The morning after abruptly withdrawing “turnaround” proposals for seven schools, Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the Department of Education’s strategies for determining which schools to close.
The seven schools were among 33 slated for turnaround, which would require them to close and reopen, even though they had A’s and B’s on their city progress reports and thus did not meet the city’s closure criteria.
Speaking to reporters after delivering a speech about his middle school reforms, Walcott said the fact that the seven schools had received top scores from the city did work in their favor. But he said visits from top department officials had really made the difference.
“It’s not just the progress report, while the progress reports are extremely important. It’s also what’s happening within the four walls of the building, and that to me is something that’s extremely important,” he said. “A lot of us can tell when an institution is doing well or doing better and when an institution is not. You have educators … who know the questions to ask and see what’s happening in the classroom.”
He added, “With these schools, they were one A and six B’s, and that played into it.”
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch spoke out against the city’s plans to overhaul schools that were showing improvement after twice visiting a B-rated school on the turnaround list, William E. Grady Career and Technical High School. Walcott would not say whether Tisch had influenced his decision but suggested that he had listened to her criticism.
“I always take what Chancellor Tisch says seriously,” he said. “Chancellor Tisch and I have a great relationship. We talk on a regular basis with Commissioner John King and my senior staff.”
More broadly, he said, the department does listen to public opinion about school closure plans — at least “on the rare occasion people raise concerns.”
In fact, public hearings about closure proposals typically teem with objections that teachers and families charge do not register with a school board whose members are, for the most part, serving at the whim of the mayor. The board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, has never rejected a city proposal.
“When it came to certain schools before, when we’re dealing with phase-out, on the rare occasion people raise concerns, we have staff who follow up with those concerns,” Walcott said.
He also appeared to leave the door open to taking more turnaround proposals off of the table before the panel’s vote, scheduled for April 26.
“We’re going through a process now, through our joint public hearings. I know of the two specifically last night. People raised their questions and after the hearings again I’ll take a look at the questions and we’ll make decisions and see what happens from there,” he said. “There’s an ongoing process … that will culminate on the 26th of April.”