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City Council eyes new school creation process, as DOE refines it

The City Council’s education committee has given a great deal of scrutiny to schools the Department of Education wants to close. Now it’s turning its attention to the new schools the department wants to open.

Today, the committee held an oversight hearing about the DOE’s new school creation process, which has resulted in more than 400 new schools in the last nine years.

The process to open a charter school is set in law, but how new district schools come to exist is more obscure, Robert Jackson, the committee’s chair, said during the hearing.

“Some charge that there’s been two many new schools opened in too short a time, with too little planning and preparation and too much emphasis on quantity over quality,” he said.

Of the 500 district and charter schools that have opened since 2002, just six have closed because of poor performance, said Marc Sternberg, the DOE deputy chancellor in charge of new schools. He said the schools’ success stems in large part from the department’s selection process for school models and principals.

That process has gotten more stringent this year. Prospective school leaders will have to complete a rigid, three-month-long series of assignments, and at three points, some will be culled from the pool.

DOE officials said 87 people took the first step in the process, filing letters of intent this week. On Monday, applicants will give short “elevator pitches” to sell their schools, and by the end of next week, they’ll learn whether they will be allowed to move on to the next round.

By the time final approvals go out Dec. 19, successful applicants will have attended 10 workshops and in-person interviews and will have submitted three sets of documents compiling a detailed description of the planned school, resumes for members of the planning team, and letters of support from partner organizations. The department is using a 14-category “leadership rubric” to evaluate applications, but it’s not clear who will be judging the proposals.

The point of the more rigorous selection process, Sternberg said today, is to make sure “only the strongest candidates proceed to the next phase.”

He said the DOE would recruit principals for new schools from the city’s Leadership Academy and would also assign some prospective school leaders to “mentor principals” in a new program set to roll out next year.

It’s not clear how many proposals the department plans to approve, but Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced earlier this week plans to open 50 new middle schools in the next two years. About half of those will come out of the department’s new school creation process. The rest will be charter schools.

The application package and evaluation rubric are below.

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