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.
The principals’ first tasks, after getting an introduction to the turnaround concept, were to define their mission and vision for the new school; identify what should be preserved from the old one; and sketch out what to add next year. Some of that thinking made it into the detailed “Education Impact Statements” that the city released this week and some could wind up in the formal turnaround applications that the city must submit to the state in order to get federal funding to support the school overhauls.
At first, the workshops will involve only principals, Sternberg said. But over time, the principals will be encouraged to bring representatives of their support networks or organizations with which their schools have partnered. And once the process to rehire staff begins, members of the school-based hiring committees will be invited, too, Sternberg said.
Principals who are participating in the institute said not every school has been represented at the sessions so far. Under the federal regulations about turnaround, more than a dozen principals would have to be replaced, and some have already been informed that they will not be part of the replacement schools.
A principal who has participated said sessions have begun to touch on the rehiring process and how to craft postings for positions for the new school. Sternberg said all hiring decisions would take place through the 18-D process, set out in a clause of the teachers union contract the city is using to close and reopen the schools. The process requires committees formed jointly between department and teachers union officials to screen teachers who apply to stay on at the schools. But Sternberg said the institute’s work would lay groundwork the committees could use when they are formed later this spring.
The institute will meet through the summer and into the fall, Sternberg said. He also said the department would encourage principals to use any federal funding they receive to bring their entire staffs together for planning and team-building. Because the federal guidelines for turnaround require that at least half of a school’s teachers are replaced, the schools are likely to have many new teachers who will need to be trained. The city has been training a handful of new teachers just for schools that are undergoing comprehensive reform processes, but the 33 turnaround schools could be looking to fill as many as 1,700 positions.