equity and excellence

City will hire 100 reading coaches to kick off of universal literacy initiative

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
A student works on independent reading at East Flatbush Community Research School in Brooklyn.

New York City’s push to have every third-grade student reading on grade level will begin with a hundred educators dispatched to coach reading teachers in key districts, officials said Thursday.

The first step in the city’s universal literacy program — a cornerstone of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education agenda — is to place those 100 reading coaches in schools in four high-needs districts in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Coaches may teach some lessons, but their focus will be training teachers, not on helping individual students who have fallen behind.

“It’s not going to be a reading specialist — the terminology is really important here,” said Esther Friedman, the education department’s director of literacy. “The coaches’ main responsibility is to train the early grade teachers.”

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The city is currently looking for that first group of coaches, and Chancellor Carmen Fariña is calling on elementary school teachers to apply this week. In a letter sent to those teachers, Fariña described the positions as way for teachers to be a part of a bigger-picture effort to improve education in New York City and promised they would receive significant support.

“All reading coaches will receive training from local and nationally acclaimed leaders in the literacy field, and will be part of a network of instructional leaders across the City,” Fariña wrote.

The reason the city chose to focus on improved reading instruction is clear: Only about 30 percent of city students are proficient in English in third grade. The city has met that statistic with lofty goals: Over the next six years, the city has pledged to increase that number to over 60 percent, and to have every student reading on grade level by 2026.

The city’s main weapon to accomplish that goal is the new reading coaches. Their numbers are expected to grow to nearly 300 in fall 2018 and more than 470 by 2019.

The first 100 will be sent to elementary schools in districts 9 and 10 in the Bronx and districts 17 and 32 in Brooklyn. Friedman said those were chosen because they had the largest share of third-grade students earning a level 1 of 4 on the state English exams. As the program expands, the city will send coaches to other high-need districts, she said.

Within schools, coaches will focus on research-based strategies to help students improve their reading skills. They are looking towards five components of reading identified by the National Reading Panel as key to developing literacy skills.

“We’re really going to focus on research,” Friedman said. “We are going to focus on turning that research into good practice.”

breaking

Two injured in Noblesville West Middle School shooting, suspect in custody

One adult and one teen were injured in a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School Friday morning, according to the Indiana State Police and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. The suspect is in custody.

The adult victim was taken to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and the teen victim was taken to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. Their families have been notified. No information is available on their status.

Police detained a male student from Noblesville West. They do not believe there are any additional suspects.

Students are being moved to Noblesville High School gym, where families can meet students.

At a press conference at about 11:20 a.m. Friday, Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the police are aware of an additional threat at Noblesville High School, but they have “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer said parents may pick up their children early from schools in the district, but school will remain in session until regular dismissal. She thanked her staff and city officials for their patience and quick help.

“As we learn more we’ll continue to communicate, as we have been, with our families,” she said.

Noblesville Police Department Public Information Officer Bruce Barnes hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only one the ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

In a statement Friday, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb said that about 100 state police officers were available to assist local responders.

“Our thoughts are with all those affected by this horrible situation,” he said.

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene.

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students in Hamilton County, a suburban community just north of Indianapolis. The district has just over 10,500.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and 3 staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

This story will be updated.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”