With the first round of school closures that the city proposed now approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, the Department of Education’s attention is turning to another set of 33 low-performing schools that it has said it would “turn around.”
The controversial plan, announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month in his State of the City address, requires that the city abruptly close and then reopen each school with a new name and many new teachers. The city is set to submit its formal proposal for the turnarounds — and their accompanying federal funding — to the state today.
City officials have explained the plan at each of the schools on the list and heard concerns at a slew of recent hearings and meetings with the schools’ superintendents, who are required to hold meetings at any school proposed to be closed.
But when the Citywide Council on High Schools devoted its monthly meeting to a question-and-answer session about the model on Wednesday, parents from several high schools that would undergo turnaround said they still felt uninformed about the plan.
About 30 parents, teachers, and community members attended the meeting and several pressed Elaine Gorman, the DOE official overseeing turnaround, about the plan.
Karen Marreao, whose daughter is a senior at John Dewey High School but not on track to graduate this year, said she viewed the turnaround as the latest status update tacked onto an ever-growing list of school reform measures that have been applied to Dewey in recent years.
“My daughter’s been there for four years now, what makes you think it’s going to improve the school?” she asked. “Two or three years ago you threatened to phase us out. That turned out to be just a threat. Now you’re scaring the kids with this, you’re scaring the parents. Is this reality, or are you scaring us again?”
Marreao said the school’s administrative problems and lack of student disciplinary systems won’t be solved by the turnaround, and that an effective intervention would address those issues first.
Joe Doyle, a history teacher at Newtown High School, said turnaround would do little to address what he views as his school’s biggest impediment to scoring well on city progress measures: its open enrollment policy, which has attracted several hundred English language learners in recent years.
“Open admissions has been the kiss of death for our school,” he said. “Schools that prosper are the ones that reject students.”
Vanessa Sparks, a former member of the Community Education Council for District 28, said she felt compelled to attend the meeting after several parents from August Martin High School in Queens complained to her that turnaround would be harmful to the students. She said some parents were also concerned that eighth-graders who applied to August Martin through the high school admissions process before the turnaround was announced had been “cheated” out of the opportunity to attend a school at the top of their list. Though the turnaround schools will remain in the same building and retain 50 percent of their current staff, the city will give each school a new name and numerical code.
“We play by the rules,” Sparks said. “But the DOE changed the rules of the game midstream. There are students who are saying, ‘I don’t want to go here, this is not what I signed up for.'”
Monique Lindsay, a member of the Citywide Council on High Schools and a parent at William Grady CTE High School, which also would turnaround, echoed those concerns after department officials delivered a presentation detailing the turnaround model.
“My son is a guinea pig,” she said. “This does not give me any answers, Ms. Gorman, it really doesn’t. I want to see data that’s going to tell me if this is going to be successful.”
Gorman said the DOE would ensure that the turnaround process preserves each school’s best attributes and builds on the reform work already underway. Twenty-seven of the schools had already begun implementing two different federally prescribed overhaul strategies, known as transformation and restart.
“We’re not going to throw out the things that are actually working here,” Gorman said. “It is absolutely not true that things that were taking root and working have to be thrown away.”