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April 4, 2012
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.
April 3, 2012
In many tongues, Newtown students attempt to save their school
After months of relative quiet, students and staff of Newtown High School are joining the chorus of opposition to the city's "turnaround" plans — with a heartfelt video produced by four engineering students.
April 2, 2012
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.
April 2, 2012
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.
April 2, 2012
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.
March 29, 2012
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.
March 28, 2012
As hearing nears, Sheepshead students indict turnaround plan
In preparation to protest the closure of Sheepshead Bay High School tonight at a public hearing, students interrogated a cardboard cutout of Mayor Michael Bloomberg on video. In the video, a student posing as an attorney stages a mock "cross-examination," of the mayor and his plans, which involve closing and re-opening 33 schools this year under a federal reform model known as "turnaround."
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.
March 15, 2012
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.
March 9, 2012
Students defend Dewey from closure in afternoon walk-out
Bolstered by the city's unflinching plan to close John Dewey High School this June, students from the South Brooklyn campus added a walk-out to their growing resumé of protest actions this afternoon.
March 9, 2012
Prep for turnaround process brings principals weekly to Tweed
Principals of many of the schools proposed for radical overhauls this summer have begun trekking each Tuesday to the Department of Education's headquarters at Tweed Courthouse to prepare. There, department officials are briefing them on how to shepherd their schools through the next six months during a weekly "Turnaround Schools Institute." The institute launched several weeks ago, after Mayor Bloomberg announced that 33 schools would be closed and reopened after having their leadership, programs, and teaching staffs shaken up under a federally prescribed process called "turnaround." The institute is an adaptation of the "New Schools Intensive," a six-month training seminar that the department has run for principals of new schools for nearly a decade, according to Marc Sternberg, the department official in charge of school closures and new schools, who himself participated in the new school program when launching the Bronx Lab School in 2004. The main idea, Sternberg said, is that the principals can work both with Department of Education officials and with other school leaders preparing for an unprecedented school overhaul process this fall. Multiple offices are involved in designing the programming, which borrows also from school overhaul trainings conducted in Chicago and North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg district and from efforts by nonprofit groups such as New Visions for Public Schools, which works with some of the city schools proposed for turnaround.
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 6, 2012
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.
March 5, 2012
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.
March 5, 2012
DOE officials called to stand in case of closing schools' support
The UFT wants former Chancellor Joel Klein to take a break from running News Corporation's education division to explain just how the Department of Education helped schools it was once barred from closing. The union has subpoenaed Klein to appear in court in the next phase of a school closure lawsuit filed last year. It has also issued "notices of deposition" to require 11 current Department of Education officials, including Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, to testify. That lawsuit, which a judge ruled should not impede the city's school closure plans, argued that the department had not provided 19 schools with promised support. The city had committed to providing the supports — which ranged from assigning temporary teachers to add extra support to providing additional teacher training — under the terms of a 2010 closure lawsuit. The union's 2010 suit focused on the city's compliance with state law about public notification of closure proposals. A state Supreme Court justice ruled that the city had not followed the law, halting school closures for that year. In a settlement, the city promised to pour extra help into the schools to help them boost performance and avoid closure the next year. But a year later, 14 of the 19 schools were back on the chopping block.
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