sheepshead bay high school

New York

Exit strategy for students at closing schools hard to navigate

Edna Wilson and her granddaughter Gianee, a P.S. 64 student, protested the school's poor quality before its closure hearing in February. Wilson is among those who were disappointed with the transfer options the city presented to students in schools that it is is phasing out. (Luke Hammill) An escape route from the city's most struggling schools that Department of Education officials touted as a significant innovation is unlikely to be an option for many eligible families, parents and advocates say. When the city closes low-performing schools, new students aren't allowed to enroll and current students stay on until they graduate. The arrangement has drawn criticism from state officials, families, and advocates who say high-need students see morale and support decline as their schools diminish in size. This spring, just before finalizing plans to close 22 schools, department officials said they felt a “moral imperative” to help students who want to leave closing schools do so. They said they would mail transfer applications, including a list of possible destination schools, to all 16,000 students in the 61 schools that would be in the process of phasing out this fall. “They presented it to families as an alternative to protect their children,” said Emma Hulse, a community organizer with New Settlement who has helped South Bronx families fill out transfer applications. "But when the package actually hit people's mailboxes, we realized it’s not a meaningful alternative," she said.
New York

Schools reopen with low attendance, but officials are optimistic

Flanked by city officials, Mayor Bloomberg updated reporters on the hurricane relief effort from P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a South Brooklyn school that was damaged in the hurricane. Today marked the first day back to school for most city students, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed their attendance rate. But the figure he cited — 85 percent — didn't count the 75,000 students who weren't in attendance because their schools were temporarily closed, or hundreds of schools that did not report their attendance in time for his press conference. Despite lingering complications from Hurricane Sandy, including power and transit woes, the majority of students and teachers invited to return to school today for the first time in a week made it. And several buildings reopened this morning despite sustaining massive damages a week ago. For the site of his daily update on the city's hurricane relief effort, Bloomberg picked one of those schools — P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a southern Brooklyn school that flooded and originally seemed unlikely to reopen to students today. Flanked by other city officials, Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the number of closed schools is shrinking as more schools that were damaged or lost power slowly receive the repairs they need. On Sunday, buildings too damaged to reopen contained 57 schools; Bloomberg said that number is 48 today. And just 19 schools remain without power, he said, down from more than 100 over the weekend. One of the schools to which teachers will return on Tuesday is John Dewey High School, which Walcott cited last week as one of the most severely damaged in the city after an electrical fire during the storm. Department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey's boiler to work, obviating a planned three-building co-location.
New York

Scenes from three schools as turnaround hearings get started

A panel of speakers, with student Ajee Joyner seated third from left, was situated in front of a display of student work at Harlem Renaissance High School. Three schools facing the same fate — a federally prescribed school reform strategy known as "turnaround" — registered their opposition in very different ways at public hearings Wednesday evening. The hearings are a required part of the city's school closure process. In order to execute turnaround at 33 schools, qualifying them for a total of about $60 million in funding, the city must close and reopen the schools after changing their names and many of their teachers. Tuesday's hearings were the first in a series that extends to April 19, a week before the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the turnaround plans. At Sheepshead Bay High School, students and staff argued that the school is doing well despite a challenging student population. At Automotive High School, teachers acknowledged that the school desperately needs help — but they said past failures gave them little confidence the city could deliver it. And the community struck an entirely different tone at Harlem Renaissance High School, which would only be lightly touched by turnaround's most stringent requirements. Harlem Renaissance High School Opposition to turnaround was all in a name for students, parents, and teachers at Harlem Renaissance, a transfer high school that accepts students who have been unsuccessful at other schools. A large portion of the school's 200 students turned out for the hearing, and many of the people who testified said their top priority was maintaining the school's name. A representative of the local community district testified that "Harlem" is an essential part of the name to preserve as the neighborhood continues to gentrify and change in character. Ajee Joyner, a senior, focused on the word "renaissance" and explained that she had learned it meant "rebirth" — a poignant definition for students who failed at or even dropped out of other schools. "From the moment I walked through the doors, the theme of experiencing your own personal renaissance was constantly reinforced," said Joyner. "Every staff member reminds us on a regular basis that we can become whatever we want if we allow ourselves to be reborn in our learning and our educational paths." Few schools' turnaround protests appear to focus on the renaming requirement. But at Harlem Renaissance, that could be the biggest disruption because it won't have to replace any teachers: 10 of the 18 teachers joined the staff in the last two years, so they would be counted as new under the federal rules about teacher replacement.
New York

City officials are short on answers at Brooklyn turnaround forum

Wearing red shirts that read "We Believe in John Dewey," a row of teachers from the South Brooklyn high school give a student's testimony a standing ovation. Teachers and students from Brooklyn schools proposed for turnaround brought protest signs and pointed questions to a Monday night meeting with city officials — and left with few concrete answers. As representatives of most Brooklyn schools proposed for turnaround pled their cases in front of city officials tasked with closing an extra 33 schools this year, members of the overflow audience interrupted with shout-outs, standing ovations, and, at one point, sustained chanting of "Free the 33!" School communities have argued against the turnaround plans in tandem before, at an event in Queens and a meeting of the citywide high schools parent group. But this is the first time schools have been invited to testify in front of city officials masterminding the changes. Officials also heard for the first time from schools that have been almost completely silent about the reform plans. Elaine Gorman, the Department of Education official overseeing turnaround, opened the meeting, organized by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, with an overview of the proposals, which would call for each school to replace at least half its staff and to be closed and re-opened with a new name. Then representatives from the 11 Brooklyn turnaround schools were invited to give testimonies about their schools. John Dewey High School teachers, parents, and students reprised their frequent protests by turning out in full-force; at least 100 of them sat in the audience sporting their cheerleading outfits or T-shirts in the school's signature red, and lept into standing ovations each time a Dewey student or teacher spoke. And a half-dozen William Maxwell High School teachers, unhappy that their A grade on the city's annual progress report would not be enough to protect their school from closure, waved poster-sized versions of the report card and the letter A when it was their turn to speak. They were joined by a slightly more subdued group of parents and teachers from Sheepshead Bay High School, the Cobble Hill School for American Studies, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, and a lone middle school student from the School for Global Studies, who spoke about the school's co-location with a charter school.
New York

City, nonprofits at odds over legal liability at 14 restart schools

A dispute over who would take the fall if something goes wrong inside struggling schools is delaying a federally funded turnaround effort that had already gotten off to a slow start. As part of its application to secure school improvement grants, the city agreed to hand over operations to independent education organizations at 14 of its lowest-performing schools through a process called "restart." The Department of Education selected six nonprofits to take over the reins at those schools, awarding them more than $17 million altogether. But four months after the groups started working in the schools, the money remains in the city coffers. The sticking point is that city lawyers want the groups, known as educational partnership organizations, to cover their own legal costs for any litigation brought by teachers, principals, staff or students in the schools they’re working in. The proposition is controversial because the groups are replacing an authority figure — the superintendent — who does not actually carry any of the liability costs. The DOE is effectively an insurance carrier for superintendents, so when a lawsuit challenges, for example, a teacher rating that the superintendent signed off on, the DOE bears the legal costs. The EPOs said they assumed they would have the same protection against legal liability, known as indemnification, because the state's regulations mandate that they adopt all of the roles and responsibilities of each school's superintendent. But according to several EPO directors, the city's initial contract language treats them like vendors providing services to the schools, not managing everything from hiring to budgeting to discipline. “It’s been several months of frustration over what we see as a fairly straightforward issue,” said a program director from one of the EPOs. “We feel we should be covered to the same extent that a superintendent would be covered in the case of a lawsuit.”
New York

Among low-scoring schools, familiar names and dashed hopes

Yesterday's high school progress reports release put 60 schools on existential notice. Fourteen high schools got failing grades, 28 received D's, and another 14 have scored at a C or lower since at least 2009 — making them eligible for closure under Department of Education policy. In the coming weeks, the city will winnow the list of schools to those it considers beyond repair. After officials release a shortlist of schools under consideration for closure, they will hold "early engagement" meetings to find out more about what has gone wrong. City officials said they would look at the schools' Quality Reviews, state evaluations, and past improvement efforts before recommending some for closure. Last month, they said they were considering closure for just 20 of the 128 elementary and middle schools that received low progress report grades. The at-risk high schools are spread over every borough except for Staten Island and include many of the comprehensive high schools that are still open in the Bronx, including DeWitt Clinton High School and Lehman High School, which until recently were considered good options for many students. They also include two of the five small schools on the Erasmus Campus in Brooklyn and two of the three  small schools that have long occupied the John Jay High School building in Park Slope. (A fourth school, which is selective, opened at John Jay this year.) They include several of the schools that received "executive principals" who got hefty bonuses to turn conditions around.
New York

High schools market themselves with information and cookies

To attract the attention of the thousands of eighth-graders and family members at this weekend's citywide high school fair, representatives from the city's 500-some high schools pulled out all the stops — bringing current students dressed in nurse's scrubs or cheerleading outfits and stocking their tables with custom pens and homemade cookies. Some administrators who staffed the tables lining the hallways of the first seven floors of Brooklyn Technical High School aimed to inspire students to consider careers in health, law enforcement, or the culinary arts. Others faced higher stakes: To convince families to take a chance on an under-the-radar school. Because the Department of Education uses enrollment as a factor in deciding which schools to close, schools that attract few applicants could face dire consequences. Sheepshead Bay High School Geri Riley, a teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, passes out pamphlets and cookies to families. Sheepshead Bay High School's teachers drew families to their booth with homemade chocolate chip cookies. "My sister made them. I don't know if it's the cookies or interest in the school, but we're doing well," said Geri Riley, the Advanced Placement government and economics teacher, as parents stopped to eat and learn about the school's various specialized learning academies. Riley said enrollment at the school, which tops 2,000, is on the decline. This year, the school is undergoing "restart," one of four federally mandated strategies for low-performing schools, and a nonprofit partner is taking over its management. School for International Studies Sean Ahern, one of two culinary arts teachers at Brooklyn's School for International Studies, turned heads in his chef's uniform and hat as he passed out brochures. His job was twofold: to sell families on both the culinary arts and on his school, which is struggling to keep enrollment numbers up and even recruited a public relations firm this year to help convince families to send their children.