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New York

Principal wears multiple hats to run special education school

Principal Ava Kaplan in her office at special education school, P186 in the Bronx. On a sunny Friday morning, the hallways in a Bronx school buzzed with excitement as students prepared to celebrate their prom in the first floor cafeteria, which had been converted into a disco-themed dance floor. Principal Ava Kaplan greeted a group of P186's eighth graders as parents, teachers, and other administrators hovered over them with cameras. Everyone gathered around to cheer the 29 students who, because of serious cognitive and physical disabilities, are part of the school's alternative assessment program. Kaplan bent down and waved one hand across her face. “Beautiful,” she said in sign language to a girl in a white lace dress. The prom is a welcomed break in Kaplan’s busy schedule – running a special education school requires the Bronx native to take on additional responsibilities than a district school principal would because of the extra support her students require inside and outside of the classroom. Now in her fifth year as principal, Kaplan's no-nonsense attitude helps her oversee the large special education school, which has five campuses, 542 students, and more than 200 staff members. The Bronx school is under the umbrella of the Department of Education's District 75, which encompasses all of the city's special education programs for students who have autism, cognitive and physical disabilities, hearing or speech impediments, and other serious issues that make it difficult for them to regularly attend a district school. As principal, Kaplan's duties often extend beyond the walls of P186. Some days, Kaplan is a social worker; other days, she’s a guardian. And everyday she’s a demanding boss who expects her staff to keep up with the complicated responsibilities that come with caring for some of the city's most challenged students. 
New York

With stricter credit recovery policy comes a push to do more

An impending crackdown on how students can make up failed classes has some schools scurrying to help students rack up missing credits this spring. Many schools allow students who are missing credits—either because they failed a class, or because circumstances kept them from attending or completing required work—to receiving course credit for completing extra assignments through a practice known as "credit recovery." The practice, which accounted for about 1.7 percent of credits earned last year, offers students the chance to pick up narrowly missed credits without having to repeat classes, but it has also been criticized for devaluing academic credits because the make-up assignments are often less in-depth than those required in the regular classes. Last month, following an audit that found errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools, the city announced that it would begin restricting credit recovery access to students, in part by capping the number of credits students may receive through credit recovery, limiting enrollment to students who attended at least two thirds of class they're making up, and allowing students to make up credits only in the months immediately after they fail a course. The new policies take effect July 1 — giving schools a four-month window to help students rack up credits before the restrictions kick in. Teachers and students at many schools said last week that they hadn't heard about the looming policy changes. But some of those who did said the news had motivated a credit recovery spree among students missing credits—a response Department of Education officials say is inappropriate. Students at a small school at the Lower East Side's Seward Park Campus, said administrators had individually told students who are missing credits that now is the time to finish credit recovery.
New York

School leaders share Danielson concerns at union-led trainings

Teachers brainstorm where features of the ideal classroom fit into the Danielson Framework's four domains. Training sessions about a classroom observation model opened up dialogue between teachers and principals this month, even after becoming a flashpoint in the city and teachers union's ongoing conflict over a new evaluation system. The city and union planned to host trainings on the teaching model the city hopes to adopt for its new evaluation system together. But after Mayor Bloomberg ratcheted up rhetoric against the union in the State of the City address, the union cut city officials out of the planning. The sessions began two weeks ago, drawing hundreds of attendees even after the Department of Education emailed principals informing them that the sessions were off. I spent an afternoon last week at a training session at the United Federation of Teachers' Bronx headquarters, where well over 100 union chapter leaders and their principals were receiving a crash-course on the Danielson Framework, a classroom observation model that serves as one component of the city's proposed evaluation system. The city has encouraged principals to practice using the Danielson Framework when conducting informal classroom observations this school year, and 140 schools have been piloting the observation model more formally. As an impasse over new teacher evaluations has deepened between the city and the UFT, a tension has emerged about whether the model is meant first to help teachers improve — the union’s position — or whether it is a tool to help principals usher weak teachers out of the system, as the city’s rhetoric has sometimes suggested. Catalina Fortino, the UFT’s vice president of education, said the purpose of the training sessions is to foster "a shared understanding" of the model for teachers and principals — an understanding that the city’s pilot of the Danielson framework had failed to develop, she said.
New York

Fernandez: More city grads lacked basic skills under Bloomberg

Dolores Fernandez, the Bronx's appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, appearing on BronxTalk. Graduates of the city's public high schools are falling so behind in reading and math that a community college remediation program doubled in size between 1998 and 2008, the college's former president said this week. Dolores Fernandez, who resigned from Hostos Community College last year is now serving as the Bronx borough president's appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, made the remarks in an interview on a Bronx television news program, BronxTalk. "I would have loved for the New York City public schools to put my remediation programs out of business, because that would mean that every kid graduating out of the schools could read, write, and do math," Fernandez said. Fernandez said that a hiking up of standards at CUNY's four-year colleges played some part in the growth of Hostos's remediation program. "But then you still have the regular group of kids who just are coming to us in need of a GED diploma, because they haven't graduated from the public schools, and when we get them, we're basically teaching them reading, writing, and math — I mean, basic levels," she said. The gloomy picture challenges Bloomberg's own claims about the public schools, which state figures show now graduate far more students since 2002. But Fernandez said she does not trust these figures as a fair picture of what is really happening, especially for the poor Latino community she served at Hostos Community College. You can watch the interview in the full two parts below. UPDATE: Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob points out in the comments section that a growing remediation program does not mean that more city students are struggling. His argument: the size of the program doesn’t tell you anything about the percentage of graduates who required remediation, because the number of public school graduates enrolling at CUNY community colleges has risen dramatically in recent years–70% between 2002 and 2008. Among Hispanic public school graduates, enrollment doubled over that same time period. With this many more students enrolling, of course the remediation program would expand, even if the percentage of graduates needing remediation fell. And, in fact, that percentage has fallen across all CUNY community colleges, from 82 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2008. Among all CUNY colleges, the remediation rate for public school graduates has fallen from 58% to 51%.
New York

Parent commission: Reduce mayor’s board appointees to three

After a long wait, a commission of parents led by outspoken critics of the Department of Education is unveiling its own proposal for how to change mayoral control. In testimony delivered to the Bronx Assembly hearing on mayoral control this morning, parents painted an ideal picture in which parent voices would gain power while the mayor would lose it. Their proposal is topped off by a radical answer to the question of how to change the Panel for Educational Policy — the effective citywide school board — that would both strengthen the powers of the board and reshape who sits on it. The board would include just three mayoral appointees compared to six parent representatives, plus a City Council appointee, an appointee of the public advocate,and four expert members selected jointly by the board. The commission is also proposing a stronger role for the CEC elected parent councils in each district. A key complaint about Mayor Bloomberg's leadership has been that parents are not included in decision-making about the schools. Some have criticized the DOE for not consulting those councils when choosing to open and close schools, as is required by law. Lisa Donlan, a commission member from Manhattan and the president of a CEC, testified that the state should create an "ombudsperson" role who would have the legal authority to advocate for parents when they aren't comfortable advocating for themselves. This role addresses the DOE's Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, which Freeman called "a way of distracting [parents], but not a way of helping them."