Politics & Policy

New York

Pace of change yields mixed reactions at Bryant closure hearing

Bryant High School teachers and students rally outside the school's 31st Avenue entrance before the closure hearing. Over a hundred teachers, students, and alumni converged at from William Cullen Bryant High School closure hearing last night to warn city officials that undergoing "turnaround" next year would harm the school. But some teachers said that rapid changes are already hitting the school under the hard-charging leadership of first-year principal Namita Dwarka. Bryant is one of eight Queens schools proposed for turnaround, which would require them to close and reopen this summer with a new name and many new teachers. The school counts former schools chancellor Joel Klein among its graduates, but it has struggled in recent years to meet the city's expectations. It landed on the turnaround list because of its lagging graduation rate, which last year was 56.5 percent, slightly lower than the city average. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer invoked Bryant's century-old legacy in a press conference outside the school and during the hearing. Sporting a lapel pin with the school's mascot, an owl, and other alumni, Van Bramer said the school's tradition of excellence brought pride to the community and should be preserved. Many teachers who spoke at the hearing shared his concern. But others expressed enthusiasm about changes at the school. The conflicting feelings reflected some of the tensions that have arisen since Dwarka took over as principal in September and, according to at least half a dozen teachers who have spoken with GothamSchools, began issuing low ratings to teachers who had never received them before.
New York

City pulls seven schools with top ratings from turnaround plans

Just days after telling the state that it wanted to "turn around" 33 schools, the city has knocked that number down to 26. Department of Education officials notified principals at seven of the schools with top grades on the city's internal assessment of school quality their schools would no longer be slated for turnaround. Turnaround is a federally prescribed school reform process that requires half of teachers to be replaced. In the model the city is using in order to win federal funds, the schools would have been closed and reopened with new names and new staffs this summer. The department had been criticized roundly for proposing to turn around seven schools that had met the city's own benchmarks by receiving A's or B's on their annual progress reports. The city's shocking about-face comes less than a week after the city submitted formal applications to the state for approval and just hours before one of the schools on the list, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, was set to have a public hearing about its closure. Another school on the list, Harlem Renaissance High School, had a closure hearing last week. In addition to Global Studies and Harlem Renaissance, the five other schools no longer slated for turnaround are William E. Grady Career and Technical High School, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, I.S. 136, William Maxwell Career and Technical High School, and Cobble Hill School of American Studies. Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement that department officials had concluded the schools could improve without radically overhauling their staffs.
New York

Marshaled by Marshall, Queens officials join in turnaround fight

Dozens of Queens elected officials and their policy advisers rallied today in Kew Gardens to denounce the city's plans to turnaround 33 schools, including several from Queens. Standing beside a dozen elected officials this morning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled the anxiety in the voices of the many Queens students, teachers and school leaders who have implored her to help them fight city plans to close their schools this year. "When they came to us, I heard children cry, 'What am I going to do?'" Marshall said at a press conference denouncing the city's plans to "turn around" 33 schools, including eight Queens schools. "They love their schools, they want to stay in their schools. They love learning in their schools. I stand hand in hand here with the children. They do not want this." Marshall convened the press conference just hours before Queens' first public hearing about turnaround, the controversial process the city has proposed for 33 struggling schools. But the event was far from Marshall's first public statement on the plans, which would require the schools to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. She also held a hearing at Queens Borough Hall about the proposals in February, where she unveiled an uncharacteristically aggressive stance against the Department of Education. The shift makes sense: For the previous decade, Queens has seen relatively few of its schools shuttered for poor performance, and of the 23 schools whose closures or truncations were approved in February, only one was in the borough. But the borough is home to a full quarter of the schools proposed for turnaround.
New York

A Lehman teacher reflects at start of week's turnaround hearings

Hearings This Week Monday School for Global Studies, Brooklyn Grover Cleveland HS, Queens Herbert H. Lehman HS, Bronx Tuesday HS of Graphic Communication Arts, Manhattan William Cullen Bryant HS, Queens Wednesday J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, Brooklyn Thursday I.S. 339, Bronx Richmond Hill HS, Queens Among the many people set to attend a hearing tonight about the city's plan to "turn around" Herbert H. Lehman HIgh School is a teacher who has spent time on both sides of the documentary eye. James McSherry, who has taught writing and film at Lehman for the last 20 years, was the subject of not one but two recent student reporting projects at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. In one story (above), by Nabil Rahman, McSherry empathizes with his students and shares pieces of his life story, saying, "I know what it's like to be hungry, to be lost, to be forgotten by a system that really doesn't care." A second story by Alex Robinson (below) focuses on the turnaround plans and McSherry's response to them. McSherry won't be alone in opposing the turnaround plan tonight. Anne Looser, the school's UFT chapter leader, sent a press release last week drawing attention to the hearing and calling on the Department of Education to keep Lehman open with the same teachers. And students, too, are organizing to oppose the turnaround plan, which would require the school to be closed and reopened with a new name and many new teachers. Lehman's hearing is among eight taking place this week. They are listed at the right.
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

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.
New York

Merryl Tisch: Turnaround plan "has nothing to do with the kids"

Tisch spoke on a GothamSchools panel in 2011. Breaking her silence on the city's plan to overhaul 33 struggling schools, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said late Wednesday that she believes "turnaround" is a political strategy, not an educational one. "There's a fight going on here that has nothing to do with what's going on at the school," she said. "It's a labor dispute between labor and management and has nothing to do with the kids." Tisch was referring to the stalemate between the Bloomberg administration and the teachers union that gave rise to the city's turnaround plans. Bloomberg announced the plans in January as a way to get federal funds for the schools even though the city and union had not been able to agree on new teacher evaluations, a requirement of less aggressive strategies already in place. The turnaround strategy, which require the schools to be closed and reopened after changing their names and half of their teachers, has only deepened enmity between the city and UFT. On Wednesday, Tisch visited one of the schools, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School, and said she was impressed by the changes underway, which she attributed to its principal, Geraldine Maione. The school received millions of federal dollars in the last two years while undergoing "transformation," which funded extra tutoring, additional programs, and new technology. "This is a school that is moving in a really fine direction," Tisch said of Grady, which received a B on its most recent city progress report. "This is the wrong message to this school at this time. Don't be so dismissive of the efforts going on in that building." It was Tisch's second visit to the school. Last week, she brought fellow Regent Kathleen Cashin for a visit that was scheduled after she met Maione in February at a principals union event featuring Diane Ravitch. On Wednesday, Maione said, Tisch and Cashin brought State Education Commissioner John King along with them.
New York

Prep for turnaround process brings principals weekly to Tweed

New York

With turnaround plans detailed, city turns attention to hearings

The city filled out its slate of "turnaround" proposals just minutes before the legal deadline to propose school closures for next year. After posting documents detailing 15 of the rapid overhaul plans last week, the city published the remaining 18 at about 11:20 p.m. Monday night. Monday was the six-month mark before the likely start of the 2012-2013 school year, so it was the legal deadline for the city to release "Education Impact Statements" for any schools it wants to close. Under turnaround, the city will close and immediately reopen the schools after replacing half of their teachers and, in many cases, their principals. The city devised the plan in January to allow federal funds for struggling schools to continue flowing even without a city-union agreement on new teacher evaluations. The statements detail exactly what the city is planning to do with the curriculum, career programs, and extracurricular options — sort of. In many cases, the city says only that it "may" close a program or introduce another one. For example, the impact statement for W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School says the city "is considering" cutting the apparel design and communication media programs. The new school, the statement says, "will explore" adding a sports medicine program. (The statement also strains to identify shortcomings with Maxwell, which received an A on its most recent city progress report.) The statements are just the first step in a series of legal procedures that lay the groundwork for closure — and they don't count for anything with the state, which must approve the plans if they are to receive federal funding. The city still has not submitted formal turnaround applications for State Education Commissioner John King to consider.
New York

At HS fair, turnaround schools struggle to define themselves

Paul Heymont, a social studies teacher at Automotive High School, shows off the list of sports and clubs on offer at the Brooklyn school. It's hard to get students interested in your school when, according to the  city's "turnaround" plan, it might not exist in the fall. That's what Deborah Elsenhout, a guidance counselor at Banana Kelly High School, reasoned when droves of families walked right past her booth at last weekend's Round 2 High School Fair, toward the hallway reserved for new schools opening in the fall. As one of 33 schools proposed for the "turnaround" school reform model, Banana Kelly is waiting to learn whether it will shut down this June, to reopen in the fall with the same students but a new name and a staffing overhaul. Students who apply to the 25 high schools on the turnaround list would automatically be transfered to the new schools that would replace them. Elsenhout said she either glossed over the turnaround situation to families who did stop, or didn't mention it at all. But it's hard, she noted, to advertise a school without a name. "We do have a rigorous academic curriculum and a strong connection with the community," she said. "But there's a sadness, knowing people will be losing their jobs." Teachers at many of the turnaround schools have expressed persistent confusion about the plan and its implication for their students. They also found it posed a dilemma at the fair, where 270 schools were given a weekend to pitch their programs, new and old, to hundreds of eighth-graders who were not accepted at their top-choice high schools during the city's main admissions process. Some teachers reassured families their schools weren't going anywhere, but others said the schools were already gone.