power struggle

City eyes Bronx AP to take over troubled Boys and Girls High School

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Boys and Girls High School has seen two principals depart since the Renewal program started.

The city is preparing to appoint a new principal to lead long-struggling Boys and Girls High School, according to multiple sources, and is leaning towards an assistant principal from the Bronx.

If the education department chooses Grecian Harrison, an assistant principal at Alfred E. Smith High School, it will have snubbed the choice of staffers and alumni at Boys and Girls. They have coalesced around Allison Farrington, the founding principal of Research and Service High School, a small school for struggling students housed inside Boys and Girls’ historic Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn campus. Sources said an announcement could come as soon as Monday.

The city has scrambled to find a new leader for Boys and Girls after Principal Michael Wiltshire decided last month to leave the school after less than two years. His abrupt departure has shaken the school at the center of the city’s high-profile turnaround program for troubled schools, leaving its future uncertain even as it remains under intense pressure to improve.

Once dubbed the “Pride and Joy of Bed-Stuy,” Boys and Girls has shrunk in size and stature in recent years. Its enrollment plunged from 2,300 students in 2010 to 340 today, and its graduation rate trails the city average by 20 points.

Wiltshire slashed the school’s suspension rate and helped lift its graduation rate 8 points, to 50 percent. But as the school braces for yet another new leader, it risks shattering those fragile gains.

Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson is said to favor Harrison to take over Boys and Girls, according to sources. (Harrison did not immediately respond to an email, and was not at Smith on Friday.) However, the education department may not have the final say: The city signed an agreement in 2014 that gave the teachers and principals unions a role in choosing any new leader for the school.

Last month, Boys and Girls’ teachers-union representative — along with members of the school’s alumni group, parent-teacher association, and school-leadership team — signed a letter to Fariña backing Farrington, along with two other potential candidates. On Friday, as word spread through the school that officials favored Harrison, the alumni group emailed Fariña to declare Farrington their chosen candidate.

Farrington referred questions to the education department, but multiple sources said she had interviewed for the position and was scheduled to meet with Fariña last week before the meeting was unexpectedly cancelled.

Boys and Girls staffers and alumni said she is extremely popular among those who know her. To assist Research and Service students who are impoverished or homeless, she created a food pantry in the building and installed a washer and dryer, said Sam Penceal, a leader of Boys and Girls’ alumni group. She has also lured students to school on Friday by cooking them breakfast, and offers them after-school and Saturday tutoring.

“This is the sort of thing that ought to be a model of what needs to happen in” Boys and Girls, Penceal said. A person who works at Boys and Girls said that community is “1000 percent backing her.”

The letter writers asked Fariña for more input in the principal-hiring process. “We deserve the right to select a leader from within our campus village who will hit the ground running in the right direction on Day 1,” they wrote.

People at Boys and Girls said they had not met Harrison, despite their calls for a role in the search. On Friday, as Harrison’s name circulated as the department’s top pick, several people connected to the school complained about being shut out of the decision-making process.

“They talk about community engagement,” one Boys and Girls staffer said, “but when we’re engaged, they don’t listen to us.”

Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye did not answer questions on Friday about the principal search, but said a decision was on the way.

“We look forward to building on the progress of Boys and Girls with a new principal, whom we expect to announce soon,” she said in a statement.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.