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Worried union talks will fail, city plans to "restart" schools

Days before the deadline to decide how it plans to overhaul low-performing schools, the city is considering going in a new direction.

Over the last year that the city has been deciding which of four federally mandated school improvement strategies to use in these schools, it has only publicly discussed two plans: transformation and turnaround. Both of them call for major changes in school personnel and how schools use time, meaning that both of them have to be negotiated with the teachers union.

But with the deadline for the city to submit its proposal only four days away, and the city yet to reach a deal with the teachers union, the Department of Education is considering a third option.

Known as the “restart” model, the plan involves closing a school and reopening it under new management — either as a charter school or as a district school run by a school management organization (for example, New Visions). Because this plan does not require the city to fire teachers or principals, it can be used without the union’s cooperation.

“We would obviously love an agreement on those two models [transformation and turnaround], but we felt we had to cover our bases and be prepared to do restart,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

As part of that preparation, the city posted a request for proposal yesterday that asks school management organizations to apply to take on and improve struggling schools.

United Federation of Teachers officials said they were optimistic they would have a deal with the city by next Monday that would allow schools to undergo the transformation and turnaround plans.

“There have been productive conversations. I can’t tell you it’s going to get done or not done,” the official said. “But there’s a deadline coming and the parties realized it’d be better for the school system if we could get it done.”

Of the two plans the city has previously considered, the transformation model is less invasive. This model relies on removing a school’s principal, bringing in extra support services, and experimenting with longer school days and new teacher training. It is already being used by eleven city schools.

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.

It’s unclear why, until now, the city has not publicly considered the restart model as a viable option, or whether it will use it for some schools even if its able to reach an agreement with the city on transformations and turnarounds.

Asked why the city didn’t pursue the restart model a year ago when 11 schools began the transformation model, Zarin-Rosenfeld said: “We just felt at the time that we didn’t see a school we felt was immediately ready to go into restart.”

Of the 43 schools that are eligible for school improvement grants, but have yet to begin using them, 31 are waiting to be told if they’ll be transformation, turnaround, or restart schools. The city plans to announce which schools will get what improvement models next week. The remaining 12 schools will be phased out beginning next year and replaced with new schools using the federal grant money.

A slide from a powerpoint made by the U.S. Department of Education explains the four school improvement methods:

Schools that could receive the turnaround, transformation, or restart model:

Grover Cleveland High School
W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical High School
John Adams High School
Bronx High School of Business
John Dewey High School
Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers
William Cullen Bryant High School
Alfred E. Smith Career-Tech High School
Fordham Leadership Academy
Sheepshead Bay High School
Newtown High School
Richmond Hill High School
Washington Irving High School
Samuel Gompers Career/Tech Ed High School
Boys & Girls High School
August Martin High School
Banana Kelly High School
Grace Dodge Career and Technical High School
High School of Graphic Communication Arts
Herbert Lehman High School
Bushwick Community High School
Harlem Renaissance High School
I.S. 339
JHS 80 Mosholu Parkway
M.S. 391
M.S. 126 John Ericsson Middle School
JHS 22 Jordan L. Mott
JHS 142 John Philip Sousa
I.S. 136 Charles O Dewey
JHS 166 George Gershwin
JHS 296 The Halsey

Schools currently undergoing the transformation model:

Unity Center for Urban Technologies
Chelsea Career and Technology Education High School
Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School
Automotive High School
School for Global Studies
Cobble Hill School of American Studies
Franklin D. Roosevelt High School
William E. Grady Vocational High School
Queens Vocational-Technical High School
Flushing High School
Long Island City High School

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