Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

while you were sleeping

Bronx transfer school is shuttered after late-night vote, a first for Chancellor Carranza

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Supporters of Crotona Academy protested against the city's plans to close it at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

Chancellor Richard Carranza’s introduction to New York City continued Wednesday with an eight hour meeting in which teachers and students desperately pled for their school not to be closed, only to have the city school board vote to shutter it.

Even after hearing a musical performance from students hoping to keep Crotona Academy open, the Panel for Educational Policy voted around 1 a.m. Thursday to shutter the Bronx high school that serves students who have struggled at traditional high schools.


Some of the school’s supporters appealed directly to Carranza, arguing that he should reconsider proposals created under his predecessor, Carmen Fariña.

“You see how many people are here right now — people want this school open,” said Dallas Joseph, a 17-year-old student at the school. He noted that the school offers lots of individualized attention and set him up with a job at an after-school program. “They gave us a different type of opportunity.”

It’s an argument that supporters of the city’s “transfer” high schools, which serve students who have fallen behind in credits at traditional schools and are likely to be at risk of dropping out, have long made when the city has called attention to their low performance. Advocates for the schools have long pointed out that looking at graduation rates and test scores is not the best way to assess their value, and in the past, city officials have withdrawn closure proposals for transfer schools that they said were doing better than performance data suggested.

Indeed, Crotona’s supporters said traditional statistics mask the school’s successes. Former students said the school helped them get to graduation despite falling behind at other high schools. And staffers pointed out the school serves an unusually vulnerable population.

“Our population is among the most at-risk in the city,” said Nicholas Rivera, a staff member at the school.

Their argument did not fly overnight. City officials said Crotona is too low-performing to stay open and that other transfer schools in the Bronx have enough space to absorb its students. The school’s 45 percent graduation rate puts it among the bottom third of all transfer schools, according to education department documents, and just 1 percent of the students who graduated last school year were considered “college-ready.”

“We take the decision to close a school extremely seriously, and we only propose closure when it’s in the best interest of students and families,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman wrote in an email. “The students at Crotona Academy can be better served by one of the stronger transfer schools in the Bronx.”

Carranza did not comment as the panel debated the proposal or another contentious one to merge two other Bronx transfer schools: Bedford Stuyvesant Preparatory High School and Brooklyn Academy High School. Nor did he comment on the decisions after they were made around 1 a.m.

The final vote on both proposals was 7-5, with mayoral appointees voting in favor, and all five borough representatives voting no. (While Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would let his appointees vote as they wished, he recently replaced a mayoral appointee who voted against a city proposal.)

The panel also voted to merge six other schools — a process that some school communities often experience as de facto closures.

  • Holcombe L. Rucker and Longwood Preparatory Academy, both part of the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program for low-performing schools.
  • Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies and East Flatbush Community Research School, in Brooklyn
  • Aspirations Diploma Plus High School and W.E.B. Dubois Academic High School, also transfer schools, in Brooklyn

In with the new

Newark school board selects new leaders after raucous vote

PHOTO: Newark Press Information Office
Members of the Newark school board in February with Mayor Ras Baraka and former Superintendent Christopher Cerf.

Newark’s school board has new leadership after a vote Tuesday that was disrupted by hecklers claiming the vote was rigged.

Josephine Garcia, a city councilman’s aide whose children attended charter and magnet schools in Newark, was elected as board chairwoman. Dawn Haynes, who works in the mayor’s office and whose children attend Newark district schools, was chosen to be vice chairwoman.

The new leadership, which will oversee the selection of a new district superintendent next month, is taking over just months after the state ended its decades-long takeover of the district and returned full authority to the board. Haynes and two other new members who were elected to the board last week — Yambeli Gomez and Asia Norton — were sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting.

Observers have been watching closely to see whether the city’s political leaders would try to influence the elected board now that it has regained control over the schools. In particular, many wonder how much power Mayor Ras Baraka and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos will hold over the board now that all nine members — including the newest three — ran on slates that were chosen and endorsed by the two men, along with the charter-school sector.

Some critics believed that Baraka and Ramos told the board members whom to choose as their new leaders. As soon as voting began at the public meeting Tuesday, some audience members started to boo and shout, “The community should vote!” and “This is Anibal Ramos’ and Ras Baraka’s board!” The shouting, which lasted for more than 20 minutes and at times brought the meeting to a halt, was led by two community activists who unsuccessfully ran in this year’s board race.

The same group of people cheered when board members Leah Owens and Kim Gaddy nominated one another for chair and vice chair, though no other members voted for them. After the meeting, Gaddy suggested that her colleagues had been influenced by their political patrons.

“As opposed to individual board members making that decision, you had politicians making that decision,” she said. “It’s unfortunate.”

An advisor to the mayor said she was not aware of anyone from his office instructing board members how to vote. Ramos’ chief of staff, Samuel Gonzalez, said the members chose their new leaders without any input from the councilman.

“These are nine individuals that were supported by the mayor, by Councilman Ramos and the North Ward Democratic Committee, and by ed reform,” he said, referring to pro-charter school groups. “We’re comfortable with whatever decision was made yesterday.”

The board will now turn its attention to choosing a new superintendent.

A search committee consisting of three board members and four people appointed by the mayor and the state education commissioner have been interviewing candidates. Owens, who is on the committee, said the interviews have concluded and the finalists will soon be presented to the board.

According to a state-created plan to guide the district’s return to local control, the board must vote on the new superintendent by May 31. A leading candidate is Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory.

After Tuesday’s vote, Garcia made brief remarks, which were partly drowned out by shouting. She promised to “be a chair of total inclusion” and to help shepherd the district’s transition back to local control.

“I look forward to working with you all in our ongoing mission to move our district forward,” she said.