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Union, city spar over outreach to schools targeted for closure

Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew is charging that the city’s new engagement strategy for schools that could face closure next year is too little, too late.

City officials said today that they plan to ramp up communication with parents and staff at 47 schools that could face closure. The move is in part a response to a successful lawsuit the union brought last year, in which two courts ruled that the city failed to meet state legal requirements for notifying schools and their communities about plans for closure.

But Mulgrew said today that the public notice and earlier meetings are not enough. Rather than helping the schools improve at the first signs of struggle, he said, the city let them get worse, until they became candidates for closure.

“Engaging the community in the process I think is a good thing,” Mulgrew said. “At the same time, if we know we have schools that are turning in the wrong direction, why are we waiting til now to reach out to them?”

City officials said they are distributing an outline of steps the Department of Education has already taken to boost each of the schools on its list. And and they said the new strategy is designed to uncover whether schools can be helped by changes other than closure.

“The whole point of our efforts is to get to struggling schools early, hear directly from the community what’s working and what isn’t working, and figure out the best path forward,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “We’ve been very clear that while some schools will be proposed for phase-out, some won’t be.”

Zarin-Rosenfeld noted that some of the schools on the city’s watch-list may instead receive less severe interventions, such as a change in principals or experiments with new curriculum. “But getting out to have conversations early and often, before any proposals have been made, will help us find the right solution for these schools,” he said.

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