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As city names 'restart' partners, principals union sounds alarm

With just weeks to go before Labor Day, the city has announced the nonprofit groups that will help 14 struggling schools get a fresh start this fall.

A deal between the city and teachers union last month cleared the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive federal School Improvement Grants starting this fall. In exchange, the city must overhaul the schools in accordance with one of four federally sanctioned processes, and one of them, “restart,” requires schools to turn over the reins to an approved nonprofit organization.

Six nonprofits, several with existing ties to the city Department of Education, will take over the management of two to three schools each. The groups, known as Educational Partnership Organizations, will control budgeting, personnel decisions, curriculum, student discipline, and other issues, and the principals of those schools will report directly to their EPO rather than a DOE superintendent.

A matching process linked 11 of the schools with their first-choice EPO, and the other three were matched with one of their top picks, according to a DOE spokesman, Frank Thomas. The schools and nonprofits will begin working together as soon as the state approves the pairings, he said.

The remaining schools set to receive the new federal funds will undergo “transformation.” Transformation relies on replacing longtime principals and promising additional resources.

In a statement, principals union president Ernie Logan said he had “intense discussions” with the DOE to make sure the 33 schools would receive adequate support but remained unconvinced.

In the statement, released preemptively before the city sent out the list of school partnerships, Logan also balked at the “restart” structure that cuts out the superintendent.

“We understand that state education law mandates that schools identified as ‘restart’ be matched with an EPO, but we find it curious that public schools would be removed from what should be the responsibility of school superintendents and placed under the management of private entities,” he said.

Superintendents are not part of Logan’s union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, but CSA’s members believe that good superintendents make their jobs easier, said Chiara Coletti, a CSA spokeswoman.

Some of the groups that are taking over “restart” schools have long had relationships with the city’s education department. One of them is New Visions, which already operates a network of schools. The Center for Education Innovation-Public Education Association and the Institute of Student Achievement both ran School Support Organizations when each city school had to partner with one. The other EPOs are Abyssinian Development Corporation, which already supports two schools and a Head Start preschool program; the Southern Regional Education Board, which would be expanding its school reform endeavors northward; and the Diplomas Now program run out of Johns Hopkins University.

The newest plans reflect shuffling that in some cases is still underway. Two schools, Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School and Automotive High School, will restart after originally being slated to undergo transformation. Another school, Boys & Girls High School, will undergo transformation after originally being told it would restart. And one school that the city said in May it would restart, Banana Kelly High School, has not yet been assigned to an EPO.

Here’s the full list of schools that will undergo “restart” this fall and the organizations that will manage them.

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