higher teacher turnover than most parts of the city. And it has the largest share of struggling schools in the city’s Renewal turnaround program (43 of the program’s 94 schools are in the Bronx) — schools where teachers are twice as likely to have received low ratings.

“Poor neighborhoods like ours get the worst teachers,” said David Rodriguez, a graduate of the Bronx’s recently closed Samuel Gompers High School, who is field director of the United Hispanic Construction Workers, a local nonprofit. “Therefore, we get the worst education.”

Among those who lauded de Blasio’s pre-K push was Silvia Castialli, a 23-year-old medical assistant who said it will let her work a full day while her daughter, Rose, begins learning to read and write.

The city’s plan for helping older students was less clear to others, such as Daiquan Feimster. He attended the now-defunct New Day Academy, a small high school that shared a building with Bronx Latin for the eight years it operated. He said the school, which was both launched and shuttered under former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, showed how that mayor’s approach had failed some students.

He said de Blasio must now do more to make sure all students leave the city’s high schools ready for college. Feimster, 21, said he has tried taking classes at a few local colleges, but it has exposed glaring holes in his education — such as an inability to write research papers.

In his senior English class, “what we did was fill-in-the-blank packets,” he said. “I really wasn’t prepared.”

The mayor isn’t expected to announce any major new policies involving charter schools in his speech, according to news reports, even though the building where he will deliver it also houses the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School. That school was in session Tuesday, so the mayor spoke briefly with its principal, Richard Burke, before heading to the auditorium to rehearse his address.

According to Burke, his school gets along well with Bronx Latin and the other district high school in the building, Bronx Career & College Preparatory High School. An apt symbol of that cooperation is Gail Gadsden, the charter school’s parent liaison whose son attends Bronx Career & College Prep. She said advocates on both sides of the charter-district debate have turned on one another rather than joining forces to improve public education.

“And it shouldn’t be that way,” said Gadsden, known by many in the school as “Mama G.” “All schools should be great schools.”

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.

turnaround

Aurora recommends interventions in one elementary school, while another gets more time

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Aurora school district officials on Tuesday will recommend turning over management of some operations at one of their elementary schools to an outside management company.

The school, Lyn Knoll Elementary, is located in northwest Aurora near 2nd Avenue and Peoria Street and serves a high number of students from low-income families, with 4 percent of students identified as homeless. The school was one of three Aurora schools that earned the lowest rating from the state in 2017.

That rating automatically flags the school under a district process for school interventions. The process directs district officials to consider a number of possible improvement plans, including closure or turning the school over to a charter school.

Lyn Knoll has had good rankings in recent years before slipping dramatically in the past year, a change that put it on the turnaround list. The district did not recommend intervening at Paris Elementary, even though that school has been in priority improvement for years and will face state sanctions if it has one more year without improvement.

Annual ratings for Lyn Knoll Elementary

  • 2010: Improvement
  • 2011: Improvement
  • 2012: Performance
  • 2013: Improvement
  • 2014: Priority Improvement
  • 2016: Performance
  • 2017: Turnaround
Colorado Department of Education

The board will discuss the recommendation on Tuesday and vote on the school’s fate next month. In November, four union-backed board members who have been critical of charter schools won a majority role on the district’s school board. This will be their first major decision since taking a seat on the board.

In September, Superintendent Rico Munn had told the school board that among January’s school improvement recommendations, the one for Paris would be “the most high-profile.” A month later the district put out a request for information, seeking ideas to improve Aurora schools.

But in a board presentation released Friday, district officials didn’t give much attention to Paris. Instead, they will let Paris continue its rollout of an innovation plan approved two years ago. Officials have said they are hopeful the school will show improvements.

The recommendation for Lyn Knoll represents more drastic change, and it’s the only one that would require a board vote.

The district recommendation calls for replacing the current principal, drafting a contract for an outside company to help staff with training and instruction, and creating a plan to help recruit more students to the school.

Documents show district officials considered closing Lyn Knoll because it already has low and decreasing enrollment with just 238 current students. Those same documents note that while officials are concerned about the school’s trends, it has not had a long history of low ratings to warrant a closure.

In considering a charter school conversion, documents state that there is already a saturation of charter schools in that part of the city, and the community is interested in “the existence of a neighborhood school.” Two charter networks, however, did indicate interest in managing the school, the documents state.
The district recommendation would also include stripping the school’s current status as a pilot school.

Lyn Knoll and other schools labeled pilot schools in Aurora get some internal district autonomy under a program created more than 10 years ago by district and union officials.

Because Lyn Knoll is a pilot school, a committee that oversees that program also reviewed the school and made its own recommendation, which is different from the district’s.

In their report, committee members explained that while they gave the school low marks, they want the school to maintain pilot status for another year as long as it follows guidance on how to improve.

Among the observations in the committee’s report: The school doesn’t have an intervention program in place for students who need extra help in math, families are not engaged, and there has not been enough training for teachers on the new state standards.

The report also highlights the school’s daily physical education for students and noted that the school’s strength was in the school’s governance model that allowed teachers to feel involved in decision making.

Read the full committee report below.