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Fariña, de Blasio and Mulgrew aim to fire up principals at Renewal event

Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured together last year, each addressed principals of schools in the Renewal program on Monday.
Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured together last year, each addressed principals of schools in the Renewal program on Monday.
Geoff Decker

This school year isn’t yet over, but the principals and nonprofit leaders taking part in the city’s high-stakes school turnaround initiative are already focused on the next one.

A private event for the 94 low-performing schools on Monday featured words of encouragement from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, along with time for schools to refine their improvement plans for next year. Principals said the event was part pep rally, part professional development session, and was designed to energize those who will be on the front lines as the city tries to prove it can improve those schools with a combination of academic help and resources to meet students’ non-academic needs.

“I have to say that failure is not an option,” Fariña said, according to a transcript provided by her spokeswoman. “There are many people watching what’s happening in New York City. Not just in the state, but across the country.”

The event, which took place at New York University, also included speeches from teachers union President Michael Mulgrew and principals union President Ernest Logan. Mulgrew told the attendees that the program offered an “opportunity to shut up the critics,” according to a union chapter leader who tweeted some paraphrased remarks.

Their remarks reflect the high stakes attached to the city’s program, which takes a very different approach to school improvement than de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg, whose strategies included closing struggling schools and replacing them. De Blasio’s “Renewal” program is meant to offer schools all the resources they need to succeed before the city considers more dramatic shake-ups or closure. But schools don’t have much time: Many of the new services will make their debut at the start of next school year, giving schools two years to meet their goals.

Principals spent Monday finalizing the school improvement plans that are due to the state by the end of July. Drafts were due June 19, and Monday’s meeting gave principals a chance to revise them with feedback from their superintendents. Revised drafts are due Wednesday.

Those plans will include the student performance benchmarks that the schools will have to hit by 2017. Next year, elementary and middle schools will be expected to show improved attendance, while high schools will also be expected to show some academic gains. All schools also have some choice as to how they will be judged, and can choose other metrics, including parent and student survey results and high school graduation data.

“The best Renewal Schools I’ve been visiting already have data all over their bulletin boards,” Fariña told attendees. “When you walk into that office and right away you know who the bottom quartile kids, which kids need more math support, which kids need more reading support.”

A principal who attended said that the presence of city leaders offered a sense of shared responsibility.

“Those are all the people responsible for the work,” said the principal, who declined to provide her name because she was not authorized to discuss the meeting. “Our success is their success and our failure is their failure.”

Also present at the event were representatives from community-based organizations, which are partnering with schools to provide non-academic services as part of a broader strategy to convert the struggling schools into “community schools.” The city is planning to spend up to $108 million on the Renewal program next year, much of which will go toward paying teachers to work longer school days and for contracts with those outside providers.

“This is not an add-on; it’s not an extra, because these are not after school programs,” Fariña said of the programs. “This is: how do you work in classrooms with teachers, particularly if there’s social-emotional support that you’re giving students and teachers?”

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