Politics & Policy

New York

UFT and principals union file suit to stop “turnaround” closures

Principals Union President Ernest Logan and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew announce lawsuit over turnarounds. After months of charging that the city's controversial "turnaround" plans reflected an over-reliance on closures to improve schools, the UFT and city principals union are making an about-face. In a lawsuit filed today in State Supreme Court to halt the plans, the unions argue that turnaround doesn't amount to closure at all. That means, they argue, that no process exists in their contracts to guide staffing changes under the federally prescribed school reform strategy. The suit means that three and a half months of heated public hearings and fiery rhetoric is likely to come down in court to a single question: Does giving a school a new name and identification number make it a new school? The city's answer is yes. Under turnaround, 24 schools would close and reopen immediately with new names, many new teachers, and, in many cases, new principals — but the students would stay put. The city is using existing procedures for school closures to smooth things along — in essence collapsing an established multi-year closure process into a single moment. That includes using a clause in the UFT's contract with the city to guide rehiring at the schools. But union officials charged today that not much would change under turnaround. "These are not really closures and therefore they cannot use the contractual procedures that apply to closures," said Adam Ross, the UFT's top lawyer, at a press conference today about the long-promised lawsuit. "The only thing they're changing in these schools is the identification number. It's the same students in the same buildings doing the same things."
New York

With "turnaround" now approved, a high school looks forward

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."
New York

The day after: What we learned at last night's turnaround hearing

A teacher from Lehman High School testifies at Thursday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting. The panel voted to close and reopen Lehman. Here are seven things you should know about last night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, in case you don't have time to read the live-blog we maintained for more than six hours as the panel weighed whether to approve "turnaround" closure plans for 24 schools. 1. There's a new form of school closure in town. Usually, when the Department of Education decides to close a school, it embarks on a multi-year process of phasing out the old school and phasing in a new school, or multiple new schools, in its place. The department has used this process well over 100 times in the last decade and has said it results in stronger student performance. This process is what the panel okayed in February, when it signed off on plans to close or shrink 23 schools. Turnaround is a little different. It speeds up the process so phasing out and in happen at the same time, essentially overnight. It remains to be seen whether years of transition or rapid change can be judged to be more effective at boosting student achievement. The city turned to turnaround this year to make schools eligible for federal funds. But if the city determines that turnaround has advantages over phase-out, the city could use it again in the future. 2. But turnaround isn't really as new as Mayor Bloomberg made it out to be. On the dais, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that a panel resolution to prohibit turnarounds was inaccurate because it stated that the reform initiative was unknown in New York City. In fact, Walcott said, the city has used turnaround before –  but to a lesser extent. They also have never called their reform efforts turnaround, a term that comes from the Obama administration's school reform vocabulary list. What they have done is close low-performing schools and open new ones in their place that serve all of the same grades and students. When that has happened, in some elementary and middle school overhauls, the principals of the new schools have been bound to hire from the old schools' staff in accordance with the same clause in the city's contract with the teachers union that the city is invoking in the turnaround schools.
New York

For skeptical parents, 'turnaround' principal change brings hope

Vivian Selenikas, right, sits with Long Island City High School principal Maria Mamo-Vacacela, left, at the school's closure hearing. Last week, hundreds of parents, teachers, and students crowded Long Island City High School's auditorium for a hearing about the school's planned "turnaround." On Tuesday evening, just a dozen parents attended a meeting to hear directly from the Department of Education's latest pick to run the revamped school. Gathered in the school's band room, they learned that Vivian Selenikas, the proposed school leader, speaks four languages (English, Spanish, Greek and Italian. They found that she started her career in the 1980s as a Spanish teacher at Richmond Hill High School, another school on the turnaround list. And they learned that she believes careful curriculum planning will lift Long Island City out of a slump of low attendance (the rate last year was 80 percent) and poor city progress report grades. They also learned that Selenikas is not afraid to stand up and cha-cha. When the school's cheerleading coach led parents through impromptu dance exercises at the end of the Parent Association meeting, Selenikas joined in. As a Queens network leader, Selenikas is no stranger to the large high school on Broadway, which required help from her and other Department of Education officials last year to resolve massive scheduling problems. "It's important that someone who knew the community and knew the needs of this neighborhood helped to move the school forward, should the decision be made that Long Island City will no longer be Long Island City," she said. But many parents say they are worried that the city is not planning adequately for turnaround. Some say they are wary of the abrupt leadership change, which would be the third in less than four years. The current principal, Maria Mamo-Vacacela, came under fire last year for overhauling most students' schedules two months into the academic year.
New York

Unraveling three and a half months of "turnaround" twists: Part I

Since Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to "turn around" dozens of struggling schools during his State of the City speech in January, the city has hammered out specifics while holding two rounds of raucous meetings at each of the schools that could be overhauled. Meanwhile, community members, politicians, and union officials have argued against turnaround at rally after rally — even as the city's plans evolved. On Thursday, they will air those arguments one more time as the Panel for Educational Policy — which has never rejected a city proposal — sits down to hear public testimony and then vote on 26 turnaround plans. In two posts, we will summarize how the city got here, what turnaround entails, and what could happen after Thursday. First, some recent history: What exactly is turnaround, anyway? Turnaround is one of four federally prescribed school overhaul strategies that cities can adopt to qualify for School Improvement Grants. The SIG program was developed to entice states and school districts to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan committed to funding overhauls. The program has gotten mixed reviews across the country but still has sent school districts into a frenzy trying to win scarce funds, which can amount to millions of dollars per school for three years. If districts want the funds, they must select one of the four strategies for each school on the list. They can close the schools and disperse their students; partner them with nonprofit groups or turn them into charter schools under "restart"; add new resources and programs under "transformation"; or choose turnaround.
New York

Schools slated for turnaround say they're already getting better

Teachers and students at the Flushing closure hearing wore red and glitter horns to represent the school's mascot, the Red Devils. The Department of Education isn't paying attention to recent improvements at the school it has proposed for "turnaround," teachers and students said at two of the schools Wednesday evening. At Flushing High School, teachers said during a public hearing about the turnaround plan that a recent leadership change had created conditions for success — and that any consideration of the school's performance should taken into account its large immigrant population. At the Bronx High School of Business, teachers said the staff had been overhauled this year but hadn't yet had a chance to demonstrated success. The city has been holding public hearings about the turnarounds, which would require schools to be closed and reopened after replacing many teachers, since late last month. The final two hearings are tonight, and the city's Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the 26 total proposals next week. It has never rejected a city proposal. Flushing High School According to the dozens of students and teachers who testified at Wednesday night's closure hearing, Flushing High School is on the upswing after suffering from years of poor leadership and budget cuts. More than 100 protesters of the city's plan to close the school using the turnaround model struck a tone of optimism and passion as they sat in the Flushing auditorium, wearing red T-shirts and, in some cases, glittery horns to represent the school's mascot, the Red Devils. A group of sophomores from a band class drummed forcefully on plastic tubs before city officials began the hearing, chanting, "Save our school." Deputy Chancellor David Weiner cited the school's low four-year graduation rate — 60 percent for the past two years — as the main reason the Department of Education believes Flushing would benefit from turnaround. As he spoke, teachers and parents in the audience sporadically shouted over him. "Nobody wants this!" one called. "Fix truancy," another shouted. A third person yelled, "They're not English-speaking," referring to Flushing's large number of English Language Learners. Of Flushing's 3,075 students, 618 are ELLs.
New York

Back to school means back to turnaround hearings and protests

Hearings This Week Monday Alfred E. Smith CTE HS, Bronx August Martin HS, Queens J.H.S. 80, Bronx Tuesday John Dewey HS, Brooklyn Long Island City HS, Queens Newtown HS, Queens Wednesday Bronx HS of Business, Bronx Bushwick Community HS, Brooklyn Flushing HS, Queens Richmond Hill HS, Queens Thursday John Adams HS, Queens M.S. 142 John Philip Sousa, Bronx Debate about the city's controversial plan to "turn around" 26 struggling schools did not pause for spring break, with a legislative hearing and protest focusing on the proposals last week. But the school-based closure hearings, required as part of the turnaround process the city is trying to use, did go on hiatus. Now, after holding 15 hearings in the weeks before the break, the city has a dozen more to race through this week. The turnaround plan will go on trial tonight at August Martin High School, whose principal was replaced the day before the break began. Supporters of Flushing High School, where a hearing will take place on Wednesday, are holding a rally this morning in Queens. Teachers at Brooklyn's John Dewey High School, who were among the first to begin protesting the turnaround plans in January, are planning to turn out en masse at the school's hearing on Tuesday. And supporters of Bushwick Community High School, whose low graduation rate is by design because it serves only students who have fallen behind in other schools, will make yet another attempt to convince Department of Education officials to keep their school open. A full list of the hearings taking place this week is at the right.
New York

Walcott: Turnaround will happen even without federal funding

When members of the Panel for Educational Policy vote on more than two dozen school closure proposals later this month, they won't know whether the city will get federal dollars to fund the schools that replace them. Speaking to state lawmakers today, Education Commissioner John King said he does not plan to respond to the city's applications for federal School Improvement Grants until "early June" — well over a month after the PEP is scheduled to vote on closure plans for 26 schools. The panel has never rejected a city proposal. The closures are part of an overhaul process known as "turnaround" that the city devised in large part to win the funds. When Mayor Bloomberg announced the turnaround plans in his State of the City speech in January, he cited the availability of the federal funds — about $2 million per school each year — as a key motivator. But lately, the city's rhetoric has changed. When the Department of Education published details about its school closure plans last month, it explained that the turnarounds would happen with or without the federal dollars. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg also told GothamSchools that new principals wouldn't have to replace half of their staffs when the schools reopened, a provision that could disqualify the schools from receiving SIG grants. Walcott told reporters at the hearing today that closure was the best move forward for the 26 low-rated schools with or without the supplemental grants. The schools are eligible for more than $150 million over a three-year period, but Walcott said the city's plans could be implemented without the extra funding. "If we have the money, that's great," he said. "But money should not drive policy. The policy should be, how do we benefit the students in the long run, and that's my overall goal."
New York

Funding for no-longer-turnaround schools still an open question

Rejoice is turning to concern about funding at schools newly spared from an aggressive overhaul process. The seven schools — all with top grades on the city’s performance metrics — pulled from the Department of Education’s “turnaround” roster on Monday were positioned to receive about $15 million in federal School Improvement Grants next year. Being taken off the turnaround list means the schools won't have to replace half of their teachers, lose their names, or get new principals. But it also means that they might not receive the funds: A letter distributed by the Department of Education to students at the schools on Tuesday states, "We regret that this [change] may result in the loss of federal resources for your school." The funds could make the difference between continued improvement and backsliding for the schools. Five of the seven schools had received SIG funds in 2010 and 2011, enabling them to pay for enhancements that their principals said led to quick improvements. At Brooklyn's School of Global Studies, nearly $1 million received under "transformation" allowed the school to buy new technology and hire expert teachers. William E. Grady Career and Technical High School paid for tutoring, college trips, an extended program, and Saturday school for students who had fallen behind. Both schools scored B's on their most recent city progress reports after years of low grades. "If we don’t get the money we wont be able to finish what we started," Geraldine Maione, Grady's principal, said this week. "We started out on the premise that we were getting this money for three years because that is what we were told."
New York

Voices from turnaround hearings reflect on schools' qualities

Public hearings about the city's plan to "turn around" dozens of struggling city schools have attracted vociferous protest. But behind the anger and frustration we found teachers and students who had carefully considered their schools' need to improve and the potential effects of the turnaround plan. At six hearings in four boroughs, teachers and students said their schools had not been given enough time to improve with the help of federal School Improvement Grants, and warned that turnaround would make improvement more difficult. Here's what some of them told us when we asked them to delve deeper into their thoughts about their schools' pasts, presents, and future. Joe Puntino, social studies teacher at Automotive High School What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far? "I don't know where this money went. Last year, the one when we were [using the federal model called] transformation, it seemed to me that most of the money went to pizza. Every event we had, the students had, there were 20 pizza pies. The only thing that I see that New Visions, [the non-profit that supervises Automotive,] has actually done, which is a good thing, is they brought in something called "Datacation," which is a great tool. It's the best thing they've done. It's basically a one-stop store for teachers. Gradebook, anecdotal logs, contact information. It's a great tool. The only thing I can positively say that they did well. Other than that, they walk around into our classrooms, they jot down notes and you hear nothing." In what areas do you think the school needs further improvement? "For the students coming in here, there can't be 40 percent with [Individualized Education Plans for special education students]. Any school's going to fail with 40 percent IEPs. There had to be a better proportion of non-IEPS to IEPs. We'll take them, we'll teach them, we love them, but 40 percent? Any school isn't going to make the benchmark that the state wants."
New York

CEJ: Hiring costs at turnaround schools could top $60 million

Parents and students rallied at City Hall this afternoon to protest the city's closure plans Replacing teachers at the remaining 26 turnaround schools could cost the city as much as $60 million, according to a new analysis released today by one of the city's most vociferous opponents. The report, released by the Coalition for Educational Justice in advance of an organized student and parent protest at City Hall, also took aim at the process the Department of Education used to assessed many of the schools that remain on the turnaround list. A dozen schools are doing well enough on their annual progress reports that they cleared the city's own closure benchmark. The CEJ cost analysis found that up to 849 teachers in the 26 schools could be replaced in order to qualify for federal school improvement grants, which require that no more than 50 percent of teachers can be retained under the turnaround model. The analysis omitted teachers who were hired in the last two years because they are likely to be exempted from the total pool of teachers that must reapply to their positions. The final figures will almost certainly be less than CEJ's projections because DOE officials have begun telling principals they won't be on the hook any specific number of teachers. The report details the salary and tenure profile at each of the 26 schools. For instance, teachers at John Dewey High School, where college-readiness rates exceed the city average, earned the highest average salary, $82,641, and just 7 percent of its staff was hired in the last two years. At Banana Kelly, where more than half of its teaching staff joined the school in recent years, just one teacher would need to be removed at the school to qualify for the funds.