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Event aims to teach city to help schools instead of closing them

The city official in charge of closing schools and the union chief who has sued to keep schools open are both set to speak at a conference tomorrow about what can be done to help schools without shuttering them.

The conference, “Effective Alternatives to School Closings: Transforming Struggling Schools in NYC,” was organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the Urban Youth Collaborative, all advocacy organizations. The event is meant to send a message to city policymakers that there are ways to reform failing schools without shutting them down, according to Ronnette Summers, a parent and CEJ member who helped organize it.

The city Department of Education has closed 117 schools since 2002 and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said this week that he plans to close additional schools, particularly middle schools, that do not meet the department’s standards.

“Every year there’s more and more schools on the closing list and that seems to be the only reform strategy that the Department of Education uses to improve schools,” Summers said. “People in places where they know [closure] is not working felt that it was important to bring it to New York City to let them see that there’s other ways to improve schools.”

Speaking at the conference are school officials and advocates from at least half a dozen states, as well as representatives of national organizations that advocate for various school improvement strategies. They join Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, who heads the DOE office that manages school closures; Michael Mulgrew, president of the UFT, which has sued to stop closures for two years; Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch; elected officials; and a handful of city principals who say they have turned their schools around.

The all-day conference has been in the works for six months and is meant for an audience of local parents, educators, and policymakers, Summers said. She will be leading a workshop on research around school closure and a federal reform model called “transformation.”

The full program for the conference, which is being held at the Bank Street School of Education, is below.

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