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Before turnaround hearing, unlikely principal comes to city's aid

Twenty-four hours before city and union lawyers were due in court for yet another hearing about turnaround, a Bronx principal launched an email campaign to boost the city’s case.

Sarah Scrogin, principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future, sent an email titled “Love NY? Fix our schools!” Monday afternoon to a network of “Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers.” The email asks recipients to sign on to a petition or forward a letter supporting the city’s bid to overhaul 24 schools.

That bid was rolled back late last month when an arbitrator ruled that the hiring and firing process being used at the schools violated the city’s contract with the teachers and principals unions. Today, the city is asking a State Supreme Court judge to overturn the arbitrator’s decision.

Scrogin’s letter urges the judge, Joan Lobis, to look beyond the legal dispute she is charged with adjudicating.

“In the coming weeks, as the judge ponders her final decision and weighs the legal issues before her, we ask her to weigh also the value to which we hold the futures of our city’s children,” Scrogin writes in the email, which multiple people forwarded to GothamSchools. “We believe she must want the best possible teachers and schools for them.”

The petition link takes recipients to a form titled “NYC Signatures July 2012” that asks for a name, email address, school, and borough. The petition does not include the names of people who have signed on.

Scrogin said today that she could not comment until she secured permission from the Department of Education to speak to reporters. But as the hearing got underway this afternoon, she distributed a list of 93 signatories by email. The signatories included 19 city principals and 12 city teachers, many from Scrogin’s school. They also include dozens of “concerned citizens” and people outside of the city school system, such as the manager of labor relations for the NFL.

Scrogin’s motivation for leading the petition drive is not clear. Her school was not up for turnaround, nor was her name was never floated as a replacement for a position that might have opened up under the overhauls.

One clue is that Scrogin school is part of a network that includes two other Bronx middle schools that had been slated to undergo turnaround, including one, J.H.S. 22, whose principal had been an outspoken advocate of the process, which would have required many teachers to be replaced. Scrogin’s email cites a sense of excitement and promise at the schools that echoes public comments that J.H.S. 22’s principal, Linda Rosenbury, has made in the past.

And Scrogin has gone to bat on major policy issues before, to significant effect. Last year, she was one of two principals to author a letter and an op/ed in the New York Daily News against the state’s elimination of January Regents exams, which some students take to graduate. After the letter and op/ed were published, Mayor Bloomberg took up the cause, this year. The state reinstated the January exams going forward.

Scrogin also helped lead a lobbying effort to win flexibility for schools to award credit for shorter courses that students take completely or in part online. Last summer, she urged other principals to take advantage of the new rules, telling a group of them, “It would be bad if we pushed hard to get the waiver and then we didn’t use it.”

Among the people who forwarded the turnaround email since Monday were Alisa Berger, the former iSchool principal who was Scrogin’s co-author on the Regents exams op/ed and partner in creating shared online courses; and Brendan Lyons, principal of Manhattan’s High School of Graphics Communications Arts, which had been slated to undergo turnaround. Both signed the petition, according to the list of signatories Scrogin distributed today.

Department of Education officials did not respond to a request for comment. Scrogin’s complete email is below.

From: Sarah Scrogin
Date: July 23, 2012 2:36:26 PM EDT
To: “Scrogin Sarah (12X271)”
Subject: Love NY? Fix our schools!

Dear Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers:

If you love NYC as much as I do, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the message below and consider forwarding it to others who feel the same way. As a parent myself and a principal for the past eight years, I can not state more strongly how essential I think it is that we continue the work of turning around failing schools on behalf of our city’s children.

Regardless of what team you root for — Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets — please join me in urging all sides to go back to the table to collaborate to make sure we are building good schools for all of our children. If you agree, please take a few minutes to click the link below and forward this email to others who you know also want to save our city’s schools.

Sincerely,
Sarah Scrogin
Principal
East Bronx Academy for the Future
[contact information]

STEP #1

Click Here to Sign on to this Letter

STEP #2

Forward the letter below to others who feel the same way…

Dear Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers:

As educators, parents and students working and learning in some of the most disadvantaged schools in New York City, we are outraged by the recent arbitrator’s ruling preventing the city from turning around our lowest performing schools.

The city’s plan — to close 24 failing schools and replace them with good schools, effective teachers and quality programs — would have created real hope and opportunity for students whose schools had repeatedly failed them. In ruling against the Turnaround plan, the arbitrator is effectively blocking our efforts to hold adults accountable for children’s future success.

This spring teams of hundreds of principals, teachers, students, families and staff members came to work together for months in good faith to turn their failing schools into dynamic places of learning on behalf of our children. These new school teams know exactly how unjust the existing system has been for our kids, who literally cannot wait for the new schools promised them. Here are several examples among the dozens and dozens that we know of across these 24 campuses.

Students, parents and staff at Turnaround schools have been coming together in community meetings and planning sessions to find new ways of working together on behalf of the students. Many say they are sure there is a new energy and excitement in their school communities, where they feel they’ve been given the opportunity to hit the “reset” button and find new ways to work together to help students be successful. In fact, one teacher recently told her assistant principal, “I can’t wait for Monday to start over!” Another teacher at a different school remarked that it was the first time in a decade the school’s focus on commercial art and photography — and the students’ talents in this area — were actually the topic of conversation in planning for learning.

Students have taken a new interest in working with educators to transform their schools. Many schools have enlisted students in helping with teacher hiring by asking them to watch demonstration lessons. These students remarked how exciting and engaging these lessons were, even if for only 25 minutes. Students expressed enthusiasm for teachers who were motivated, fresh and really demonstrated a desire to make a connection. Students in their own voices chimed in on whether a candidate had what it took to be successful and felt invested in the process.

Community partners are also engaging and re-engaging in our city schools in new ways, partnering to bring new career and internship programs and to engage students themselves in documenting the transformations taking place in their schools. One community member thanked a team member for inviting the community back into these schools, telling a school team member, “We can’t make change if we don’t talk about what needs to change.”

Turnaround schools aren’t the only communities excited about the potential for change. Successful schools throughout the city had visits from Turnaround teams of teachers, students and parents. Students from low performing schools actually “shadowed” their peers at high performing schools, while teachers at these schools opened their doors to the visitors and shared best practices. These visits sparked conversations among adults and children at both the struggling and the successful schools about the types of learning environments all children deserve and renewed all of our commitment to making this shared vision a reality.

The excitement palpable at these new schools gives us all reason to hope. Let’s keep in mind, many of the teachers working tirelessly day in and day out in our city schools are already transforming the lives of children. Indeed, countless researchers have shown the power of effective teachers and principals. We know full well that three effective teachers over three years can make up for deficits caused by years of poverty and neglect. Conversely, ineffective educators pave the way for future failure. Furthermore, it is currently far, far too difficult to remove an ineffective teacher from a New York City classroom, making the job of ensuring that all students learn from the quality educators they deserve unconscionably difficult.

The arbitrator’s decision to block our city leaders’ and school teams’ efforts to remove ineffective teachers and principals and thereby hinder the work of transforming failing schools into places where we would be pleased and proud to send our own children – the children of New York City – is simply unacceptable. The ruling will hurt thousands of students, condemning them to another year in a failing school. We call on City government, the teachers and principals’ unions, parents and students to join together to demand and ensure that every single adult working with a New York City child is effective at his or her job. Our children deserve no less.

In the coming weeks, as the judge ponders her final decision and weighs the legal issues before her, we ask her to weigh also the value to which we hold the futures of our city’s children. We believe she must want the best possible teachers and schools for them.

Regardless of the outcome of the judge’s ruling, we educators, students, and parents remain one hundred percent committed to providing good schools for our students, and we urge all New Yorkers to put Children First and demand the same. We urge the judge to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, which, if upheld, will continue to hold our children hostage in failing schools. Our children cannot wait another year.

Click Here to Sign on to this Letter

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