After the state released lower test scores earlier this month, city and state officials disagreed over whether the achievement gap had gotten bigger. But all agreed that performance disparities between subgroups of students — most notably between white students and black and Latino students — were far too wide.
In 2011, Chancellor Dennis Walcott created a standalone Division of Equity and Access within the Department of Education to focus on what he said were "our most vulnerable students." Last week, we spoke to Dorita Gibson, the division's deputy chancellor, about the division, which includes District 79, the alternative schools district; adult education; partnerships such as the Young Men's Initiative; and other initiatives designed to boost outcomes for high-need students.
Here are some of the most interesting takeaways from our conversation.
Why the Department of Education needs a separate Division of Equity and Access
Walcott's decision to create the division sent the message that improving the school system does not mean the hard work is done, Gibson said.
"We've done such great work in the last 11, 12 years of this administration. We have great schools. We have great programs," Gibson said. "But how do we as a school system make sure that all of our kids, regardless of their color and socioeconomic background, succeed in these programs?"
A small but raucous crowd turned out for a closure hearing at Academy of Business Community and Development Tuesday.
When senior Omar Herara ranked Academy of Business and Community Development as one of his top high school choices four years ago, he admits he didn't know it was an all-boys school or much else about it either.
"At first, it was an accident," Herara said. "I chose it because it had 'business' in the name."
Herara, who wants to become an entrepreneur, said the decision turned out to be serendipitous. At a hearing on the school's future Tuesday evening, he said he now viewed the school with a sense of pride.
"I hope to come back and visit ABCD when I graduate," said Herara, who will study business management at Monroe College in New Rochelle in the fall.
That prospect looks increasingly bleak. Herara is the only senior who is on pace to graduate this year, one of several reasons that the Department of Education is taking the unusual step to completely shutter the ABCD middle and high schools at the end of the school year. Most schools are phased out, one year at a time, but officials said that low enrollment — coupled with poor academic performance — made it virtually impossible to survive on the system's funding formula, which allocates money on a per-pupil basis.
A month after taking over a Department of Education hemorrhaging its leadership, Chancellor Dennis Walcott today announced a slew of high-level appointments.
For two deputy chancellor slots, Walcott turned to veteran educators who made their careers in the city schools.
David Weiner, a one-time city principal who is currently Philadelphia's chief accountability officer, will become deputy chancellor for talent, labor, and innovation. In that position, he will manage hot-button issues including labor relations and the city's Innovation Zone of schools experimenting with technology. The founding principal of PS 503 in Brooklyn, Weiner succeeds John White, who took over the Recovery School District in New Orleans at the beginning of May.
A 30-year veteran of the city school system, Dorita Gibson will take on a newly created position, deputy chancellor for equity and access. She will supervise District 79, the network of alternative schools previously headed by Cami Anderson, who was named Newark's next schools chief last week. District 79 will still get a new superintendent, according to DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz.
Gibson will also lead initiatives that "focus on ending long-standing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and directing supports to communities most in need," according to the city's press release. Some of those initiatives previously fell under the purview of Santiago Taveras, the deputy chancellor for engagement who departed for the private sector earlier this year.
The appointments signal that Walcott is moving to stabilize the department, which has experienced rapid leadership change at the top since ex-Chancellor Joel Klein left at the end of last year. They also confirm Walcott's intention to continue policies established during Klein's tenure while also asserting new priorities.