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City rescinds four schools' closure plans after improvement

Four schools that the city tried to close last year will stay open after officials decided that they had shown enough improvement to earn a reprieve.

The schools — three of them high schools and one a middle school — were among 19 schools the city tried and failed to close last year after the teachers union sued to stop the closures. Given another year, but significantly fewer students and funding, most of those 19 schools were recommended for closure again this year. None of them are being considered for the other two school improvement strategies suggested by the federal government that the city will use in other struggling schools.

The four schools that faced closure last year, but will remain open, are the Choir Academy of Harlem’s high school grades, Maxwell Career and Technical High School, the Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence, and Business, Computer Applications, and Entrepreneurship High School.

City officials cited the schools’ improvement on their progress reports, which are given to schools annually and assign them grades from A through F.

Maxwell and the Choir Academy both got D’s on their progress reports last year, but were able to bring their grades up to a B this year. The Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence went from a C to a B and city officials noted that the school has a new principal.

Business, Computer Applications, and Entrepreneurship High School is the exception to the rule, as its progress report grade has not improved. Last year, the school received a D and this year it saw the same grade. In the last three years, its graduation rate has dropped from 62 percent to 51 percent. But city officials expressed confidence that the school was on its way to improvement under a new principal’s leadership and with the buy-in of its teachers.

Out of the 55 schools the city identified as in danger of being closed, the city will try to close 25. Of the remaining 30, nearly half are on the state’s list of persistently low-achieving schools. These 14 schools will likely begin one of the federal government’s school improvement models next school year, provided the city can reach an agreement with the teachers and principals’ unions that will let them subvert the contracts to do this.

The more invasive of these methods is the “turnaround” model, which calls for a school’s principal to be replaced and its teachers and administrators to reapply for their jobs. Only 50 percent can be rehired. If the city decides to use this method, it will have to work with the teachers and principals’ unions to form a side-agreement, allowing them to bend the contract to include these changes.

The other method is known as the “transformation” model, and it’s already being used by eleven city schools. The least severe of the government’s strategies, this model relies on removing a school’s principal, bringing in extra support services and experimenting with longer school days and new teacher training.

The remaining 16 struggling schools the city has decided to keep open will not undergo any changes next year. Because they aren’t among the lowest achieving schools in the state, they are not eligible for federal improvement money.

“They’ll have normal school years,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, adding that the department would continue to watch the schools’ progress.

Herbert Lehman High School, which was considered for closure because of the F on its most recent progress report, is one of these schools. Lehman, which has been rocked by safety problems and a new principal under investigation for changing students’ grades, did not make the state’s list of schools eligible for improvement grants.

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