Nico Ryan, a junior, (second from right), shows community members his winning design for a competition sponsored by the Partnership for Student Advocacy.
Juniors at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts have a lot on their minds this month. They are putting the finishing touches on photography and graphic design projects, planning their study schedule for Regents exams, and signing up for the SAT.
The handful of students who met this morning to show off posters they designed for a local advocacy organization did not rank the school's impending "turnaround" high on their list of worries.
As hundreds of students and teachers rallied around the city to protest the Department of Education plan — approved last week — to abruptly close, reopen and rename 24 schools this year, Graphics remained virtually silent. City officials floating closing Graphics last year but backtracked on the idea after large groups of students and graduates made their case for the school's future at a tense meeting with DOE officials. But at its turnaround hearing this spring, just 32 people signed up to speak, compared with nearly 200 at some other schools.
Lantigua Sime, a longtime assistant principal at the Hell's Kitchen Career and Technical Education school, said the students have already accepted the turnaround and moved on.
"You didn't see any protests, you didn't hear any noise here because we're moving forward," Sime said. "Anyone who is on the bus is on the bus. Anyone who isn't is already waiting for their next one."
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.
Before enacting ambitious plans to expand Career and Technical Education offering in schools, the city should invest more in the struggling programs that already exist, a report by the public advocate Bill de Blasio's office argues.
The report, released today, paints a grim picture of CTE in city schools as chronically underperforming and often unaligned to industries that are expanding, such as the health sciences and information technology. The report was fast-tracked after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to open 12 CTE schools by the end of his tenure earlier this month, de Blasio said.
The mayor convened a commission in 2008 to examine and improve CTE schools, but de Blasio said the task force's recommendations have been largely ignored. He said he wanted to see the city invest more in systemic improvements and struggling schools, rather than impose a "one-size-fits-all" plan to shutter low-performing CTE schools.
"Maxwell High School has made steady progress, gotten an A rating under the department's own rating system, and now they're saying they're going to close it. Makes no sense," de Blasio said. "Closure ... does not guarantee that what comes next is going to be better. We should try to see if we can save the schools we have with a real intervention."
The report finds:
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."