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At Grady, parents probe distinction between closure, turnaround

Is the school being closed, or is it staying open?

Parents repeated variations of that question often over the course of a two-hour-long meeting Department of Education officials held at William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School Monday evening to detail the city’s plan to overhaul the school.

The answer, they were told, was more complicated than a matter of semantics.

“This school is not being closed,” Aimee Horowitz, the school’s superintendent, told families, teachers, and the School Leadership Team in three meetings at the school over the course of the day.

But she also said a new school with a different name would be opening in the building in the fall, and just half of Grady’s current teachers would remain. Those are the conditions of the school improvement model known as “turnaround,” she explained.

Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this month that the city would use turnaround at 33 struggling schools so that they could continue receiving federal funds even if the city and teachers union do not agree on new teacher evaluations. Since 2010, Grady had been undergoing a different federally mandated overhaul process, “transformation,” which relies on changing leadership, bringing in extra support services, and experimenting with longer school days and new teacher training.

The details Horowitz outlined were puzzling for several of the 40 parents and students who crowded into Grady’s cafeteria to learn about the turnaround plan.

“First you say in your speech that the school was going to do transformation. And then as you go on you started saying things like, this is going to be a new school. So where are we, which one should we believe?” said Ade Ajayi, whose son is a junior. “A lot of things are going to change. Teachers are going to change. We don’t even know if the name is going to be the same.”

“We will not allow anyone to come in to this school, change the name, change the number, change the way the school is already structured. It’s not fair,” said Monique Lindsay, whose son is also a junior. “They already took us from being a regular school to transforming us. Now they want to do something else? That’s not fair. I want my son to graduate from Grady High School.”

Lindsay, one of two Brooklyn representatives on the Citywide Council on High Schools, also joined a chorus of parents who said they were worried that the drastic changes would spell an end to the school’s longstanding Career and Technical Education offerings, which include construction, automotive technology, and culinary arts.

“I’m a Brooklyn girl, I grew up in this neighborhood. Grady’s been around since before I was born as a CTE school,” Horowitz said. “I will fight as hard as I can if it is ever on the table” to eliminate the CTE programs.

Horowitz encouraged parents to take their concerns to an as-yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing later this spring, and she asked them to identify positive aspects of the school’s academics and culture.

The parents who spoke said they were very happy with the direction the school has taken since 2010 when it was named a transformation school and Geraldine Maione was brought in as principal from Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School — another former transformation school now slated for turnaround.

Maione attended the meeting but piped in only to briefly describe some of the school’s community-building activities, including a traditional Thanksgiving dinner held at the school, and an ongoing vegetable garden.

Parents counted among Grady’s strong points its use of Pupil Path, a student performance-tracking software that parents and students can access; college tours; and its CTE and sports programs.

Horowitz said her many visits to the school had confirmed for her that it is a “good place” for students.

“Kids talked to me when I was doing the quality review, about how, ‘Miss, our principal makes us feel good. She tells us every day that we can do it; that she loves us,'” she said. “And the teachers have all talked about how they are committed to these kids.”

Horowitz painted the turnaround as essentially the lesser of two evils that would still allow the school to receive millions of dollars in federal funding.

“The two viable models are either close the school, which none of us wants to see happen, and should not happen because the school has improved, or have the school continue to receive that funding and implement the turnaround model,” she said.

The stark choice did little to allay parents’ concerns. One mother teared up as she described the turmoil she imagined teachers had faced as they approached Regents exams last week with their jobs hanging in the balance.

“I do not support this,” Ajayi said as the meeting wound down. “If there was no money coming from the feds, Grady would still be great. I want the administrators to think about what this will do to the students.”

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