coming soon

Carranza is ready to approve an integration plan for Brooklyn middle schools. Here’s a guide to the potential changes.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
An integration plan for District 15 was created after a public engagement process that included parents, educators, and community members.

The new school year could start off with a dramatic new integration plan for Brooklyn middle schools.

In a radio appearance Tuesday morning, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said he expected to approve admissions changes in District 15 within the next 48 hours.

“I think that you can expect a decision from my office very, very soon,” he said. “I’m really excited about it.”

The plan has been years in the making, and it comes on the heels of a different, more controversial move to desegregate middle schools in Manhattan.

Here’s a guide to help you get up to speed on the latest proposal, which affects schools in brownstone neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, and immigrant enclaves such as Sunset Park and Red Hook.

What’s being proposed?

The proposal is sweeping: It calls on the city to completely eliminate selective admission criteria at middle schools in District 15, and to give underserved students priority in the application process. Advocates are also pushing a number of initiatives to make schools more open and inclusive of all students.

Under the current system, families in District 15 apply to middle schools rather than being assigned to a school based on their address. All but one of the district’s middle schools are “screened” — meaning they set admissions criteria based on factors like a student’s fourth grade test scores or report card grades.

Under the proposal, families would still be free to choose which schools to apply to. But screening would be eliminated — even auditions for performing arts programs would go away — and replaced with a lottery. In an effort to enroll a similar share of students who are harder to serve, every middle school would give priority for 52 percent of seats to students who are poor, learning English, or live in temporary housing. That percentage is in line with the district average.

The plan offers a stark alternative to the way many schools in New York City currently enroll students: About a quarter of all middle schools screen applicants — a practice that is often seen as a way to help keep middle class families in the school system. But critics say it exacerbates segregation, since disadvantaged students are more likely to struggle in school, and middle class families are better positioned to navigate a complicated admissions system.

In addition to the admissions changes, the plan for District 15 calls for anti-bias training, hiring more teachers of color, and ensuring equal investments in programming across schools. Advocates say those kinds of moves, among many others that have been recommended, are important for making sure integration goes deeper than just demographic changes.   

How did we get here?

The proposal is the result of months of public input, dozens of public meetings, and years of advocacy.

The city hired WXY Studio, an urban planning and design firm, to solicit ideas and gather feedback from parents, educators, and activists across the district. That work began this past winter, with a series of public workshops, intimate meetings with PTAs and community groups, direct phone calls to local leaders, and email blasts to parents. It culminated with a set of recommendations based on what community members said they wanted.

But the integration push in District 15 goes even farther back, with parents and the local Community Education Council lobbying for years for a process like the one that ultimately played out. Integration advocates have called it one of the more thoughtful and inclusive processes to date, with small group sessions that allowed parents to talk face-to-face about complicated topics, and an emphasis on including parents who don’t speak English as a first language.

Advocates say that’s why they were able to come up with such a sweeping proposal — without the amount of pushback that integration plans in other districts have generated.

Matt Gonzales, who lobbies for school integration with the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said the one-on-one conversations allowed “people to humanize each other.”

“I really applaud the process because it did mitigate some of the backlash and some of the racist, classist, coded things that have been said” elsewhere, he said.

Still, as with any dramatic changes involving schools, race, and class, the plan hasn’t been completely well received. Some have said even more should have been done to make sure a more diverse group of voices were included. Other parents have said they’re reluctant to raise their concerns because they don’t want to be perceived as fighting integration, or worry that the changes could unintentionally encourage neighborhoods to gentrify further.  

What happens next?

The proposal on the table now is just a recommendation that requires Carranza to sign off. He could choose to approve some parts of the plan and not others, or add new elements.

But advocates are expecting the final changes to hew closely to what they’ve proposed.

Carranza has signaled his eagerness to approve what the community has come up with, and has questioned the very screening process that parents now want to eliminate. Plus, the education department was at the table every step of the way while the plan was being created.

“I am really excited about the work that the parents, and teachers and principals and community members have done in District 15,” he said Tuesday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer show. “Talk about a thoughtful and very powerful way of changing the way we look at opportunities for our students.”

Carranza said final approval would come within the next few days.

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.