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Fariña names leader for school turnaround program

Stephanie Snyder

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has tapped a longtime educator to head a new office devoted to her turnaround program for struggling schools.

Christopher Tricarico, a former principal and school-support administrator with nearly 20 years of experience, will oversee the new Renewal School Office, Fariña announced in a memo Friday to the leaders of the 94 low-performing Renewal schools. Tricarico’s appointment comes as the program launches the school audits and staff trainings that are its focus for its first year.

Even as the School Renewal program ramps up its operations, state officials are continuing to review the schools’ past performance data, which could lead to additional schools being required to make more drastic changes or to close. Faced with the state’s scrutiny, and that of critics who question whether the turnaround program is sufficiently aggressive, Fariña told the school leaders in the Jan. 9 memo that she expects them to make major changes quickly.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio and I are committed to supporting you as you make transformative changes in your school,” Fariña wrote. “As we have made clear, we are planning for success but we expect rapid improvement and will hold our schools and educational professionals accountable.”

The new office will work with the schools to make sure they have intervention plans in place for struggling students, rigorous curriculums, and after-school programs focused on academics, according to the memo. The city is also bringing in outside researchers to help conduct top-to-bottom audits of the schools beginning this month, which are meant to lead to action plans for next school year.

This year, the city’s major intervention at the schools is to provide its leaders and staffers extensive training and coaching.

Teachers will receive training on how to help struggling readers, union-led workshops on classroom management, and professional development sessions at their schools while students are on break in February.

Principals will be trained by their union on how to analyze school data. Some will also receive coaching by retired principals with experience turning around troubled schools, according to a letter to Fariña from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, which signed off on the hiring of the former principals. The city also contracted with the Executive Leadership Institute — a nonprofit created by the principal and administrators union — to oversee additional training for the Renewal school leaders, according to the letter, which was first reported by the New York Post.

“Parents are counting on us to provide their children with a world-­class public education,” Fariña wrote, “and I am counting on you to deliver for them.”

Meanwhile, state officials are considering labeling at least nine low-performing schools as “out of time,” which would force the city to take drastic steps that could include putting the schools under the control of an outside group or closing them. (Two Brooklyn high schools are already on that list.) The final updated list will be released next month, when the city will have a chance to appeal the decision, according to state officials.

In a recent letter to the governor’s office, the state’s top education officials said that schools deemed unable to improve should be shut down.

“If these schools cannot be made to perform,” wrote Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and acting state Department of Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin, “they must be closed and replaced by institutions that are up to the task.”

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