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Days from state deadline, city begins detailing turnaround plans

Confusion about whether the city’s turnaround proposals would amount to school closures can be put to rest.

Eight of the schools the Department of Education has said it would “turn around” are on the Panel for Educational Policy’s April agenda — as closure proposals. The schools are among 33 the city has said it would overhaul in order to qualify for federal funding earmarked for overhauling low-performing schools.

The eight schools do not represent all of the closure proposals the city will ultimately make. Other schools that are not yet on the agenda, including Brooklyn’s School for Global Studies, were told on Monday that the city had scheduled public hearings about their closure proposals for late March and early April. (The panel approved 18 non-turnaround closures earlier this month.)

City officials have said that they would move forward with turnaround at all 33 schools, even after the city and union settled a key issue that had derailed previous overhaul processes at many of the schools and after it became clear that the schools’ performance varies widely. Turnaround would require the schools to close and reopen after getting new names and replacing half of their teachers.

Thirty-page “Educational Impact Statements” for each of the closure proposals offer clues about what the replacement schools would look like. The statements indicate that the city would maintain the schools’ partnerships, extracurricular programs, and many curriculum offerings. The school that replaces Automotive High School, for example, would still offer vocational certification in car repair. Several of the schools would be broken into “small learning communities” that include ninth-grade academies, according to the city’s plans.

In the statements, the department also explains the switch to a more aggressive overhaul strategy from the models that most of the schools had been undergoing until the end of last year, when their funding was frozen because the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations.

Banana Kelly High School, for example, was assigned to “transformation” in 2011 and given extra funds to pay for teacher training and new technology. The city now says transformation was a mistake.

“The data show that the school was struggling even more than the DOE had thought at the time it chose the Transformation model for the school,” reads the school’s impact statement.

The statements come weeks after an internal deadline the city set and missed and just days before state law requires. Under the 2009 school governance law, the city must published detailed accounts of how schools would be affected by major changes by six months before the start of the school year in which the changes would take place. If school begins the Wednesday after Labor Day, as is usually the case, that deadline would be Sunday.

The city’s public notices about the proposals suggest that it might move forward with the unusual closure plans even if State Education Commissioner John King does not approve the federal funding for the schools. The notices say only that closure would “maximize New School’s chance of receiving” federal School Improvement Grants ranging from $800,000 to about $2 million.

King has said the city’s unorthodox turnaround plans are “approvable.”

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