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washington Irving high school
April 20, 2012
Exit strategy for a closing school's principal: Relocate upstairs
Supporters of Washington Irving High School protested its planned closure in December. Two new schools are coming to the Washington Irving High School campus this fall, but Mayor Bloomberg mentioned only one when he visited the building this week to tout 54 new small schools opening in September. The principals-to-be of the venture capitalist-backed Academy of Software Engineering and dozens more new schools stood by Bloomberg’s side as he touted the city's success at replacing large, dysfunctional high schools with smaller schools. The other new school, Union Square High School for Health Sciences, will share more than a street address with Washington Irving, which the city is closing due to poor performance. Its focus is a spinoff of one of Irving's programs, and its proposed leader, Bernardo Ascona, has been Irving’s principal since 2008. Ascona says he applied to lead the new school shortly after the city announced that it was considering closing Washington Irving. Now, some students and teachers say they feel slighted that he sought a way out even as they rallied to keep the school open. They also question why, for the second time in four years, the city has offered a plum new job — the same salary for fewer students and a clean slate — to an Irving principal. "It's unfair, particularly when the management hierarchy always seems to land on their feet," said Gregg Lundahl, Irving's union chapter leader. "The staff at Washington Irving work very, very hard. [Ascona] was only expecting us to do what he had been told to tell us to do, and as we can see it didn't work out so well." "He failed to make this school successful," said Anna Durante, a junior. "Once you have a game over, you don't get an extra token to restart."
March 30, 2012
From Buffalo, a warning for local consensus on absent students
The city and teachers union aren't anywhere close to settling on new teacher evaluations. But if and when they do strike a deal, they might have to revisit a point of agreement. Leo Casey, a teachers union official, told me recently that before negotiations broke down in December, the city and UFT had agreed that only students with a minimum attendance rate should be counted in teachers' scores. Exactly what that rate would be was still up for discussion, Casey said, but everyone agreed on the basic principle that if students aren't in class to learn, it's not fair to hold teachers responsible for their learning. It's an outlook that teachers at schools under threat of closure have shared over and over. At Washington Irving High School, teachers protesting the city's ultimately successful closure proposal argued that the school would have much stronger performance data if the city excluded the school's many "long-term absences" from its progress report calculations. It's also a point that united Buffalo and its teachers union as they negotiated a new teacher evaluation system earlier this year for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants. In February, they settled on a system that would exclude chronically absent students from the student growth portion of evaluations. But the State Education Department rejected that portion of their compromise. In the rejection letter, Education Commissioner John King explained that Buffalo's evaluation system would have applied the attendance provision to the 20 percent of evaluations that the state controls, and that's not allowed. But another problem, he wrote, was that the provision could be abused.
March 8, 2012
At Grady High, desperately seeking an audience and finding one
Teachers from Grady High School during a rally outside the Brighton Beach school on Wednesday. Students and teachers at William Grady Career and Technical High School aren't waiting until next month's closure hearing to share what they think of the city's plan to close the school this summer. Students organized a week of protest last month, and teachers joined them with a rally and candlelight visit outside the school on Wednesday. Evelyn Katz, an English teacher, said teachers began the rally just after school let out at 3:09 p.m. and were joined at 5 p.m. by students who had stayed late for tutoring. The rally came just hours after the school received a visit from a top state official whose assessment could influence whether State Education Commissioner John King endorses the city's "turnaround" plan. Multiple people who work at the school said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, spent several hours at Grady Wednesday morning. They said she toured the school's vocational shops, which include culinary arts and automotive repair.
March 1, 2012
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.
February 2, 2012
Students explain why they walked out against school closures
Dozens of city students walked out of at least five high schools in three boroughs Wednesday to protest the city's school closure plans. Amid the crowd of protesters in Union Square, I spoke to several students about what inspired them to take to the streets and what they think the city will lose by shuttering struggling high schools. Here's what they told me: Ana Leguillou Senior, Paul Robeson High School The city decided to phase out Leguillou's Brooklyn school last year. Now that the school has started to shrink, Leguillou said student morale is low. "Students feel like they're not doing what they should be," she said. She tried to persuade friends to join her at the protest, but said, "They said, 'No, thanks, there's nothing more we can do.' It's sad to see that they've given up." Leguillou said she wanted to show her support to other schools in hopes that they could avoid the same fate. "It may be a lost cause for us, but we can still fight."
February 1, 2012
Students from three boroughs protest planned school closures
Student protesters unfurled a banner listing names of the schools that could close this year. Students from at least five city high schools walked out of classes this afternoon in opposition to the city's school closure proposals.
February 1, 2012
Dozens of teachers, students defend Irving at closure hearing
Parent Gail Wright speaks at Washington Irving High School's closure hearing. Elected officials who turned out in droves to defend a Harlem school against closure last week stayed home Tuesday night from another century-old Manhattan school also facing the ax. The city spared Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts from closure in favor of a plan to scrap just its middle school grades, but droves of elected local and state officials and advocacy groups packed the school auditorium in protest anyway during its hearing last week. There was no such fanfare at Irving, which would phase out completely under the city's plan, during its closure hearing Tuesday. Instead, just one city councilwoman, Rosie Mendez, joined dozens of Irving teachers, parents, and students in criticizing the Department of Education's closure proposal. Over the course of the four-hour-long closure hearing, speaker after speaker explained — as they did during a December rally — that Irving enrolls high-needs, low-income students who are the toughest in the system to serve. They also said the school's veteran staff and Principal Bernardo Ascona have remained dedicated to their students despite the school's uncertain future. This fall, the city reassigned the school from one federally funded improvement model to another, known as "transformation," then abandoned the plans altogether in December.
December 23, 2011
Guess the year: Credit recovery scandal at Washington Irving
New Year's Day will mark a decade since Mayor Bloomberg's first day on the job. The city's schools have changed in big ways since then — but some things, it seems, have stayed the same. While reading up earlier this week on Washington Irving High School before attending a protest against its planned closure, I came across a news report that could have been ripped from today's headlines: Students risked not graduating because a review found that they had been given credit even though they had failed required courses. From the New York Times' report about the scandal: O'Neill Ellis, 17, learned Tuesday that he would not receive a diploma. He had failed an economics class, but [the principal] allowed him to make up the credits by reading 15 chapters of an economic textbook and writing an 11-page report. When Mr. Ellis heard that [the principal] had been removed, he suspected his diploma would be revoked, he said in an interview last night. "I understand we might have messed up," he said. "But I don't see why they should have taken back our diplomas. It's not like I did a little two-page project. It took 11 pages, it required thinking." ... An English teacher, Linda Winkler, described a case involving a student in her class. She said the principal gave a passing grade to a student who had been absent from her class at least 50 times since February.
December 20, 2011
At Irving, closure protest focuses on students who don’t attend
Supporters of Washington Irving High School protested the school's planned closure this morning. It was still dark this morning when Steve Morris rolled up in front of Washington Irving High School on his bike. Morris had been the school’s librarian until last summer, when the struggling school cut him from its staff roster and shuttered the library. Now he was on his way to the Brandeis High School building as a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of position-less teachers who are shuffled to a different school each week. But first he wanted to offer silent support to his former students and colleagues who, along with parents and union officials, had filled Irving’s front steps to protest the Department of Education’s plan to close the school. “I’ll be the last librarian this school ever has,” Morris told me wistfully before pedaling north on Irving Place. Irving is one of 25 schools the city has proposed closing or shrinking this year. The century-old high school near Union Square got an F on its most recent progress report, down from C’s in the previous two years. In a series of spirited chats and statements, the protesters argued that the deck had long been stacked against the school.
December 9, 2011
Ten more struggling schools proposed for closure or truncation
The Department of Education has named seven more schools it intends to close and three more schools where it aims to lop off middle school grades. The 10 schools named today join 15 whose proposed closures or truncations were announced yesterday. The new additions to the closure list include three long-troubled high schools; two middle schools started under the Bloomberg administration; and the middle school grades of Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts, where scholar Cornel West last week pledged to fight any closure plans. Under the proposals, Manhattan's century-old Washington Irving High School, which the DOE had shrunk in recent years, will stop accepting new students and will close its doors in 2015. So will Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School, where students recently complained that they had been left without teachers in some classes. And Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, where students had been sounding the alarm about the school's status for years, will also close. Both Washington Irving and Grace Dodge are in their first year of federally funded "transformation," an improvement strategy reserved for the most struggling schools. Department officials said that the schools chosen to replace Washington Irving and Grace Dodge would get their federal funds in an arrangement that the city used to support 16 new schools this year.
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