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No closures this year, but city to censure some schools anyway

With a new mayor who opposes school closures headed to City Hall within weeks, the Department of Education won’t move to shutter any low-performing schools this year for the first time in more than a decade.

“Closure or phase-out is not part of our agenda,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said on a school visit in Brooklyn today, adding that his successor could carry the torch once he and Mayor Bloomberg leave office at the end of the year: “We’ll see what the new chancellor will do.”

Bloomberg has closed 164 schools since he took over the school system in 2002. The schools have been replaced with more than 650 new schools staffed with different principals and teachers, an aggressive — and controversial — intervention that has been a signature policy in Bloomberg’s brand of education reform.

This year’s closure reprieve doesn’t mean that the city is giving a free pass to schools that meet its closure criteria. Walcott said department officials still plan to meet with schools that earned low letter grades on their annual progress reports, which are set to be released next week for a sixth straight year.

“You’ll see a very rigorous approach … to address shortcomings at those schools,” Walcott added.

Since 2010, the department has held “early engagement” meetings with parents at dozens of schools earning F’s, D’s, or three consecutive C’s on their progress report for the previous school year. Department officials consider comments from the often heated public meetings alongside other data when deciding which schools to close.

Last year 60 schools met those criteria, 22 of which the department ended up closing.

Walcott had previously indicated that closures could be option on the table this year as well, despite progress reports being based on a tumultuous 2012-2013 school year that included Superstorm Sandy and plummeting proficiency scores on new standardized tests.

But chances of that happening seemed to fade this year, with progress reports being released more than a month later than usual. That leaves just seven weeks separating the school grades and the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, a tiny window of time for the city to comply with the lengthy legal process required to close a school.

Rushing through that process now — as the city did for dozens of proposals to open and co-located schools in recent months — could also be a bad way to start off the government transition process between Bloomberg and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, which began this week after de Blasio’s landslide victory in the mayoral election. De Blasio has criticized the Bloomberg administration’s use of school closures and committed to halting school closures once he’s in office.

Speaking of the transition today, Walcott said his staff is “fully mobilized” to begin working de Blasio’s team, adding that the sides haven’t met yet. He said that the rollout of new Common Core standards, teacher evaluations, and emergency preparedness, were among the briefing priorities.

“I know the mayor-elect, I’ve known him for years and I am confident he is fully cognizant of all the implications of governing and what it actually means,” Walcott said.

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