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From a school in turmoil, a new way to foster student writing

Earlier this week, a teacher at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School excitedly sent me the latest copy of the school’s newsletter.

Instead of having adults write the copy, students had taken the reins for the first time and filled the 10 pages with staff interviews, sports news, important dates, and original poetry.

The newsletter was produced by students enrolled in after-school media classes and the “Falcon Pen Creative Writing Club,” both funded with federal dollars the school was receiving to pay for a “transformation” process designed to help it improve, according to writing coordinator Evelyn Katz.

Now those funds have been frozen and Katz’s job could be on the chopping block.

Under the terms of a proposal Mayor Bloomberg announced during his State of the City address Thursday, Grady is one of 33 schools where half of all teachers will be removed this summer to enable the schools to receive a special pot of federal funds.
The schools had been undergoing transformation or another overhaul process called “restart,” but the city is changing its approach after failing to negotiate new evaluations, a federal requirement, with the teachers union. That failure led state officials to freeze the schools’ federal funds last week.

Grady has about 80 teachers, and 40 of them would be sent packing under the new plan.

Two staff members — one is Katz — are named in the acknowledgements of a novel released this week by a former student. Kyle Chais, who graduated in 2009, started writing “Nameless,” a fantasy novel about fallen angels, while he was living in a homeless shelter. It headed to publication when a teacher at Grady contacted a friend in publishing to tout Chais’s work.

In the novel, released this week, Chais thanks Katz “for letting me talk your ear to death for five days a week for two years” along with Whitney Rosenthal, an English teacher.

“You helped me rediscover my passion for writing,” Chais writes about Rosenthal in the acknowledgements.

The complete issue of December’s “Grady Times” is below.

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