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List of schools city must "turn around" grows by twenty-one

New York State’s annual worst-of list is out today and it includes 21 new struggling schools that New York City will have to radically change in the next several years.

Many of these schools are already on the city’s radar. Two of them — the School for Community Research and Learning and I.S. 195 — are on the list of schools the city plans to begin closing next year. Others, such as Herbert Lehman High School, earned poor grades on their annual progress reports and were considered for closure.

With the addition of these 21 schools, the number of schools eligible for (but not yet undergoing) federal “turnaround” strategies is up to 43. By next April, the city’s Department of Education has to send the state a plan for how it will improve each of these schools.

“We need to apply to the state with a school-by-school plan with a proposed budget and we’ll go back and forth with them on a draft until they finally approve,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “We have a technical deadline of sometime in April, but obviously we want to get moving on this as soon as possible.”

If the city’s plans are approved, schools will begin working under one of the improvement models next September. For each of them, the city will receive, at most, about $2 million for three years. The size of the grants will vary depending on the size of the school.

Last year, when state education officials named the schools eligible for school improvement grants, it gave the city extra time to submit its plans for how to improve them. City officials said that with the addition of 21 schools, they may need to ask for more time again.

DOE officials have four school improvement models to choose from, but they are only considering two: transformation and turnaround.

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

In comparison, the “turnaround” model is like a root canal for a school. It calls for a school’s principal to be replaced and its teachers and administrators to reapply for their jobs. Only 50 percent of the staff can be rehired, but the students remain the same. In some respects, it is similar to the process the city currently uses to phase-out schools and open new ones in their stead, except that in the “turnaround” model, the school retains its name and does not change the type of students it admits.

City officials said that because of the similarities, they are considering using the turnaround method — and the federal money that comes with it — to improve schools they initially planed to close, such as the School for Community Research and Learning and I.S. 195. Other schools that landed on the city’s closure list this week, such as Jamaica High School and Paul Robeson High School, that are also eligible for the federal grant money, could be put through the turnaround model instead.

In order to use the turnaround model, the city will have to forge an agreement with the teachers and principals’ union, allowing them to side-step the contract and remove school employees without a hearing.

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