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City plans for a management change at nine struggling schools

Unable to convince the teachers union to let school officials fire principals and teachers at a group of low-performing schools, the city is resorting to a another option: changing the schools’ management.

The so-called “restart” option is one of four programs districts can take on in order to win federal grants aimed at improving the country’s lowest-performing schools.

City officials announced today that nine public schools will undergo the restart model next year. The plan putting a school under new management — for example, under the guidance of an education management organization like New Visions. A major, and so-far unanswered, question is how this plan will differ from the relationships schools already have with support networks, whose job it is to offer academic and operational guidance. Another question is what organizations would apply to partner with these schools on such short notice.

Three other schools that are eligible for the federal improvement grants will not receive them next year. Plans to overhaul the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Harlem Renaissance High School, and W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical High School, all of which could begin any of the improvement models next year, will be put on hold for another year while the city decides whether to close them or improve them as they are.

Department of Education officials said they intend to announce their plans for 31 other schools that are eligible for the grants tomorrow. Some of those schools will undergo the restart strategy, but the officials did not say how many.

The two improvement plans that officials have publicly discussed for the last several months — transformation and turnaround — cannot be used because they require the teachers union’s blessing, which the city never won. The impasse is a blow to the city, which argues that low-performing schools are weighed down by ineffective teachers. Under the restart model, the city wil have to rely on its current, slower-moving method of firing teachers, rather than being able to replace half of a school’s staff.

A city official said that the two sides could not agree on whether teachers’ evaluations in their first year of the new model should count toward their dismissal. Another sticking point arose in negotiations around the turnaround model, which calls for schools to replace their principals and 50 percent of their teachers. A teachers union official said the two sides had not spoken since last week.

With a deadline tomorrow for submitting their proposals to the state, city officials said they were left with no choice but to use the restart model or close schools. The latter is unappealing, an official said, because it would mean closing large schools late in the year and without clear plans for their replacement.

Although the restart model allows districts to convert schools into charter schools, a city official said that none of the nine restart schools will become charter schools. Last week, the Department of Education posted a request for proposal asking education management groups to apply to link up with some of these schools.

“Our options were limited at this point,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “We didn’t want to do closure and so really the key decision we faced is what schools were ready to do the restart model.”

Zarin-Rosenfeld said the DOE chose schools that are showing signs of improvement. He said that the schools could still get new principals if the city decides that a leadership change is key to improvement.

Of the 54 schools that are eligible for this federal funding, 11 are already undergoing the transformation model, which is the least invasive of the available improvement plans. It calls for schools to get new principals and funding to improve their curriculum, professional development for teachers, and offer longer school days. But with the city and union at an impasse, their progress is now in jeopardy and they may have to be switched to the restart model.

State officials agreed to allow those schools to begin the transformation model so long as the city and union eventually reached an agreement on how to evaluate teachers, but with no agreement in the works, they are unlikely to approve a second year of transformation work, said a city official.

Schools that will undergo the restart model:

Herbert Lehman High School
Banana Kelly High School
Bronx High School of Business
Grace Dodge Career and Technical High School
John Dewey High School
Newtown High School
Grover Cleveland High School
Richmond Hill High School
John Adams High School

Schools that will not receive improvement grants next year:

High School of Graphic Communication Arts
Harlem Renaissance High School
W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical High School

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