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New York

Mixed schedule signals for families at schools slated for closure

Junior Edmund Cintron, a student pilot at August Martin High School, speaks at the school's closure hearing Monday. A scheduling conflict has parents at some "turnaround" schools miffed that they're being asked to be in two places at the same time. The Department of Education is hosting four meetings this week for parents whose children attend the city's lowest-performing schools under federal accountability laws. The borough-wide meetings are intended to help parents learn about options for transferring out of their current schools through No Child Left Behind's "Public School Choice Program." But the department is also hosting public hearings about proposed school closures at the same time, putting families who wanted to attend both events in a difficult spot. At Monday night's hearing for August Martin High School in Jamaica, Queens, parents said they felt conflicted about which meeting to attend after receiving a postcard advertising the transfer meeting over spring break and phone messages about the closure hearing this week. "I didn't know which meeting was more important," said Helese Crawford, whose husband attended the Queens transfer meeting at John Adams High School, about three miles down road, at the same time as the August Martin meeting. "Thankfully, because we're together, we were able to go to both." Laura Brown said she had planned to attend the transfer meeting to learn about options for her ninth-grade daughter — but then she drove by August Martin and recognized other parents and teachers outside the school. "I saw that everybody was here and I thought they cancelled the other one," she said.
New York

Turnaround seen as threat to Smith's shrinking career programs

Scott Pagan, an electrical engineering teacher, speaks at Alfred E. Smith's closure hearing. Plans to close and reopen Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School using turnaround, the controversial school reform model, could leave this year's juniors without state certification in the fields they have been studying for the past three years. For the students and their teachers, Smith's turnaround hearing marked a return to the front lines of a battle they thought they won two years ago, when the school was narrowly spared from closure. After initially proposing to phase the school out, the city opted to keep Smith open but downsize it by eliminating all of its career and technical programs but one: automotive technology. Five other CTE programs — in carpentry, electrical engineering, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, and pre-engineering — would close over time. This year's juniors would be the last to earn certification in those programs, entitling them to a license to work in some industries immediately after graduation. The school has continued to maintain a staff to help them through their career coursework. But under turnaround, the school that replaces Smith will constitute a new staff, drawing from Smith's faculty roster and elsewhere to find teachers to meet its needs. If multiple teachers choose not to reapply for their jobs or are not selected during the hiring process — a conceivable outcome because the replacement school might not want to hire teachers for programs that would not exist after one year — Smith's career programs could be severely affected. State certification for CTE programs requires schools to offer particular courses and have teachers with certain credentials. Department of Education officials told attendees at last night's closure hearing that it is not guaranteed that Smith's replacement school would be certified to offer the technical programs. But the officials — who included the department's former top CTE executive, Gregg Betheil — repeatedly assured families that students "should" still be able to receive CTE diplomas in coming years. They said they are encouraging teachers to gain certification to teach across disciplines so that no single program has a shortfall of qualified teachers and that they expected the state to sign off on the programs again.
New York

Software-themed school aims to replicate Stuy curriculum for all

Stuyvesant High School computer science teacher Mike Zamansky describes a mathematical problem solving tool to students. In Room 307 of Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School, 23 students spent a recent afternoon copying tables and number trees representing a mathematical problem-solving technique used in graphic design computer software. The students, who all won admission to Stuyvesant by posting top scores on an entrance exam, listened raptly as their teacher, Mike Zamansky, walked them through the complex algorithm behind "seam-carving," a process used in resizing images. Then Zamansky checked to make sure they understood. "No problem? Seems reasonable? or 'Huh'?" he asked, offering students the chance to signal by a show of thumbs whether they understood or needed more help. No one pointed a thumb down. Zamansky has been teaching computer science since 1995, through a program he designed for students to follow from sophomore to senior year. Stuyvesant's program is the only rigorous computer science sequence in the city's public schools and one of the few in the country. Now it is the inspiration behind a new city high school that aims to change that. Founded by an influential venture capitalist with deep ties to the technology industry and a young principal fresh from the city's training program, the Academy for Software Engineering will be the city's first school to focus on software engineering. The goal is to extend the approach of Zamansky's classes — which teach problem-solving, network communications, and programming language literacy — to any student in the city, even if they can't make the cut for Stuyvesant or don't even have a computer at home.
New York

At one school, turnaround news called surprising, low on details

Students at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts work on web-design projects Jan. 9. When the city unveiled its school closure proposals last month, the High School of Graphic Communication Arts was not on the list. So students and staff there were surprised to learn last week that their school might well be closed in June after all. Many students walking to the Manhattan school's Hell's Kitchen building this morning said they were primed for a typical school day, despite the news that Graphics, which received an F on its most recent progress report, would be one of 33 schools to undergo the "turnaround" process this year. Under that plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced in his State of the City speech last week, the school would reopen in September with a new name and at least 50 percent of the current teachers gone. Brendan Lyons, the school's first-year principal, said the news was "definitely a surprise for our organization and our community," but said he would wait for more details from the city before commenting on potential changes in store for the school. If the turnaround plan is approved by the State Department of Education, Lyons would be eligible to stay on. But along with a team of educators and union officials, he would be responsible for selecting a new staff, drawing on current teachers for exactly half of the slots. "Every crisis is an opportunity," Lyons said. "I'd like to show how our school is a model turnaround that other schools can learn from."
New York

Low-scoring but not closing, CTE school showcases job training

Graphic Communication Arts juniors Lissy Alcantara and Kianne Martinez and senior Aziza Ramsay show off the video on HIV awareness they shot and produced at FACES NY. Just days after their school was spared from closure, students from Manhattan's High School of Graphic Communication Arts showcased fruits of the school's longstanding Career and Technical Education program. Founded as the High School of Printing in 1925, Graphic Communication Arts has offered students hands-on training in photography and visual arts since a time when CTE programs were called vocational schools. Now, through a workplace learning program funded by the city's Department of Education and the federal government, dozens of students at the Hell's Kitchen school are working as interns at private and public sector companies — 16 businesses this fall. More than 50 students also participated in summer internships that ran the gamut from print-production to photography to legal services. Four of the students are putting their academic-year training in photo and film editing to use at FACES NY, a social services agency that helps at-risk populations with HIV/AIDS prevention. Earlier this year the interns shot and produced a video about HIV awareness, which they are promoting via a Facebook page and a Tumblr blog they maintain for the agency. The mini-documentary they produced was as much a lesson in professionalism as film editing, according to the three students I met Tuesday, because it required them to talk to peers about sexuality and other difficult subjects.
New York

Bridge-building no metaphor at engineering-themed high school

Ninth-grader Ikiya Devonish prepares to load weight onto her group's bridge, with the help of City Tech Professor Anthony Cioffi. Many schools have summer "bridge" programs to bring new students up to speed. City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology has ninth-graders build actual bridges. The two-year-old school's summer orientation program includes a bridge-building competition where incoming freshmen can showcase their newly acquired engineering skills. The orientation kicks off an intensive program that condenses all of high school plus a taste of college into three years. That's a steep challenge for many students at the Downtown Brooklyn school, which admits students without considering their grades or test scores. But school officials say about three-quarters of the small school's first entering class is on track to spend a fourth year studying full-time at the New York City College of Technology, the high school's partner, free of charge. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott attended this year's competition today, offering congratulations and consolations as students pushed their popsicle-stick bridges to the breaking point. Tension mounted as students, teachers, and supporters watched to see whether any bridges would bear more than last year's record 109 pounds. One bridge did: The winning team, Building Fanatics, loaded 114 pounds of geometry textbooks onto their structure before it collapsed. Stephon Stevens, a ninth-grader who came to City Poly from Explore Charter School, said the team guessed that moving popsicle sticks from the bottom to the top of the bridge design would make it stronger. Four of every five students at City Poly are boys, in keeping with a trend that cuts across many of the city's career and technical education schools.