Facebook Twitter

Bronx school’s bid to rebrand itself meets local resistance

A hard-charging principal’s efforts to rename a long-struggling school in the Bronx is meeting stiff resistance from a local community group.

District 9 Community Education Council last night voted against a proposal by M.S. 22 Jordan Mott to change its name to College Avenue Academy at Jordan Mott. The rejection comes after the council for two months delayed voting on the proposal, typically among a CEC’s least controversial duties.

When city officials told M.S. 22 last year that it would be among dozens of schools to undergo a federal school improvement strategy called “turnaround,” they promised that the school would get a pot of extra funds, many new teachers, and a new name.

A judge shut down the city’s plans over the summer. But high staff turnover at M.S. 22 meant the school could get new teachers and federal dollars anyway.

Now, the school is out to complete the trifecta. Principal Linda Rosenbury wants to change the school’s name to College Avenue Academy at Jordan Mott, a similar version of the name the city planned to use this year had the overhaul plan gone through. The school sits on College Avenue, where there is no college, although its official address is on 167th Street.

Rosenbury said that she sought the new name because it was a new direction create a new association for the school and accurately reflect the school’s new focus on academics.

“The school community believes that the college theme will give the school a fresh start and help create an academic tone by helping students identify as college-bound scholars planning for their future,” Rosenbury wrote in an email.

Mary Conway-Spiegel, an organizer who works in struggling schools, said that 106 of 134 of parents at the 650-student school favored the proposal in a vote taken by the school. Several parents have testified at the meetings to support of the proposal, Conway-Spiegel said.

Despite the support, four of the council’s six members in attendance voted against the proposal. One abstained and one voted in support.

“We keep presenting facts. We keep showing up with parents. The kids themselves chose the name,” said Conway-Spiegel.

Voting against name changes despite a showing of community support is unusual, according to members of parent councils in other districts.

“We generally want to do whatever the local school wants to do,” said District 15 CEC President Jim Devor. “It’s not for us to impede that.”

Members of the District 9 CEC did not respond to requests for comment. Conway-Spiegel reported that one member said he was concerned that changing the name would be disrespectful to Jordan Mott, a 19th century New York City industrialist, while another member worried that College Avenue’s history of crime would not be a positive association for the school.

But in a letter Conway-Spiegel prepared for supporters of the name change to send to the CEC, Conway-Spiegel suggested that the parent council might have an “alternative motive.”

One possibility is that Rosenbury’s vociferous support for the turnaround plans, which were controversial in large part because they required all teachers to reapply for their jobs, had made her enemies on the council. Some principals opposed turnaround, including many who would have to be removed as part of the process, and others supported some elements but not the required name changes. But Rosenbury publicly defended the plans from start to finish, and after an arbitrator halted the city’s turnaround planning, she spoke out against the UFT for stepping in, too.

Appearing on NY1 after the arbitrator’s decision, Rosenbury said, “As a principal, I think it’s the least effective teachers who are being protected that are giving the public that impression. And I actually think that the way that the UFT is defending all teachers regardless of their performance is hurting teachers.”

CEC feedback about name changes is required, but not binding. Department of Education regulations say that Chancellor Dennis Walcott gets the final say and Rosenbury said she is undecided about whether she plans to take it up with him next.

If there is ultimately a name change, it wouldn’t be in time to influence this year’s crop of fifth graders. All middle school applications are due on Friday.