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For some schools, report cards bring about a quick turn in luck

For a few high schools, the grades they got on this year’s progress reports could make the difference between life and death.

Though most schools’ grades didn’t change dramatically from last year, several schools the city tried to close last year saw improvement this year while others that had once been good schools have fallen to the bottom.

Of the 19 schools the city unsuccessfully tried to close for poor performance last year, two schools had their grades jump multiple rungs. W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School and the Choir Academy of Harlem, both of which got D’s last year, and got B’s this time.

Chancellor Joel Klein said the Department of Education would take the new, higher grades into consideration when deciding whether to try and close the schools it had once deemed “failures” a second time.

“We put great weight on the grades,” he said at a press conference this morning at Manhattan Bridges High School. “We announced those schools based on the information we had at the time.”

“I’m not making any decisions here today,” he added.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew, who made defending Maxwell against closure a special focus last year, said he’d always known the school was good.

“The city doesn’t want to recognize it for being a good school, but it has some top notch career and technical programs inside of it,” he said. “They really did a number on the school with how they treated it. They disseminated some of the programs like graphic arts.”

While some schools may find themselves suddenly removed from the city’s closure list, others may be just as surprised to land there.

Long considered to be one of the city’s best remaining behemoth high schools, Herbert Lehman High School experienced a precipitous fall this year. In three years, Lehman has gone from being a B school to getting an F. Schools that receive a grade of F or D, or get three C’s in a row, are at risk for closure.

The school’s principal, Janet Saraceno, arrived in the fall of 2008 after the school’s veteran principal resigned in the wake of a financial scandal. As part of a Department of Education program to lure principals to the city’s most challenging schools, Saraceno was given a bonus and the title “executive principal.” Soon after, teachers reported that she was changing dozens of students’ grades in order to increase the school’s credit accumulation and graduate rates.

Klein said today that the city’s investigation into Lehman is still unfinished. He said the city decided to release the school’s progress report this year — unlike last year, when it was withheld — because the investigation only covered grades and Regents scores from the 2008-09 school year.

Mulgrew blamed the city for allowing Lehman to go downhill. In the last year, safety has become a problem at the school and the city installed metal detectors over the summer.

“You had a large functioning high school, so why would you sit back and allow it to decline?,” he said. “Take her [Saraceno] out of there and get a safety team in there!”

City officials also announced today that next year’s high school progress reports will include new data such as the number of students who enroll in college and how many graduate able to meet the City of New York University’s standards.

Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky said this data won’t be included in schools’ grades until 2012, but it will show up on progress reports next year. Another factor the city will track and report is how many Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes the school offers.

“We want people to have time to gear up and focus on this,” Suransky said.

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