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City adds two schools to turnaround plans after ‘failing’ schools law

Two schools have been added to the city’s broadening school-improvement initiative, months after the state flagged them for posting dismal academic track records for the last decade.

P.S. 64 in the Bronx and M.S. 126 in Brooklyn will receive an extra $1.9 million next year to provide students with additional academic and social services, similar to the changes being planned for 128 “Renewal” and “community” schools, city officials said on Monday, though the schools aren’t officially a part of either program. The de Blasio administration set aside the money in its proposed budget, which includes $162 million to support its initiatives to improve low-performing schools next year.

Their inclusion reflects the city’s move to close the gap between its own school-turnaround efforts and new state mandates.

P.S. 64 and M.S. 126 were among the 12 New York City schools that Gov. Andrew Cuomo singled out as “persistently failing” for having ranked in the bottom 5 percent of state schools in performance on state English and math tests for the last 10 years. Cuomo and the legislature then passed a law that gives districts authority to switch up staff at those schools, fire principals, and negotiate new payscales for teachers, and provides $75 million in funding to support school improvement. (The law adopts a similar definition of “persistently failing,” but state officials are still finalizing the criteria.)

Under the law, the city has just one year to improve its “persistently failing” schools and two years to improve “failing” schools, whose academic performance have not lagged for as long. Schools that don’t demonstrate improvement over that span will be eligible to be put under the control of a receiver — a nonprofit, another school district, or individual chosen by the chancellor.

The city has already had plans for 10 of its “persistently failing” schools. Seven were included in the city’s Renewal program and are developing improvement plans for next year. Three others will close for good in June, having years ago begun the process of phasing out.

That left P.S. 64 and M.S. 126. The city promised in May to increase the schools’ budgets and to provide them with new access to substance-abuse counselors, but had not yet promised them additional resources like those offered to schools in its high-profile Renewal program.

The two schools were not included in the Renewal program for different reasons, officials said. P.S. 64 is phasing out, with the 2015-16 school year set to be its last. Meanwhile, M.S. 126’s proficiency rate on last year’s state English tests was just good enough, at 9.6 percent, to stay out of the bottom quartile of all city schools, one of the city’s criteria for inclusion.

With P.S. 64 set to shrink to just a fifth grade as it prepares to close, a department spokeswoman said its new money will be shared with P.S. 294 and P.S. 311, the two schools that have opened up in the Bronx building to replace it. Local advocates said they were relieved that those schools would benefit, although it’s not clear how the state will measure academic progress or if a receiver could take over the new elementary schools, both of which are finishing up their second years.

“There’s a lot of confidence in the new leadership in the new schools and we want to see them supported,” said Emma Hulse, a community organizer for the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, a Bronx group.

Calls and emails to P.S. 64 and M.S. 126 and their principals were not immediately returned.

The receivership law received new attention on Monday, two weeks before the State Education Department and the Board of Regents are set to finalize the details of new law. The city teachers union and advocacy groups urged officials to set reasonable performance targets for the schools and, as the United Federation of Teachers put it, enforce the receivership portion only as a “last resort.”

“The Regents, in enacting regulations for these struggling schools, need to set them up for success and not failure,” said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition allied with the teachers union.

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