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With "turnaround" dead in the water, city releases plan details

Even as city officials swore that they had not set any quota for rehiring at schools it was trying to shake up, they were assuring the state that the schools would replace at least 50 percent of teachers.

The assurances were made in nearly 800 pages of documents submitted to the state in March as part of the city’s application for federal School Improvement Grants. The city released the original application Thursday, four months after submitting it and two days after a State Supreme Court effectively torpedoed the city’s bid for the funds.

The documents include a letter addressed to State Education Commissioner John King from the deputy chancellor overseeing turnaround, an outline of the plans, and a 770-page tome on changes the city proposed for each of the 24 schools, along with the city’s justification for planning to close each of them. The release did not reflect changes that state and city officials said were made throughout the spring.

The city also released a shortlist of programs on Thursday that it says are now at risk after an arbitrator ruled that the city’s plans for staffing the schools violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions.

Much of the application’s content for each schools mirrors the proposals the city released when it began preparing the schools for closure. But a separate section outlines just how changes at each school would meet federal requirements for “turnaround,” the overhaul process that the city was proposing.

The federal rules called for at least 50 percent of teachers at the schools to be removed. Publicly, city officials said they were not focusing on that requirement. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said repeatedly that there was “no quota” for the portion of teachers rehired at each school.

“Our goal is for schools to hire and recruit the most qualified teachers who meet the high standards set by their principals — not to remove a certain percentage of staff,” Sternberg told GothamSchools two days after the city submitted its application.

Yet the turnaround application makes clear that the department intended to hit the 50 percent mark. “The Department believes it will be able to meet this requirement to screen and select 50% new staff at New School,” the application said in sections on human capital at the schools.

The application stressed that meeting the 50 percent requirement could require some creative interpretation of the words “new” and “staff.” And it also stated over and over again that it intended to carry out the staffing overhaul in compliance with a contractual process known as 18-D that is usually reserved for school closures. The arbitrator ruled that 18-D could not be used for turnaround.

The city is appealing the arbitrator’s ruling, and the judge’s decision this week that it should stand. In an email message that accompanied the application’s release, Department of Education officials said the arbitrator’s ruling will cause students at the 24 schools not to have good teachers and to miss out on some programs and changes that could have been funded through the federal grants.

The potentially missed programs and changes include

  • Extended learning time for students
  • After-school and Saturday programs for struggling students
  • Special school year and summer programs for new ninth-graders
  • Classroom technology and upgrades such as Smartboards, iPads, laptop carts, computer labs;
  • New advanced courses conducted through distance learning;
  • Special tutoring and other interventions for students who are falling behind;
  • New staff to teach English Language Learners and students with disabilities; and
  • Credit recovery for students at risk of or dropping out.

The SIG application also included new programs offerings city officials have been touting from the start, such as the creation of “small learning communities” in most of the high schools, and the removal or addition of career and technical education courses to the rosters of Alfred E. Smith High School and Automotive High School.

The city’s cover letter to the State Education Department is below, followed by the complete 770-page application.

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