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Turnaround hopefuls bring on official with innovation pedigree

When the first graduates of Green Dot Charter High School move on to college next year, the school’s founder is hoping to manage two more schools in the Bronx.

Steve Barr’s renamed organization, Future is Now Schools, is planning to take over a middle school and a high school in the South Bronx in fall 2012. But unlike in Green Dot’s model, Future is Now wants the two schools to remain district schools, not become charter schools.

That model, which the group announced in March, still requires complicated negotiations over teacher contracts, and especially teacher evaluations, where the city and Future is Now differ greatly. For now, FIN is growing its staff, developing curriculum, and continuing its three-way negotiations with the UFT and the city.

“We’ve made good progress and have come to a general agreement on the form of an evaluation system that is based on Green Dot’s,” said Gideon Stein, FIN’s president. “The difficulty has been all of the other priorities that the DOE and the city have.”

FIN’s most recent hire strengthens the group’s alignment with one of the DOE’s top priorities: Pushing models that blend online and in-person instruction through the two-year-old Innovation Zone. This week, Barr brought on Daniel Gohl, who was previously in charge of innovation efforts in Newark’s public school system, as the company’s chief academic officer.

When Barr relaunched his organization this spring, he used its new name to call attention to his increasing priority of technology in education. That’s a passion for Gohl, who wants to see software programs, smartphone apps, and iPads become tools for everything from tracking learning gains to keeping students from roaming the hallways during class.

Gohl said how FIN schools use technology will set them apart from other charter school operators and school support networks. Many charter schools use technology to monitor student progress, but FIN’s new schools will involve technology in the classroom, he said.

“The emphasis will be on the next generation of technology, individual applications to help students and also teachers and parents document their learning,” he said.

In a technology high school in Washington, D.C., where Gohl was principal during a revamp effort, he introduced three curriculum strains focused on areas of job growth in the Washington area: biotechnology, video game design, and broadcast technology. He also said he kept students’ schedules accessible on administrators’ phones.

“That way, when you see a kid wandering in the hallway, you can say, wait, you say you’re going to the bathroom on first floor, but you’re in English on third floor. What are you doing here?” he said.

Stein said FIN is so committed to the vision that if final agreements on teacher contracts remain elusive, turning those two unidentified Bronx schools into charters is still the back-up plan.

“If it’s not possible, and we need to do a charter first, we’ll just do that and come back. We’d postpone,” he said.

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