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Amid struggling schools debate, Council members praise early changes at Boys and Girls

Principal Michael Wiltshire tried turning around Boys and Girls High School while still overseeing Medgar Evers College Preparatory School.
Principal Michael Wiltshire tried turning around Boys and Girls High School while still overseeing Medgar Evers College Preparatory School.
Courtesy of Randy Andujar/Teaching Matters

As officials continued to tout the initial progress of the city’s school turnaround initiative on Thursday, one group of lawmakers needed little convincing that the city was on the right track.

Members of the City Council education committee said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Renewal program must be given the time it needs to spur improvements across 94 struggling schools, while they lauded one school as an early success story. They were also united in their opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to put low-performing schools in the hands of outside groups, the details of which are now being negotiated in Albany.

At the meeting, the spotlight was back on Boys and Girls High School, which de Blasio visited last week. One of the city’s two “out-of-time” schools, the school has received more intense intervention than most schools in the program, including a lengthened school day and an agreement forcing the staff members to reapply for their jobs at the end of this school year.

Michael Wiltshire, the veteran principal of the high-performing Medgar Evers College Preparatory School who took over long-struggling Brooklyn school last fall, said only 40 seniors were on track to graduate in October. But there are now 80 students on track to graduate, he said, with another 26 students “almost on track” after the school added after-school and Saturday tutoring, launching a mentorship program, and began offering more Advanced Placement courses.

The school has also worked to place students not on track for graduation in transfer schools or high-school equivalency degree programs.

“Reeling from a decade as a struggling school, Boys and Girls and its students need that extra support and attention,” Wiltshire said. “That’s what the Renewal program is for, and since day one at Boys and Girls, that is what it’s delivering.”

To that, Wiltshire earned a wealth of praise from council members. Councilwoman Margaret Chin said she wanted to add her “congratulations to the success of Boys and Girls.” Councilwoman Deborah Rose recognized the “wonderful achievements” that he “accomplished in a very short period of time.”

“We, here, believe in you,” Councilman Mark Treyger told Wiltshire.

Support for the Renewal program, which launched in November, is crucial for the de Blasio administration, which is working to defend its strategy to state lawmakers considering Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposals. Cuomo’s plan would allow outside experts or charter-school operators to take over struggling schools across the state, who would not need to abide by teachers unions’ collective bargaining agreements.

The education committee passed a resolution Thursday calling for state lawmakers to reject the governor’s proposal.

“The governor is trying to privatize public schools in a roundabout way, through both the receivership and, ultimately, by turning some of the schools over to charter schools,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the education committee.

Karen Alford, the city teachers union vice president for elementary schools, agreed that the governor’s receivership plan would disrupt the collaboration between the city, the education department, and the United Federation of Teachers.

“Receivership is just a fancy way of saying state control,” she said. “Turning over our schools to a private company or organization is the wrong way to go.”

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