Esperanza Vazquez and other members of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, which released a new report Friday, at a District 9 rally in 2012. (Photo courtesy of New Settlement PAC.)
Michelle Reyes recalls that when her oldest daughter attended school in the South Bronx’s District 9 in the early 90s, many of her classmates learned little and dropped out.
Two decades later, when her youngest daughter was a district student, Reyes saw much of the same — many floundering schools and struggling students.
By some measures, such as graduation and dropout rates, District 9 has advanced with the rest of the city since Mayor Bloomberg took office. But the district remains stubbornly among the city's very lowest performers, and a new report by a parent-led advocacy group and a think tank argues that the next administration must aggressively attack the district's long-term problems.
The report, released Friday by the New Settlement Parent Action Committee and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, suggests several ways the de Blasio administration could do that, beginning by creating a district-level improvement plan with input gathered at public forums.
This is the second of two video profiles on students who received college scholarships from New Visions for Public Schools this year. Winners, who must attend high schools in the New Visions network, will receive up to $5,000 a year for all four years of college to pay for academic expenses. Read more about the nine other graduating seniors that New Visions honored.
In a one-bedroom apartment in the West Bronx where Diamond Walker lives with her younger brother and mother, she talks about how it was sometimes difficult to get her work done. There's violence on her block, neighbors doing drugs in her hallway, and, with the library an unsafe walk away, nowhere quiet to study.
"It's just really distracting and sometimes it's discouraging," said Walker, who graduated last month from the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. "You're trying to do so much to make it better and it seems like nothing is going the right way."
About 21 percent of the city's middle- and high-schoolers attend schools in the Bronx. But 48 percent of the summonses that police handed out in schools last year went to Bronx students.
That is one statistic about policing in city schools that the New York Civil Liberties Union is highlighting now that it has a full year of school policing data in hand. Since last year, the New York Police Department has been required to publish information every three months about arrests it has made and summonses it has issued in schools, where it has more than 5,000 officers assigned.
Between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, police officers made 882 arrests in city schools and issued 1,666 summonses for behavior, according to the NYCLU's tally of the year's data.
Virtually all of the arrests — more than 95 percent — were for black and Latino students, who make up about 70 percent of the city's enrollment. Three quarters were of male students. And 20 percent were of students between the ages of 11 and 14.
Two-thirds of the summonses were issued for "disorderly behavior," a category of offense that the NYLCU argues usually amounts to typical teenaged behavior. Those behaviors are best dealt with by educators, not by directing students into the criminal justice system, the group argues.
To learn more about what's in each photograph, click to read the caption.
When Ife Lenard and her crew first entered the third-floor classrooms that will house the Children's Aid Society Charter School this fall, they found a dusty rotary phone, a decades-old beer can, and lockers coated with grime from years of middle-schoolers' use.
But Lenard, the founding principal, can already envision how the classrooms — now gutted — will look come September, when the school opens to 130 kindergarten and first-graders in a South Bronx public school building.
That vision includes lots of floor rugs and tables for small-group activities, computer stations, fall colors such as "squash yellow," a terrarium, and an aquarium, Lenard said as she led a procession of Children's Aid Society officials, clad in bright orange hard hats, including director Richard Buery, on a walking tour of the school earlier this week.
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.
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.
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.
Lisa Fuentes, principal of Christopher Columbus High School in the East Bronx, at work in her first floor office.
"How many of you plan to go to tutoring?" Lisa Fuentes asked the crowd of Christopher Columbus High School seniors trickling into the first floor auditorium on a recent morning.
As she surveyed the thin show of hands, her voice shook. "Maybe 10? So I put thousands of dollars aside so you can have tutoring, and a handful of you are attending?"
"If you don't start taking this seriously, this is going to be the worst graduating class of the entire history of Columbus," she said.
In her nine years as Columbus’s principal, Fuentes has had countless, similarly tough conversations with her senior classes to remind them about uncompleted college applications, looming Regents exams, and missing course credits.
But she said she feels even more urgency this year, because she knows she is running out of time to reach the many students who are failing courses, missing credits, and chronically late to school.
The Panel for Educational Policy has a new Bronx borough representative, and she'll be a familiar face for many city officials.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has appointed Monica Major to the board, Diaz's office announced today. Major is the current vice president — and former president — of Community Education Council 11, one of the Bronx's parent committees. She was also a member of the Parent Commission on Mayoral Control, a group that advocated last year for reducing the mayor's power over the PEP, which acts as the citywide school board.
Major replaces Anna Santos, who has served as the Bronx representative since February 2009. Last year, Santos emerged as one of the city's most outspoken critics on the board, alongside Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan. It's not clear why Santos is leaving.
Major is likely to continue the trend of opposition to many city policies that come up for approval. As part of the Parent Commission on Mayoral Control, Major proposed to reduce the number of mayoral appointees on the panel to three, and add six parent representatives to the board. Instead, the school governance legislation that Albany passed provided for eight mayoral appointees and one from each borough president, effectively guaranteeing that the board will approve city initiatives.
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%.
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."