school shakeup

Nearly half the teachers and staff are leaving six of New York City’s struggling schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
John Adams High School in Queens, one of eight schools where teachers in recent years have had to reapply for their jobs.

Nearly half of the teachers and staff are leaving six of New York City’s most troubled schools — a significant shake-up at a few of the schools the de Blasio administration is on a tight timeline to improve.

The teachers, counselors, and other staffers at those schools were required to re-interview for their positions this spring as part of an agreement between state education officials, the city, and unions. All told, just 54 percent will return: 245 staffers were re-hired, while 112 were not and another 97 did not re-apply.

The six schools are August Martin, Banana Kelly, Fordham Leadership Academy, John Adams, and Lehman high schools, and J.H.S. 80, a middle school in the Bronx.

The staffing changes leave those schools with a major challenge: hiring teachers to fill the newly open positions by the start of the school year. All six have been labeled “out of time” by the state and are under intense pressure to raise attendance, test scores, and graduation rates.

It’s possible that many of the schools will end up with first-time teachers. After Automotive High School in Brooklyn went through this re-staffing process in 2015, the school hired a host of brand-new teachers over the summer. This year, nearly half of that school’s teachers were in the classroom for the first time.

Officials suggested that many of the departing teachers did not belong in those schools.

“As we work tirelessly to turn these schools around and serve their students, we must have the right leaders, the right teachers, and the right school staff in place,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

Of the six struggling schools, some will see more turnover than others.

Almost all of August Martin High School’s staffers are leaving: Only eight were re-hired, and 35 were not re-hired or chose not to apply. More than half of the teachers and staff at J.H.S. 80, Banana Kelly, and Fordham Leadership are also not returning.

John Adams High School, the largest of the six schools, will be more stable: While 66 staffers are not returning, 122 were re-hired.

During a similar process last year, most of the teachers at two of the city’s lowest performing schools did not return. At Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High School, 74 percent of the teaching staff did not return. At Automotive High School, 63 percent left.

The re-hiring decisions are made by committees that include the principal, education department officials, and union representatives.

Still, the teachers union leader said Thursday that the strategy was all wrong.

“Mandated re-staffing of out-of-time schools misdiagnoses the real problem: these schools have been hemorrhaging teachers for years,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. The “out of time” schools “need good leadership, support and stability, not another spin of the revolving door.”

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.”