a new plan

These 50 New York City schools could boost teacher pay and get other perks under new Bronx Plan

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat
Staff members collaborate during an attendance meeting in the Bronx.

City officials on Friday announced 50 schools that will be allowed to boost certain staffers’ salaries and give teachers formal decision-making power in their schools — but the plan raised the ire of the principals union.

The Bronx Plan, unveiled as a part of the latest teachers union contract in October, will allow schools in three boroughs to give certain staffers bonuses of up to $8,000 — an effort to persuade teachers to work in the hardest-to-staff schools. Among the participating schools, about 15 percent of their teachers leave each year on average, officials said.

Also included in the plan: a new “collaborative schools model” where teachers and principals will work together on committees to identify their challenges and devise solutions. Teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew has argued the collaboration is even more important than the potential salary bump, empowering teachers to shape school cultures that make them want to stay.

But the union representing principals pushed back hard on Friday. Just as city leaders announced the first crop of Bronx Plan schools, the Council for Schools Supervisors and Administrators announced in a letter to its members that the union had filed a complaint with the state employees relations board over the plan. The union declined to share the complaint with Chalkbeat. 

CSA argues they were cut out of negotiations while the city dealt directly with principals. Union chief Mark Cannizzaro wrote that the education department “attempted to pressure and coerce targeted principals to participate,” and accuses city officials of “misleading and misrepresenting” the status of their bargaining efforts with CSA. He added that the plan will change the duties and responsibility of principals — changes that should have been bargained with the union.

“Unfortunately, our consistent calls to honor the place of school leaders and CSA in a genuine and collaborative way in the rollout of the Bronx Plan have fallen on deaf ears,” Cannizzaro wrote.

Education department officials said schools were “invited to apply” and both the principal and teachers union chapter leader were required to sign off. Schools were eligible based on their location in the city, staff turnover rate, students’ academic performance, and whether there were high levels of trust among staff members, as measured by surveys. Despite the plan’s name, more than a third of the accepted schools are not located in the borough: 11 are in Brooklyn and seven are in Queens.

Although 50 schools were announced Friday, the city plans to eventually spread the program to 180 schools (120 of which will try the collaborative model) across the city in the next three years.

The teams of teachers and administrators will also be eligible for mini-grants that they could choose to spend on new curriculum, provide translation services, or participate in trainings to learn how to better serve specific populations of students, such as those who are homeless, officials said.

At I.S. 318 in the Bronx, principal Njoku Uchechukwu said he hoped that his school’s newly formed committee would zero in on student recruitment and attendance; nearly a third of his students are considered chronically absent. With help from up to $25,000 in mini-grants that Bronx Plan schools will be eligible for, he said the school could bring in an outside expert to examine their attendance outreach programs.

But an even bigger benefit, Uchechukwu said, are the salary bonuses. At city recruitment fairs, “I’ve had to practically beg people to come” visit the school. “It’s not the burnt-out parking lots you see in the movies — there’s a vibrant community here,” he added.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, Cannizzaro said the CSA will “100 percent” support those principals who opted-in to the Bronx Plan, and said that scrapping the agreement now would be “counterproductive” because it would pull back needed resources that come with the program.

Rather, he said he hopes the union’s complaint will bring city leaders to the table to hash out a solution to school leaders’ concerns. The issue could come up at the bargaining table: CSA is currently in negotiations with the city for a new contract, which is set to expire this spring.

“We’re not looking to stop progress in any way. What really we find troubling is the fact that they’ve been touting all over the city this collaborative approach but they didn’t collaborate with us,” Cannizzaro said.

Without directly referencing the principal union, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza brushed off potential criticism of the plan during a press conference at the Highbridge Green School, during which neither he nor the mayor took questions. He said some teachers or administrators might be resistant to the new collaborations. “There may be voices that say to you, why do you want to do this?” Carranza said. “Let me just say, haters are gonna hate.”

The Bronx Plan is similar to previous efforts to improve city schools, including salary incentives and a program known as PROSE, which allowed administrators and teachers to work together to sidestep certain union rules. Those changes were typically minor, however, and some evidence suggested they didn’t lead to improvements in student test scores.

Still, city officials pointed out that the salary boosts in the new Bronx Plan are more targeted at hard-to-staff positions in contrast to previous efforts, which applied to entire schools.

“We’re helping our educators come to the Bronx, stay in the Bronx, serve the children in the Bronx, and be leaders within their schools,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “Circle it on your calendar because you’re going to remember for a long time when something very big began right here.”

Other large efforts to improve schools haven’t had the results city officials had hoped for. De Blasio’s Renewal turnaround program, a $770 million effort to turn around 94 struggling schools, has posted uneven results. Unlike Renewal, which effectively labeled schools as failing, the Bronx Plan is not necessarily targeted at the city’s lowest-performing schools, and does not require they all use the same strategies to spur improvements. (Eleven Renewal schools and one Rise school are also in the Bronx Plan.)

Here is a full list of schools in the Bronx Plan:

Bronx

P.S. 277

Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School

Bronx Leadership Academy II High School

The Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters

Renaissance High School for Musical Theater & Tech

M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar

Bronx River High School

The Hunts Point School

Soundview Academy for Culture and Scholarship

Gotham Collaborative High School

Bronx Arena High School

School for Tourism and Hospitality

J.H.S. 022 Jordan L. Mott

P.S. 063 Author’s Academy

New Millennium Business Academy Middle School

The Highbridge Green School

M.S. 593

M.S. 594

Kingsbridge International High School

High School for Teaching and the Professions

Fordham Leadership Academy

Academy for Scholarship and Entrepreneurship: A College Board School

North Bronx School of Empowerment

Leaders of Tomorrow

Bronxdale High School

Pelham Gardens Middle School

P.S. 214

Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School

Fairmont Neighborhood School

I.S. X318 Math, Science & Technology Through Arts

Bronx Envision Academy

P.S. 536

Brooklyn

High School for Civil Rights

World Academy for Total Community Health High School

The School for Classics: An Academy of Thinkers

P.S. 150 Christopher

P.S. 165 Ida Posner

The Gregory Jocko Jackson School of Sports, Art, and Technology

P.S. 327 Dr. Rose B. English

Brownsville Collaborative Middle School

Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School

Mott Hall Bridges Academy

Teachers Preparatory High School

Queens

P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam

P.S. 43

M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo

P.S. 197 The Ocean School

Village Academy

Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability

Rockaway Collegiate High School

study says...

Can charter operators turn around district schools? In Atlanta, two are trying and finding extra challenges

A UNICEF Kid Power Event at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for UNICEF)

When Atlanta Public Schools decided to hand over control of one of its struggling elementary schools, the leaders of a small charter network raised their hands.

In its application to run the school, Kindezi leaders said it had posted strong results at its two charter schools and was ready to spread its model. But the job proved much more difficult than they expected.

The students at the turnaround school were far behind academically, and many were entering and exiting the school, making it tough to establish a new school culture.

“One of the things that we weren’t really prepared for was the level of trauma for a lot of our student population,” said Danielle Washington, the Kindezi turnaround principal. “Knowing superficially — looking at the demographics — what the environment was like [and] actually being in it is very different.”

“Frankly, organizationally, we weren’t ready to do it,” said Dean Leeper, Kindezi’s founder.

A new study on Atlanta’s turnaround efforts shows that Kindezi’s results were uneven, as were results at a few other Atlanta schools taken over by an outside operator.

The Kindezi school had some clear successes: large gains on math tests, as well as moderate improvements in reading. But students’ already-low science and social studies scores dropped sharply, and suspension rates spiked, too.

At three other schools run by another external operator, math scores also jumped — but so did suspensions, and scores in other subjects were flat.

The results come from just one or two years of data, and most agree that a successful turnaround takes more time. The same study also showed tepid results for an improvement strategy that kept the schools under district control.

Still, the mix of findings and reported struggles in Atlanta underscore the challenges of exporting charter models to new environments, especially existing schools. This charter takeover approach has taken root in a growing number of cities, including Camden, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and San Antonio.

“If you’re going to use charters, you have to realize that even those that are experienced and seasoned are not going to enter into this [turnaround] work totally prepared,” said Joshua Glazer, a professor at George Washington University who has studied charter takeovers in Tennessee. “There is going to be a significant learning curve.”

The challenge: Two external groups, five struggling schools

Two local groups — Kindezi and Purpose Built Schools, a nonprofit connected to the Drew charter school — won Atlanta’s competitive application process to take over five schools the district considered low performing.

They won backing from national philanthropy. Two of the schools got $325,000 start-up grants from the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. (Walton is a funder of Chalkbeat.) The two turnaround groups also got money from RedefinED, a local nonprofit that recently received funding from the City Fund. Walton also paid $900,000 for the research firm Mathematica to study Atlanta’s turnaround strategies.

The four schools the researchers examined saw big changes after the external groups took over. Their teachers were no longer employed by the district, for one, and those who wanted to remain had to reapply for their jobs.

The schools, though, continued to enroll students from the neighborhood, keeping attendance boundaries intact — unlike the enrollment setup for most charter schools.

The results were all over the place.

After one year, Kindezi-school students in grades three through five jumped from the 29th percentile in the district in math to roughly the 43rd percentile — a big improvement. There was also an uptick in English scores.

But results on science and social studies exams (only administered to fifth-graders) fell precipitously compared to similar schools — dropping from the 24th to the 13th percentile in social studies, for instance.

Washington, the Kindezi principal, said that may be a result of her school’s choice to emphasize basic math and reading skills after realizing how far behind students were.

“We had to make some tough decisions on what to prioritize,” she said. “We definitely paid for it on the science and social studies end, but we were able to make some dents [in] reading.”

The Kindezi school also saw a sharp increase in suspension rates, though some staff members suggested that that might be because suspensions had previously been under-reported.

The three other schools — which followed the Drew charter model, with extra learning time and nonacademic support — also had mixed results. In year one, math scores increased and chronic absenteeism declined, compared to similar schools. There were no clear effects in three other subjects, though, and suspension rates jumped 8 percentage points.

In the first school taken over, math scores continued to improve in year two, but there were still no gains in other subjects. And, alarmingly, chronic absenteeism increased by 8 percentage points.

Turnaround leaders say challenges are greater than in charter schools

Barbara Preuss, who oversees principals at Purpose Built Schools, said her network had found that the students at turnaround schools were much different than the students they had previously served.

“Our children live in an environment where they experience a lot more trauma than children that are attending Drew charter,” she said. “We also are dealing with a high transiency rate, which the charter school does not have.”

In response, Preuss said the schools have brought therapists and social workers to schools; connected families to pro bono housing lawyers; and begun offering after school programs, providing dinners, and stocking food pantries. The schools have even directly employed two dozen parents to help with things like attendance and family events.

Preuss said the schools had seen attendance rates grow and student turnover and suspensions decline this year.

Washington said the Kindezi school had adapted as well, adding time for science and social studies in the second half of this year.

Leeper said the experience offers a lesson to other charter leaders.

“I do think some of the charter world … we underestimate the challenges that are faced in the traditional public schools,” he said. “It definitely is humbling.”

That sentiment, Glazer said, mirrored what he heard from charter leaders who had attempted takeovers in Tennessee. “That could be right off the pages of our transcripts from Memphis,” he said.

Atlanta’s district-focused turnaround strategy also didn’t produce major improvements

Having charter school operators take over struggling district schools has succeeded at raising test scores in New Orleans and in Boston. In Memphis, though, the strategy had no effect, even after five years.

Meanwhile, school turnarounds have proven difficult with or without charter schools.

Atlanta’s other turnaround strategy, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, flooded 13 district schools with additional support, including math and reading specialists, an extended school day or year, and coordinators to connect students with out-of-school support.

Results were uneven at those schools, too, the Mathematica study found, with bumps in math scores in year two but no other clear improvements.

“You can find examples of places that have successfully turned schools around other district management and you can find examples of places that have successfully turned around using charters,” said Brian Gill, one of the Mathematica researchers. “It’s not as if there is any clear indication that one of these approaches is superior to the other.”

Code of conduct

Tennessee’s ‘parent dress code’ bill clears first legislative hurdle

PHOTO: Chalkbeat/Marta W. Aldrich
The State Capitol in Nashville is home to the Tennessee General Assembly.

Every Tennessee school district would have to develop a code of conduct for parents and other school visitors under a bill that narrowly advanced out of a House subcommittee on Tuesday.

The measure aims to tamp down on problems that arise when visitors show up to school wearing inappropriate attire, using inappropriate language, playing loud music, or bringing other unwelcome behaviors on campus.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson

“We’re telling school districts to come up with a baseline level of behavior for any person who steps on campus,” whether it’s a parent, vendor, or guest, said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who is sponsoring the proposal along with Sen. Dolores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville.

“It’s all about contributing to an enhanced or better learning environment,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson has gotten national attention with his so-called “parent dress code” bill, which he filed after getting complaints from parents about sexually suggestive or gang-inspired clothing that other parents were wearing to school.

The bill passed 4-3, but not before several lawmakers questioned the proposed mandate, especially when school districts already can create a code of conduct for visitors if they see a need.

Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican from Bean Station, called the measure “overreach” by state government, and Rep. Ryan Williams, a Republican from Cookeville, agreed.

“I don’t like us telling locals to do something they can do anyway,” Williams said.

Parkinson emphasized the importance of having a process in place so that parents and other visitors understand what’s appropriate attire or behavior when they enter a school building.

The problem “is pervasive because nobody has told people what is expected. What we’re doing is more of an awareness campaign,” Parkinson said.

Rep. Mark White, who chairs the full House Education Committee where the bill is now headed, said he supports the idea.

“When I visit schools, it’s a shame that you have to address this because parents should know better,” White said, citing inappropriate clothing as the biggest problem. “I’ve seen too much of it, and it’s not a pretty sight.”

Rep. David Byrd added that the policy might also cut down on fights at sporting events on school campuses, even as others expressed concern that the proposal could open up school districts to even more problems.

“The reason we don’t have such a code of conduct is because the enforcement is questionable,” said Chuck Cagle, an attorney who represents the state superintendents group.

Tennessee law already requires school districts to develop a code of conduct for students.