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a second look
October 23, 2014
Two years after escaping closure, a Bronx high school works to improve
Two years after a proposal to close Alfred E. Smith CTE High School was nixed, the school's principal has worked to increase attendance rates and morale, while still facing a number of big challenges common to low-performing schools.
July 26, 2013
With evaluation standoff past, city wins new round of grants
New York City is getting nearly $75 million in federal grants to help 16 struggling schools improve and support another six school buildings where schools are shuttering, the state announced today. The grants are the second round of New York State's disbursements from its share of the U.S. Department of Education's $3.5 billion grant program known as School Improvement Grants, or SIG. The grants are designed to improve outcomes in schools with large numbers of students in poverty. Two years ago, the city forfeited a large chunk of the first round of grants after failing to reach a deal with the teachers union on teacher evaluations, which was required to qualify for the majority of the funding. Officials said today that of $58 million awarded to the city, just $15 million was spent that year. The rest was returned back to the state. Those funds may be reallocated to future grant winners, a state spokesman said. Now that evaluations are in place for the 2013-2014 school year, teachers union leaders endorsed this year's grant applications. Union officials cited other reasons this year's applications were an improvement over the previous round, too. They said that this year, individual schools had a more prominent role in determining how the grant money will be spent. In previous years, the city Department of Education applied centrally. "It's more targeted to the needs of the students versus the needs of the administration," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said of the new grants. Mulgrew said he was "very happy" with this year's version.
July 31, 2012
City dissolves fleet of "master" and "turnaround" teachers
The teachers union's victory in a legal fight over the city's "turnaround" plans kept thousands of teachers at 24 struggling schools from losing their positions. But it has also put another group of teachers at risk. They are the "master" and "turnaround" teachers, a cohort of experienced educators selected to put in extra hours helping their colleagues in exchange for extra pay. The positions were funded through federal School Improvement Grants, but without turnaround or another overhaul process in place at the schools, those funds will not flow to the city. Last week, just after the city's final bid to reinstate turnaround failed, the 71 master and turnaround teachers got a letter from the Department of Education telling them to look for other positions. The demise of the elite positions has given rise to yet another city-union dispute centered around the schools formerly slated for turnaround.
April 23, 2012
Federal teacher evaluation mandate's impact felt across country
New York City’s controversial school turnaround proposals represent a tiny piece of a sweeping effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to overhaul the country’s lowest-performing schools. In the last of three articles about the reform effort produced by Education Week, The Hechinger Report, and the Education Writers Association, Sarah Garland looks at the national impact of a federal requirement — tougher teacher evaluations — that has tripped up School Improvement Grants in New York. GothamSchools was one of four news organizations to contribute to the reporting. Elliott Elementary in Lincoln, Neb., struck off on its own last year when it became the only school in the city to win money through the federal School Improvement Grant program. Winning wasn’t something to be proud of, though: It meant the school qualified as one of the worst in the nation. About a third of fifth-graders at Elliott were proficient on state reading tests when the reforms began, compared to 80 percent in Lincoln as a whole. Winning also meant a lot of work for teachers and administrators. One of the biggest tasks was overhauling the way teachers at the school are evaluated. Elliott was the only school in the city making the change, which meant it had to come up with a new way of rating teachers mostly on its own. “The challenge was connecting it to student achievement,” said Jadi Miller, named the principal at Elliott after a longtime principal was ousted to comply with the grant’s mandate of new leadership. “That was certainly very new for us.” In the Obama administration’s new push to turn around the bottom 5 percent of schools nationwide, the vast majority of districts chose the reform option that seemed the least invasive: Instead of closing schools or firing at least half of the teaching staff, schools could undergo less aggressive interventions, such as overhauling how teacher performance is measured and rewarding teachers who do well. But the teacher-evaluation requirement has turned out to be a major stumbling block for many schools in the SIG program.
March 20, 2012
State labor board agrees to appoint mediator in evaluation talks
The state's labor relations board has heeded a teachers union request to appoint a mediator to broker a compromise on teacher evaluations at 33 struggling schools. City officials say will contest the decision, which could undermine the Department of Education's chief justification for pursuing a reform strategy at the schools that would require many teachers to be displaced. The ruling by the Public Employees Relations Board is a response to a request for mediation filed by the United Federation of Teachers in January. That request came a day after Mayor Bloomberg said that he would circumvent a collective bargaining requirement at the schools, which had been receiving federal funds to help them improve. Because the city and union had not been able to agree on new teacher evaluations at the schools by a Dec. 31 deadline, Bloomberg announced that the city would switch the schools from the "transformation" and "restart" reform processes, which require new evaluations, to "turnaround," which does not. Chancellor Dennis Walcott argued at the time that the switch made PERB's intervention moot because the board has authority only in collective bargaining matters, and turnaround does not require collective bargaining. But the city has not formally asked the state for permission to assign the schools to turnaround or withdrawn its application, submitted last summer, for funding for transformation and restart. PERB's director of conciliation, Richard Curreri, said those facts led him to conclude that the city is still bound by its 2011 agreement to negotiate new teacher evaluations at the 33 schools.
February 1, 2012
Principals union chief urges state to reject city's turnaround bid
The city's bid to "turn around" 33 struggling schools is politically motivated and should be quashed, according to the head of the city's principals union. The city is days away from submitting a formal request for State Education Commissioner John King to release millions of dollars in federal funding for the 33 schools even though the city has not yet negotiated new evaluations with the teachers union. Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, sent a letter to King Tuesday urging him to reject the city's request. Logan charges that the city's announcement last month that it would abandon two in-process school improvement strategies, "transformation" and "restart," was meant only to sidestep a requirement that the city negotiate with CSA and the United Federation of Teachers. Without an agreement, King froze federal funds to the schools last month. "Simply stated, if the Turnaround model were the most educationally sound plan of intervention for the 33 schools, it would have been selected for any or all of them in 2010 and 2011," Logan writes. "It was not. It is being proposed now only as a means of evading the ... evaluation requirements." The city is required to negotiate new evaluations in order to receive federal funds and, in a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month, additional state school aid. But Cuomo also said he would push changes to the state's 2010 evaluation law if districts do not adopt new evaluations by mid-month. City officials are lobbying legislators to take that route, even though a statewide teachers union, NYSUT, has said it is on the verge of agreement for nearly all districts other than New York City.
January 31, 2012
At Grady, parents probe distinction between closure, turnaround
The entrance of Brighton Beach's William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School. Is the school being closed, or is it staying open? Parents repeated variations of that question often over the course of a two-hour-long meeting Department of Education officials held at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School Monday evening to detail the city's plan to overhaul the school. The answer, they were told, was more complicated than a matter of semantics. "This school is not being closed," Aimee Horowitz, the school's superintendent, told families, teachers, and the School Leadership Team in three meetings at the school over the course of the day. But she also said a new school with a different name would be opening in the building in the fall, and just half of Grady's current teachers would remain. Those are the conditions of the school improvement model known as "turnaround," she explained. Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this month that the city would use turnaround at 33 struggling schools so that they could continue receiving federal funds even if the city and teachers union do not agree on new teacher evaluations. Since 2010, Grady had been undergoing a different federally mandated overhaul process, "transformation," which relies on changing leadership, bringing in extra support services, and experimenting with longer school days and new teacher training. The details Horowitz outlined were puzzling for several of the 40 parents and students who crowded into Grady's cafeteria to learn about the turnaround plan. "First you say in your speech that the school was going to do transformation. And then as you go on you started saying things like, this is going to be a new school. So where are we, which one should we believe?" said Ade Ajayi, whose son is a junior. "A lot of things are going to change. Teachers are going to change. We don't even know if the name is going to be the same."
January 25, 2012
As some schools protest turnaround plans, others wait and see
Two weeks after receiving the surprise news that their schools could close this June, some teachers are staging protests while others say they are too stunned to respond, for now. At Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, Ann Looser is hoping fifty to 100 of her fellow teachers will stay after school tonight to protest city plans to “turn around” Herbert H. Lehman High School. As Lehman’s union chapter leader, Looser has led efforts to raise awareness about the city’s plan to “turn around” the school. Under the plan, which the city devised to keep federal funding despite a breakdown in negotiations over teacher evaluations, 33 low-performing schools would be closed and reopened after having half of their teachers replaced. At Lehman, Looser and her colleagues have been trying recruit families, local politicians, and journalists to attend tonight’s “early engagement” hearing. The goal, she said, is to convince the city not to upend progress that the school had been making with the help of federal funds. Under “restart,” Lehman had used the funds to offer credit recovery programs, peer mentoring, and extra training for teachers, Looser said. She said the extra help came at an important juncture, just as a new principal arrived after years of turmoil that included a grade-changing scandal. Purging the school’s teachers would set those efforts back, Looser said.
January 20, 2012
Students, staff defend John Dewey in face of turnaround plans
Students and teachers from John Dewey High School protested outside of the Brooklyn school on Friday, brandishing signs reading: "Fix Schools, Don't Close Them!" and, "Save John Dewey." Anger and uncertainty about the city's plans to overhaul 33 struggling schools reigned today at a "Fight Back Friday" protest organized by teachers at one of the schools. The handful of teachers who braved the cold to demonstrate outside John Dewey High School this afternoon were joined by about a dozen students, who all defend the strength of the school's programs and longtime staff. Mayor Bloomberg announced last week that in order to secure federal funding, he would require the schools to undergo a process called "turnaround," in which they will close and reopen immediately with half of the teachers replaced. Dewey, a large high school with over 2,700 students in southern Brooklyn, is one of 14 schools that had been receiving federal funds to undergo a different process known as "restart." Teachers said the nonprofit group brought in to manage the school under the restart process, Institute for Student Achievement, has so far revamped Dewey's schedule and offered new after-school activities to combat truancy. City officials said the relationship would continue even under turnaround. Teachers said the startling news has already had a negative impact on the school community. Dewey narrowly escaped closure last year and now is set to get a new name as part of the city's rapid close-and-reopen plan.
October 25, 2011
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.
October 21, 2011
Unable to show union support, city goes it alone for RTTT funds
Months after a deal to let a handful of city schools receive federal funding, requirements continue to keep millions of Race to the Top dollars off-limits to all but 2 percent of city schools. When New York State won $700 million in the federal Race to the Top competition last year, it put some funds to use on statewide initiatives. But nearly $350 million went into smaller funds with specific aims: to build new curriculum models or train teachers, for example. Now, the state has started opening those pools up to districts — but it has set an eligibility requirement that the city can’t meet. The state requires that districts commit to putting new teacher evaluations in place by next year — with union support. That requirement can be found in several of the Requests for Proposals for Race to the Top-related initiatives that the state has begun releasing. In one application for funding that it submitted last week, the city could not show it had the union's support for the new teacher evaluation system in most of its schools, in the form of a required Memorandum of Understanding, so it only applied for money for the 30 schools that do. Those 30 schools are among 33 included in a partial teacher evaluation deal hashed out this summer, when the union and city saw that federal school improvement grants were at stake. At the time, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said he wanted to see the outcome of the pilot before expanding the evaluations to more schools. And as the year has worn on, slow-moving negotiations about the new evaluations have seemed headed for an impasse.
September 14, 2011
To transform failing schools, new teachers take up residence
A Bank of America employee, a fashion industry veteran, and a 311 operator are among the newest additions to the city's teaching corps. They are among 26 people being eased into the classroom through a new city program designed to train – and retain – high-quality teachers specifically for the city's worst-performing schools. Launched with little fanfare this summer, the NYC Teaching Residency for School Turnaround is the city's latest effort to attract talent using an alternative certification program. But unlike the city's NYC Teaching Fellows program, the residency isn't throwing its trainees straight into the classroom. Nor is it quickly relieving them from their obligation to the city. Instead, the program requires them to make a lengthier commitment, but only after they've spent a year working as assistants to in the classroom. The teachers-in-training have been dispersed into two schools undergoing federally-funded "transformation" — Queens Vocational and Technical High School and J.H.S. 22 Jordan L. Mott — and are part of an experimental effort to overhaul schools deemed "persistently low-achieving" by the state. Borrowing heavily from models that preceeded it in recent years, the program comes amid a growing nationwide focus on improving both the teacher quality and retention rates in high-needs urban schools.
September 12, 2011
Global Studies bets 'transformation' funds on new tech, staff
School for Global Studies "master" teacher, Natasha Blakley, prepares for the start of school in the Brooklyn school's new computer lab, purchased with federal funds. To Joseph O’Brien, principal of Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, there is no clearer indication of how new federal funds have led to higher achievement than Room 326. The classroom-turned-computer lab, outfitted with 35 Apple computers purchased last winter, is being used by students to recover credits toward graduation and study languages online, and by parents who lack Internet access at home. In addition to two laptop carts and new smartboards for a dozen classrooms, the lab replaces the school’s once-meager technology offerings, which included aging classroom computers hampered by viruses and two broken smartboards. “For the first time, our students were able to have a dedicated room where they could use the computer on their own time, whether after school or on their lunch hour, with staffed personnel,” he said. Tasked with raising the school’s graduation rate when the Department of Education appointed him to run Global Studies last year, O’Brien sees the new lab as a main tool. He paid for the lab with $170,000 of the $890,000 in federal School Improvement Grants awarded to Global Studies because it landed on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools last year—requiring the city to overhaul it. For Global Studies and 10 other schools on the list, the city chose “transformation,” meaning they would receive new principals and nearly $2 million in School Improvement Grants over three years to buy extra supplies and support. The city is starting to overhaul another 33 schools this year under three improvement models. As the 6th through 12th-grade school enters its second year of transformation — bringing it a second infusion of cash — O’Brien said change is already being felt. “We are no longer the school that we once were,” he said. “This school is really becoming an oasis of learning.” Now he just has to convince families that that’s true.
September 7, 2011
City getting federal grants to assist with long-planned closures
The city is getting a total of just under $60 million in federal grants to help dozens of struggling schools. The grants, which the State Education Department formally announced today, are hardly unexpected. In July, the city and teachers union hashed out an eleventh-hour deal on teacher evaluations to clear the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive them. The surprise is that 11 school closures — many of which the city had planned since 2009 — are being chalked up to "turnaround," an overhaul model that the city said it was dropping. Turnaround requires a new principal, most teachers replaced, and organizational changes — all hallmarks of the city's longstanding closure program, in which low-performing schools phase out and new schools open in their place. But for months, the city had not mentioned turnaround as an option. In fact, back in May, when it looked like the city would have to filed its grant application without the UFT's support, the city said it was abandoning its plan to use the turnaround model and would instead adopt the less-invasive "restart" approach.
August 9, 2011
As city names 'restart' partners, principals union sounds alarm
With just weeks to go before Labor Day, the city has announced the nonprofit groups that will help 14 struggling schools get a fresh start this fall. A deal between the city and teachers union last month cleared the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive federal School Improvement Grants starting this fall. In exchange, the city must overhaul the schools in accordance with one of four federally sanctioned processes, and one of them, "restart," requires schools to turn over the reins to an approved nonprofit organization. Six nonprofits, several with existing ties to the city Department of Education, will take over the management of two to three schools each. The groups, known as Educational Partnership Organizations, will control budgeting, personnel decisions, curriculum, student discipline, and other issues, and the principals of those schools will report directly to their EPO rather than a DOE superintendent. A matching process linked 11 of the schools with their first-choice EPO, and the other three were matched with one of their top picks, according to a DOE spokesman, Frank Thomas. The schools and nonprofits will begin working together as soon as the state approves the pairings, he said. The remaining schools set to receive the new federal funds will undergo "transformation." Transformation relies on replacing longtime principals and promising additional resources. In a statement, principals union president Ernie Logan said he had "intense discussions" with the DOE to make sure the 33 schools would receive adequate support but remained unconvinced.
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