New York

At the Queens High School of Teaching, a model of inclusion

Like most seniors at the Queens High School of Teaching, Sabrina Alphonse takes a range of academic classes, had a blast on her senior trip, and is starting to plan her future. But Alphonse is different in one key way: She is not technically a student at the school. Instead, Alphonse, who is wheelchair-bound, attends Q811, the District 75 school for severely disabled students sited on QHST’s campus. All city schools include students with special needs in some way. Many have self-contained classes that serve only students with disabilities. Others operate some classes where special education and general education teachers work together to serve both kinds of students. But few are “fully inclusive,” as QHST is. Full inclusion means that every student with special needs who is admitted to QHST is educated in the same classroom as general education students. There are no self-contained classes. It also means that students such as Alphonse, whose disabilities are so severe that they are enrolled in District 75, taking classes alongside general education students and joining in with all of the QHST’s day-to-day activities, clubs, and programs. About three dozen Q811 students are enrolled in QHST classes, but all of the District 75 school’s students can participate in the high school’s extracurricular activities, and many do. QHST is not just different because of how it has included students with special needs. Its success with them is also substantially different. Across the city, only a little more than one in four students with special needs graduates from high school in four years. At QHST, it’s well over 70 percent — not far off the school’s overall 88 percent graduation rate.
New York

Pep-rally tone but many worries at Queens turnaround hearings

Students dressed in blue and white, Long Island City High School's colors, chant at the school's closure hearing Tuesday. The feeling at two Queens high schools Tuesday evening was as much pep rally as protest during public hearings about the city's plans to close the schools in June. The city wants to close and reopen the schools, Long Island City High School and Newtown High School, under the federally prescribed reform process known as "turnaround." The process would require many teachers to be replaced, a prospect that students said has induced anxiety about what classes and clubs would be offered next year. Students and teachers said unique elective and extracurricular options that currently exist — including boys gymnastics, robotics, and guitar — are a large part of what makes the schools special. They urged the Department of Education to preserve those features and revert to other improvement plans that would cause less disruption. At a third school whose turnaround hearing took place last night, John Dewey High School, students and teachers have been mounting a vigorous defense since January, when the turnaround plans were announced. The three schools are among 26 whose turnaround proposals are likely to be approved when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on them next week. Newtown High School The crowd at Newtown gave forth whoops and cheers for every teacher who spoke, for every mention of the school’s winning robotics team, and for every nod to longstanding principal – and Newtown alum – John Ficalora. But before there was cheer, there was tension when a top Department of Education official, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, had not shown up 20 minutes after the meeting was supposed to begin. At 6:20 p.m., with Weiner an estimated 20 minutes away, Jesse Mojica, the Department of Education’s executive director for Family and Community Engagement, tried to start the meeting without him.
New York

Small but determined band of families sitting out the state tests

New York

Hoping to please parents, school introduces real-time polling

New York

At two schools not saved from turnaround, the hearings go on

Grover Cleveland High School students march around the Ridgewood, Queens school's perimeter before the closure hearing. When public hearings about the city's plans to "turn around" two large high schools began last night, few of their supporters had heard that other schools had been spared the aggressive reform process. Herbert H. Lehman High School and Grover Cleveland High School were not among seven top-rated schools that the city announced yesterday would not undergo turnaround after all. The controversial process requires schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers. A third school slated for a public hearing Monday night, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, had its turnaround plans withdrawn. But at Lehman and Cleveland, the hearings went on without interruption — with students, teachers, and graduates at each offering more than three hours of testimony about their schools. Cleveland Diana Rodriguez, the senior class president at Cleveland, saw the surprising news about changes to the turnaround list on her phone during a pre-hearing rally organized by students. “Obviously Cleveland is not on the list. This is very disappointing for us but we will not give up,” she said. “Tonight we will show that we have a voice and will not give in.” That voice grew strained over the course of the afternoon and evening from loud chants and cheers. Before the closure hearing, Rodriguez led a band of students — including one dressed in a tiger costume — on a march around the neighborhood. As they passed the Q54 bus on Metropolitan Avenue, the driver honked repeatedly at the procession and other cars joined the chorus. More students joined when the group returned to the school's entrance on Himrod Street, until the rally swelled to nearly 50.
New York

Budget cuts have more teachers missing school to score tests

Schools across the city will go short-staffed for 15 days starting as soon as next month's state tests conclude. As happens every year, the Department of Education is asking schools to send teachers to help grade the tests. But this year, the scoring period is 50 percent longer — 15 days instead of 10 last year — and it's largely taking place during the school day. The changes mean schools will lose more teaching time than in the past. Schools with more test-taking students are required to send more teachers. So a school with under 100 test-taking students will lose just one teacher from late April through early May, but a school with more than 1,100 test-takers will have to send eight to centralized grading centers. Anna Allanbrook, principal of the Brooklyn New School, is responsible for contributing five teachers for grading this year. She has decided to send teachers that work as support staff, to keep classroom teachers inside the classroom. While she won’t need to shell out money for substitute teachers by distributing staff in this way, she is still at a loss. “It costs me time because they’re not doing what they’re normally doing,” Allanbrook said. “I often wonder if they put all that money into something else if it would improve student performance.” The tests have undergone changes this year to make them longer and include "field" questions that are aligned to new Common Core standards but won't factor into students' scores. Allanbrook said she thought the changes could prove burdensome for young students. But the experimental questions will be graded by machines, not teachers, and the longer test is not the reason for the extended scoring period, said DOE officials. Instead, they blamed the change on budget cuts and a lack of aid from the state.
New York

Mentoring program pairs Latina students and strong role models

Mairelys Alberto, Pilar Larancuent, and Ana Banegas address a group of Latina students at a Mentoring Latinas panel discussion on Wednesday. As a young adult watching Univision in the Bronx, Ana Banegas — now a Fordham University graduate student — was galvanized by the "Orgullo Hispano" campaign. Banegas, who immigrated from Honduras when she was eight years old, told her mother that one day she would be worthy of Orgullo Hispano, or Hispanic Pride. Now, as a mentor through Fordham's Mentoring Latinas program, Banegas can pass that vision to city students who are not so different from herself at their age. Mentoring Latinas, founded in 2003, pays college students to build relationships with Latina girls in the Bronx, with the goal of empowering the young women and encouraging them to aim higher in school. In the last year, the city launched an initiative to help young Latino men find employment and perform better in school. Girls, who typically do better in school and are less likely to run into trouble with the law, aren't part of the initiative. But Latina girls need a helping hand, too. Mentoring Latinas cites statistics about Latinas' high birth rate — more than half of Latinas have at least one child before age 20 — and high rate of attempted suicide to explain why young women need positive role models and receptive ears. The mentors and mentees typically pair off on Wednesday afternoons, spending time bonding while walking through campus talking about their lives and futures. This week, they came together in a bright room on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus for a panel discussion featuring Banegas; Mairelys Alberto, the outreach programs coordinator at El Museo del Barrio; and Pilar Larancuent, a youth development coordinator at Graham Windham. The trio spoke to girls who attend Belmont Preparatory High School and M.S. 45 Thomas C. Giordano, their Fordham mentors, and Mentoring Latina sponsors — including representatives of AT&T, which partly funds the initiative through Aspire Grants.
New York

Students look close to home for civic engagement lessons

New York

Behind the office door of a parent coordinator with longevity

Chantal Desdunes, a parent coordinator, in her office at Brooklyn's High School for Youth and Community Development. For Chantal Desdunes, going to work sometimes means riding the subways with a parent in search of a runaway child. Sometimes it means visiting a child’s family member in the hospital or mediating a mother-daughter argument over the phone. Sometimes it means offering guidance to a student’s crying, jobless father. As the parent coordinator at the High School for Youth and Community Development at Brooklyn's Erasmus Campus, Desdunes starts her days early, walking briskly through the halls nudging her “babies” to take off their hats and get to class. On a recent Wednesday, Desdunes entered her office — “the parent center slash you name it” — grabbed her morning cup of coffee and settled in at the meeting table. Stacks of manila folders, photocopies of fliers, and scribbled family outreach records crowded the tabletop. “Anything that has to do with parents goes to me,” Desdunes said. On the docket for the day: Stuffing the folders for mailing, finishing the monthly Gazette parent newsletter, preparing for an evening workshop, solidifying plans for a student outing to a Nets game, securing four student immunization records, updating the honor roll bulletin board, and monitoring the automatic messaging system that she uses to communicate with parents en masse. In 2003, Desdunes was an assistant director at a community organization, Community Counseling and Mediation Services, when Marie Prendergast, YCD's founding principal, selected CCMS as her community partner. Through their collaborative planning work, Prendergast became familiar with Desdunes and her values and pulled her on board to be the school's parent coordinator. At the time, the position of parent coordinator was in just its second year of existence, after Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein created the position in their first round of school reforms. They required each principal to hire a liaison to work with families even as they sought changes to the city's school administration to reduce parents' input in governance. A decade later, parent coordinators continue to be mandatory for elementary and middle schools. But in 2010, the position – which pays around $40,000 – was made optional for high schools. In October, 57 parent coordinators were among more than 700 school support workers who were laid off. As one of the longest-serving parent coordinators in the city, Desdunes highlights what the role adds at a time when it is threatened. Parents say YCD would be unimaginable without Desdunes's watchful eye, nurturing guidance, and encouraging words.
New York

For students who want to attend pricey programs, a site to help

New York

At second-chance school fair, students hope for better luck

Adasia Santos and her mother, Christina, arrived late but one of the remaining booths caught their eye: the high school formerly known as High School for Graphic Communication Arts. This weekend, thousands of eighth-graders and their families descended on the Upper West Side's Martin Luther King Campus to confront the bad news they received just days earlier: Unlike the majority of their classmates across the city, they still didn't have a high school to attend next year. That's because these students — about 7,700 in all, according to city data — weren't matched to any of their top high school choices through the Department of Education's main admissions process. To help them find a school, the city recruited 270 high schools that are still trying to fill seats to a "Round 2 High School Fair." About 4,500 people attended on Saturday, according to officials in the Office of Student Enrollment, which organized the event. GothamSchools attended as well and spoke to dozens of families about their plight. We found there were a variety of reasons for why students ended up without a matched school. Some applied to only the most competitive schools; others didn't fill out the applications properly; and some families suspected that schools turned away students with special needs. Other students were just unlucky. Jaqueline and Joshua Benitez Jaqueline Benitez's son Joshua wasn't matched to any of his twelve choices, which included top schools like Manhattan Village Academy and Museum High School. Jaqueline said she specifically singled out programs that a guidance counselor told her would have been able to accommodate her son's Individualized Education Program and his need for Integrated Co-Teaching, speech therapy, and testing modifications. "The thing that got me upset is that some of the same schools we chose are here for Round 2," she said pointing to Museum High School and Baruch, which are among the many selective schools that are opening their doors only for students with special needs.
New York

In HS admissions numbers, hints of change at selective schools

An earlier timeline for the city's high school admissions process didn't equate to a higher match rate between students and schools. Data released today by the Department of Education about high school admissions show that 90 percent of the 77,137 eighth-graders who applied to high school this year were matched with a school during the first round of the city's admission process, just under half to their first-choice schools. But about one in 10 did not get into any school, roughly the same proportion as last year, when the city induced a flood of applications to top schools by listing schools' graduation rates in the high school directory for the first time. Students who did not get a seat will have to choose from schools that did not fill up in the main round of the admissions process, likely because too few students sought spots in them. The data also reveal at least small strides in two enrollment areas the city has identified as problems. First, the number of black and Hispanic students offered spots at the city's specialized high schools inched upward, although it remains woefully low. Plus, students with disabilities will also get a second chance to win admission to a number of selective schools as part of a city initiative to require those schools to enroll more special education students. The admissions decisions, which schools will begin distributing to students today, come a full month earlier than the city has ever before informed most students about their high school placements. That's because the city shifted this year to a unified admissions schedule for the first time.
New York

In New Haven's experience, validators don't lead to teacher firing

The city's new process for managing low-rated teachers might result in more of them leaving the system — but not because they have been fired, if New Haven's experience using a similar model is any indication. When city and union officials announced a deal on a key sticking point in teacher evaluations talks, the appeals process for teachers who get low ratings, both said they had been inspired by a system in place since 2009 in New Haven, Conn. A key component of that system is the use of third party "validators" to observe teachers considered ineffective and either corroborate or contradict the principal's assessment. In New York City, validators would work with teachers in the year after they receive a low rating according to a not-yet-finalized evaluation system. New York City officials said they expected the new process to result in more teachers being terminated. If the validator supports a principal’s assessment of a teacher, they note, the teacher would enter termination hearings under a presumption of incompetence — a major shift from the current system, in which the city must prove that the teacher is not up to par. But New Haven’s system has not produced many firings. Instead, officials there say it has encouraged teachers to leave on their own. Thirty-four New Haven teachers designated "in need of improvement" — less than half of whom had tenure — exited the system last year, but they had chosen either to retire or resign, according to the officials. “They came to an understanding once they saw that it wasn’t just one person saying that they weren’t performing, that the validator was also seeing the same thing,” said Michele Sherban-Kline, who oversees New Haven Public Schools Teacher Evaluation and Development. “Most of them came to the realization that it was better that they not fight it because all of the evidence was there.”
New York

Travel grants open to globetrotting teachers who aim to improve

Eszter Weiss and Faye Chiu, Millenium High School math teachers, exploring Archimedes Garden in Florence, Italy on a 2011 Fund for Teachers trip Faye Chiu and Eszter Weiss, veteran math teachers, spent last summer in Italy and Greece — not bathing on the Riviera or hopping the isles, but retracing the steps of the ancient mathematicians in search of inspiration to energize their curriculum at Manhattan’s Millennium High School. And while they were soaking up information about Archimedes, other city teachers were going to the far corners of the earth for their students, too: to Sweden to learn about individualized learning plans; to Iran and Turkey to collect information for helping non-Muslim students understand their school’s growing Muslim population; to Brazil to gather tips on getting girls interested in physical activity. If the trips don’t sound like the average professional development sessions, it’s because they’re not. Instead, enabled by the national organization Fund for Teachers and its local partner, New Visions for Public Schools, are fueled entirely by teachers’ own curiosities. In the past, New Visions offered the grants only to teachers affiliated with the schools it manages and supports. But this year, the nonprofit added supplementary grants of up to $10,000 that are open to teachers in all city high schools — provided that they teach courses that culminate in a Regents exam, have been teaching for at least three years, and plan to return to the classroom in September. Applications for this summer's YouPD Challenge Grants are due Feb. 29. The concept behind the grant is simple, according to Robert Hughes, New Visions’ president. “The best professional development is the professional development that teachers create and define for themselves,” he said. Hughes said the program’s expansion is meant to recognize stellar educators throughout the city. “With all of the controversy flowing around teachers it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the extensive commitment that the vast majority of teachers make,” he said. “Despite the rhetoric, we have some of the strongest teachers in the country.”
New York

In protest against closure plan, Legacy students find silver lining

Legacy students sat on the panel to present anecdotal and data-driven reasons why Legacy should remain open By the time Wednesday's closure hearing began, students at Manhattan's Legacy School for Integrated Studies had already said everything they could to support their school. For weeks, they had been making a case for their school, on the Today Show and WPIX, NY1 and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter. And yet, revved up from a multi-school rally in Union Square, they said it all again. In the school's packed cafeteria, students said once again that their new principal, Joan Mosely, and the many new teachers hadn't had time to turn the school around. Last year's poor academic performance, they said, reflected stricter standards and higher expectations. They even made a formal presentation about the school's performance and demographics. Their arguments were seconded by teachers, parents and representatives of several elected officials, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, both candidates for mayor. But Marc Sternberg, a Department of Education deputy chancellor, said the city did not want to wait for improvement that might never arrive. “The question ultimately is, how patient can we be?” Sternberg said. “Our inclination is to act on behalf of our future students quickly.” Students and teachers said the closure proposal had in some ways dampened the mood at the school. But they pointed to a silver lining: that the sustained protest against the city's plan had given them purpose, public speaking skills, and an esprit de corps.
New York

Plan to close an arts school seen as cutting off a unique option

If the Department of Education goes through with its plan to close Manhattan Theatre Lab High School, the city will lose a rare option for students who want a rich arts education but lack previous training, members of the school community argued at a public hearing about the closure plan Tuesday night. Manhattan Theatre Lab students performing during a talent show that preceded its closure hearing Manhattan Theatre Lab, an eight-year-old high school on the Martin Luther King Campus, has a lower-than-average graduation rate, a failing grade on its most recent city report card, and serious academic shortcomings. And while most students defended the school at the hearing, three seniors who testified said Principal Evelyn Collins had not given sufficient attention to the school’s lackluster academics. Collins took over in 2006 after a tumultuous period that included the midyear resignation of the school’s founding principal, the education director of a local theater company. But Manhattan Theatre Lab also has a rich arts curriculum in drama, dance, vocal music, and set design — and it does not require auditions to be accepted. That sets the school apart from other arts schools, including the elite LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, located across the street. Many students told GothamSchools they had auditioned for LaGuardia or other selective schools but were not accepted. They said they had felt unprepared next to other eighth-graders from around the city who had been fine-tuning their craft through private training since an early age. Manhattan Theatre Lab’s open-door policy has attracted a student body that is 96 percent black and Hispanic, at least two-thirds free lunch-eligible. About 10 percent of students require special education services. At LaGuardia, nearly 70 percent of students are white or Asian, and less than 1 percent of students have special needs.
New York

Holiday feast in Flatbush unifies a district and charter school

In some shared school buildings, district and charter schools struggle over scarce resources. In Flatbush, they are sharing their bounty. Fahari Academy Charter School and M.S. 246, Walt Whitman Middle School, held a potluck holiday dinner Wednesday in their shared gymnasium. The event, billed as a showcase for the schools' working relationship, comes as the year's fights over new co-locations start to heat up. Fahari and Walt Whitman staff enjoying the food choices at a joint holiday potluck. The walls were spruced up with red drapes, silver tinsel, and strings of lights, and long tables decorated with poinsettias and silver candelabras were set in a semi-circle to encourage mingling between the schools. A deejay kept a holiday playlist going as attendees selected from dozens of buffet options, heaping their plates with jerk chicken, baked ziti, and curried goat. Catina Venning, Fahari’s executive director, and Bently Warrington, Walt Whitman’s principal, said they hope that the respectful relationship they have worked to establish will trickle down to staff and students. While this is the first shared holiday party, the schools have worked together on other initiatives, including a community cleanup last June. The event was planned by a committee made up of two representatives from each school. The vision was a winter wonderland and the responsibilities were split between the schools: Walt Whitman took on most of the cooking and Fahari focused on the decorations. Fahari opened in the M.S. 246 building in 2009. During the co-location's first two years, as Fahari expanded from fifth to sixth grade, the schools experienced some kinks as the two leaders adjusted to each other’s styles and established protocols for divvying up common facilities. Fahari also experienced difficulties of its own, including a D on the city's progress report and concerns about school culture that led to a successful unionization effort by its teachers. “In the beginning, it was difficult, I’m not going to lie,” Venning said.
New York

A Queens school finds opportunity in Google's education apps

Principals want to chart school expenditures? There’s a Google App for that. Teachers want to collaborate on curriculum? Students want to vote on the colors of their cap and gown? There are Google Apps for that, too. ACTVF juniors shooting their own Alfred Hitchcock films after school on Tuesday The Academy for Careers in Television and Film is making use of all of them. Founding principal Mark Dunetz has Google-fied the school, using Google Apps for Education to create shared, streamlined systems that aggregate information and smooth operations. When Dunetz started ACTVF in 2008, he said he faced a challenge shared by most non-selective high schools: “You accept in a range of students based on their interest in the program, who might or might not have had success in school.” His solution to guarantee their success was to implement a slew of organizational systems to make the school “responsive and efficient" to students' needs. The first class of students will graduate this year, and Dunetz projects a graduation rate over 90 percent – a rarity for a non-selective school. “It would be inconceivable to do the work we're doing, as successfully as we’re doing it, without the systems that we have in place,” he said when I visited the school last week. The starting point for ACTVF was the free suite of Google Apps for Education, which includes Google Mail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Google Sites. Dunetz leaned on the toolkit to create a shared document for staff to track parent outreach. But then the possibilities exploded. “Once you get into it, you know what’s possible," Dunetz said. "You start to really see everywhere the ways you’re wasting time doing things in an inefficient matter."
New York

Legacy HS supporters rally against closure, beg for more time

Parents, students, and staff gathered to show support for Legacy Carolyn Blackette wasn’t thrilled when she first found out her daughter would be attending Legacy High School for Integrated Studies because of its reputation. Blackette's daughter had been assigned to the school after not getting into any of her high school choices, so Blackette marched down to the Department of Education to protest. A DOE employee convinced her that it was a good school and moving in the right direction under new leadership. Still skeptical, Blackette went to orientation — and fell in love with Legacy. Within the first four months of school, she has received a personal call from the principal to make sure her daughter was adjusting comfortably, had frequent correspondences with teachers about her daughter’s performance, and witnessed her daughter welcomed into a warm school environment. “I’ve been through the system before,” Blackette said, having put several other children through public schools. “I’ve never seen them take such interest in a child.” With such an overwhelmingly positive experience, Blackette was shocked – as were other Legacy parents and students – to hear the school was placed on the chopping block last week when the DOE proposed its phaseout. On Wednesday night, Thomas Fox, a DOE official that works with a number of schools including Legacy, facilitated a public hearing on Legacy’s proposed phaseout. As soon as parents and students caught wind of the event, they mobilized to rally – painting black and red “Save Legacy” tees, posting fliers around the school, making phone calls to bring in the troops. Approximately 100 staff members, students, and parents filled the cafeteria to hear what Fox would say and to push back. 
New York

Parents demand stronger role at council hearing on engagement

As today's City Council hearing on parent engagement wore into its third hour, parents grew agitated that they had yet to deliver their testimony. After listening to chancellor Dennis Walcott and executive director for family and community engagement, Jesse Mojica, discuss parent engagement with council members for hours, the parents were ready to contribute, but the meeting was scheduled to end at one. "It's really unfair that this wasn't mostly parent voices," Michelle Lipkin, P.S. 199's PTA president, said when she took the mic. "There's a real disconnect between the definition of parent engagement for parents and the definition of parent engagement for the department of education." That disconnect was made clear as parents and council members agreed that the Department of Education can engage parents all they want, but without power, the engagement is all for naught. “There’s no big secret in what gets parents involved," Councilman Charles Barron said. "It’s when parents actually have power.” He suggested giving parents a say over curriculum, principal hiring, and budget. Others agreed and noted that the Panel for Education Policy, the Community Education Councils, and the school closure procedures give only the guise of engagement. “The parents need power through legislation. Not engagement, not feedback, not any of those pretty words. We need a vote on the PEP,” Christine Annechino, president of CEC 3, testified. “We have no voice. We have no power.” Concerns raised by council members and parents during the meeting included the cut of 57 parent coordinators earlier this year, the accountability and assessment of parent coordinators, the lack of communication about toxic school environments, and the relocation of last night's PEP meeting. While the tone was civil throughout, the issues always came back to the fact that parents don't just want to be kept abreast of issues in their child's school, they want to have the power to effect change.
New York

Anti-truancy initiative brings peer group mentoring to Marta Valle

Marta Valle High School seniors and freshmen participating in Peer Group Connection last week When Andy Rodriguez and Shanique Josephs told 15 Marta Valle High School freshmen last week that only half of all black and Hispanic students graduate from high school, the room grew quiet. “That means half of you guys probably won’t graduate — according to statistics," Josephs said. "How does that make you feel?" Rodriguez and Josephs were very much trying to teach the freshmen in front of them, but they are not teachers. They are two of 24 Marta Valle seniors participating in Peer Group Connection, a mentoring program run by the Princeton Center for Leadership Training. Used by more than 150 schools across the country, the program has so far been used in New York City only by elite private schools, such as Spence and Dalton. The program came to Marta Valle, the first city public school to adopt it, through Mayor Bloomberg's year-old Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement. (Washington Irving High School will start using Peer Group Connection next semester.) “We’ve been doing this program for so long in elite private schools so we love being able to mirror that experience for students in more high-need communities,” said Margo Ross, PCLT’s senior director of development. While the range of schools have different needs — and adjust their mentoring curriculum accordingly — the essence of the model remains the same. PGC calls for select seniors to enroll in a full-year, credit-bearing course which meets daily and trains them to be peer leaders. The course is co-taught by two teachers who have gotten special training. Once a week the seniors visit freshmen advisories for an “outreach class” in which they lead activities and discussions about relevant topics such as graduation, goal-setting, and decision-making. Seniors get credits towards graduation and a sense of responsibility. Freshmen get peer role models and help making the tough transition into high school — something that experts say is essential to keep them from dropping out.
New York

Librarian recruits Cornel West to Harlem school that could close

New York

Students of honored teachers share ideas for great teaching

The principal of the High School for Environmental Studies prepares to accept a check for her school's science program On Wednesday, we highlighted seven math and science teachers who received awards for their teaching. They were formally honored on Wednesday night, and yesterday the Fund for the City of New York launched a tour of their schools. We joined the tour's first day to ask students what qualities make a math or science teacher great. At Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, juniors and seniors gathered in the library were told that math teacher Kate Belin had won $5,000. Several students whooped with glee and one shouted, "You could go to Africa with that!" Principal Nancy Mann rejected the students' request to use the school's $2,500 reward to build a second gym. Next, at a highly selective school that the Department of Education does not manage, Hunter College High School, members of the math team praised Eliza Kuberska, their Math Team Advisor. Noting that Kuberska exhorts them to "do it for the love of math" and challenges them to tackle problems more complex than most high schoolers typically face, the students brought their teacher to tears. At the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, it was science teacher Marissa Bellino who made her students cry. Senior Alejandro Vinueza, who has Bellino as his teacher for the third time and traveled with her to Japan to learn about lowering carbon emissions, read a prepared speech but paused shortly after beginning to rub his reddening eyes. “Damn, I’m getting emotional now,” he said. Later, he told me how Bellino inspired him to pursue a science major in college and how she has opened his eyes to environmental awareness. “You know when someone says that they had an experience that changed their life forever? I didn’t believe that could happen until I went to Japan,” Vinueza said. I asked students from the three high schools what makes for a great math or science teacher. Here's what they said: Fannie Lou Hamer receives a framed portrait of math teacher Kate Belin Good teachers connect: “A good teacher understands that every student has their own problems and it takes that one on one interaction, that personal connection, for the students to learn in his or her own way.” Tulio Santos, senior, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
New York

Annual awards fete math, science teachers at array of schools

At a time when the Obama administration is rewarding efforts to improve math and science instruction, seven city math and science teachers are being lauded for the work they already do. For the third straight year, the Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are giving city teachers awards for excellence in teaching science and mathematics. The teachers will receive their prizes — $5,000 each — at an award ceremony tonight and their schools will celebrate the awards, and the $2,500 that their math and science programs receive, at a series of assemblies tomorrow. The teachers were nominated by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and then selected by a committee made up of representatives from local science museums and universities, based on their students' achievement, their involvement in extracurricular activities, and their efforts to promote math and science inside and outside the classroom. The recipients’ high schools range from the city’s highest-performing to some of the weakest, including one that the city is trying to turn around using federal funding. Here are this year’s recipients, along with a highlight about each that we pulled from longer biographies compiled by the Sloan Awards: Teacher: Kate Belin School: Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School Subject: Geometry, Functions Why her school thinks she’s great: Belin makes math relevant and interesting for students at Fannie Lou Hamer, where 90 percent of entering freshman are below grade level in math or English, by connecting math to the world outside the classroom.
New York

On DonorsChoose, a look at what teachers say they lack

With their discretionary funds eliminated and their schools' budgets deflated, city teachers are supplicating strangers to fill in the gaps. There are 1,793 projects posted by city teachers – mostly from high poverty schools – on DonorsChoose, a website that allows teachers across the country to describe small-scale projects that need funding. The requests paint a depressing picture of what many classrooms are lacking. There are the occasional requests for cutting edge technology, such as iPads, tablets and digital cameras. And many of the more ambitious projects range from the creative (violins, costumes, wireless microphones) to the healthy (soccer balls, juicers, pedometers) to the icky (fetal pigs, butterfly larvae, composting worms). But most teachers seem to be asking for classroom staples such as pens, paper, and glue. Here's what we saw when we checked out DonorsChoose today: More than half of all NYC projects relate to literacy and language, a focus of the Department of Education's this year. Many teachers, hoping to make their reading areas more appealing, are asking for beanbag chairs, rugs, library shelves and books. Ms. Coneys, from Thurgood Marshall Academy in Manhattan, is requesting a class set of "Things Fall Apart"  for her students. She writes: "School supplies have become less of a priority, and asking students to go out and buy a book they have never heard of is even more difficult. That being said, it's apparent that my students have the desire to learn something new."
New York

At Washington Heights town hall, Walcott gets a cool reception

A District 6 town hall meeting with Chancellor Dennis Walcott got a little unruly last night in the auditorium of Washington Heights' P.S.48, to the point where both Walcott and Judith Amaro, president of District 6’s Community Education Council, had to ask audience members to be respectful. Washington Heights parents use posters to help get their message across at last night's town hall “I get it, I get it,” Amaro told her community, amid jeers. “But we’re going to do this respectfully because regardless of what’s going on, there are visitors. Here in District 6, we treat our visitors right.” The hostility was not funneled towards a specific issue, as was the case with last week’s town hall in District 23, where parents focused the agenda on school closures. Nor was it so loud that the meeting could not proceed, as when a group of protesters derailed a Department of Education meeting about new curriculum standards. But, it touched on multiple issues ranging from colocations to instruction to budget cuts. Early in the meeting, the CEC quickly clicked through a powerpoint presentation overviewing their district’s demographic and academic profile. More than a third of K - 8 students are English Language Learners, almost ninety percent receive free or reduced lunch, the majority of students are Hispanic and black. “You will never, ever hear me single out poor children or children of color as being children that are different. I’m a firm believer that all our students can learn and can learn at high levels,” Walcott said later in the meeting. “You will never, ever hear me make excuses about what a student can or can’t do because of his background “ Before the community took the mic, the CEC presented six sweeping questions of their own to be answered by Walcott and his delegation of DOE employees, who represented offices such as English Language Learners and Portfolio Management. Their questions ran the gamut from “What makes a good school?” (strong leadership, qualified teachers, involved parents) to “What plans do you have for our ELL students?” (native language programs, grants for dual language programs). When Walcott attempted to answer a question about tightening budgets within schools by mentioning the salary steps built into the United Federation of Teachers’ contract, he was met with rogue shouts of “Are you kidding me right now?” and “Don’t try to put the budget on the teachers!” When he touched on the idea of colocations and of rising class sizes, the response was similar.
New York

Second draft of District 2 zoning plan puts CEC in tough position

Rezoning plan for Lower Manhattan District 2's Community Education Council is facing a catch-22: Approve the three rezoning plans presented by the Department of Education last night, with all of their wrinkles, or risk missing a chance to solve crowding problems this year. After parents criticized a first draft of the plans last month, department officials brought new rezoning maps – one for the Upper East Side, one for the West Village/Chelsea, and one for  Lower Manhattan – to the council's meeting last night. The plans, which council members had not seen before the meeting, address some problems but introduce others, according to Shino Tanikawa, the council's president. The Upper East Side plan was minimally altered, while the West Village/Chelsea plan had significant changes. P.S. 3 and P.S. 41, which currently share a single choice zone, will be split into two separate zones. Moreover, the P.S. 41 zone would include inside of it the future zone lines for the Foundling School, which is set to open in 2014. The main point of contention involves the Lower Manhattan plan which would send some addresses currently zoned for Tribeca's P.S. 234 and others currently zoned for P.S. 397, the new Spruce Street School, to P.S. 1 in Chinatown, a far less affluent school with many immigrant students. Last summer, families on P.S. 234's waiting list resisted when they were offered places at another Chinatown school, P.S. 130. Some parents said the change would damage the neighborhoods' sense of identity. But Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent and a co-chair of the school's overcrowding committee, said the bigger problem is that P.S. 1 could become overcrowded. “The proposals are all just overcrowding the schools around us for an insignificant gain,” Joyce said. “Rezoning does not create seats and seats are what we need.”
New York

City schools tour aims to spur democratic education elsewhere

iSchool students taking part in a Model United Nations class that the IDEA tour visited Ammerah Saidi, a program coordinator with Detroit Future Schools, meandered in and out of classrooms in the iSchool one morning last week. She had her pick of classes to observe – classes such as "Sixteen," a course designed around the question of what it means to be 16 in New York City, and Cartography, where students creatively mapped their hearts and fictional worlds. Saidi was one of nearly 30 educators, advocates, and consultants from across the country and world taking part in a two-day, three-borough tour of schools and programs that promote democratic education. “To hear about student-centeredness is one thing, but to feel it is something different,” Saidi said later in the day. “I love being reminded that it should be about the students at all times.” That getting up close and personal with democratic modes of schooling is likely to inspire educators to change their practice is the theory behind the Institute for Democratic Education in America's "Innovation Tours" of city schools. Inspired by an Israeli organization, IDEA promotes the vision that students and communities should be democratically invested in their schools. To get educators to sign on, the group exposes them to democratic models of schooling in action. The goal of each Innovation Tour, which IDEA co-founders Dana Bennis and Jonah Canner lead, is for participants to walk away with ideas about how to broaden participation in their own communities — and then to implement those ideas, with IDEA's help. “We’re not just creating a certain school and modeling it and building it out around the country,” said Bennis, now IDEA’s director of research and programs. “This is about communities coming together and asking: What are our goals for education? What do we want to achieve?” During last week's tour, the group's third since its founding in 2010, participants visited the iSchool, a centerpiece of the Department of Education's Innovation Zone, and Urban Academy, the alternative high school on the Upper East Side whose students demonstrate proficiency through presentations and projects instead of Regents exams. They heard the principal of Brooklyn's P.S. 28 describe her vision for a school that helps everyone in the community, not just the students who are enrolled. And they saw how The Point, a community group in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, works with new schools, develops green spaces, and provides outlets for creativity.
New York

From Charlotte, a vision for NYC's second try at parent training

The parent training program that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised to launch last night would be new to New York City. But it wasn't supposed to be that way. In 2009, over the objections of some members of the Assembly who said doing so would waste scarce resources, state legislators passed a bill to create a parent-training center in New York City. The bill was one of four amendments that Senate Democrats required before they would agree to renew Mayor Bloomberg's control of the schools. That center was supposed to cost $1.6 million, which the city and state would jointly supply. It would have been housed at CUNY. And it would have trained parents who normally wouldn’t get involved to serve on community education councils and school leadership teams. But it never got off the ground. The Department of Education said at the time that it was unwilling to pony up its portion of the costs unless the state contributed, too. And the state's funding never materialized. This time around, the city won't be relying on the state for its parent training center. Walcott did not name a price tag for the new initiative, which will start in 2012, but he said the city would pool public and private funds to pay for it. A DOE official said the public funds would not come from the same pot that would have helped fund the CUNY training center. A similar initiative in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, which DOE officials said is a likely model for the program that the city will put in place, has been funded entirely with private dollars from local and national foundations and companies.
New York

Discussion of Common Core to compete with human mic tonight

New York

UFT announces $50,000 outlay in new anti-bullying campaign

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and others pose with the new BRAVE poster The teachers union and city are often portrayed as pushing each other around. Not today. UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott shared a podium this morning to announce a new hotline for students to use to get advice about bullying. The hotline is the main initiative of BRAVE (Building Respect, Acceptance, and Voice through Education), a $50,000 anti-bullying campaign funded by the union and launched in conjunction with city agencies and the City Council. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said at the announcement that bullying had replaced grades and graduation as parents' chief education concerns. “The reality is if you poll parents right now, you ask them what keeps them up at night, you ask them what makes them worry about their child’s ability to excel in school, they’ll tell you bullying,” Quinn said. When students call the hotline (212-709-3222) on weekdays between 2:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., the trained clinicians and mental health professionals who pick up will first evaluate their immediate safety and then help them construct a plan to confront their situation. There will not be any direct communication with students’ schools because of the confidentiality issue. However, the Mental Health Association of New York City, who will be manning the hotline, will be tracking data about the number of student callers.
New York

Students unveil fanciful designs for classrooms of the future

New York

At newcomer school, teachers step back to help students learn

Blendi Brahimaj, Wilis Hernandez and Reyson Rosario working together On a recent day at High School of Language and Innovation earth science teacher Katie Walraven did very little. Walraven's choice to take a back seat to her students was strategic: She was letting her students, who are almost all recent immigrants, do most of the teaching. Her approach reflects one answer to a tricky question: How to teach high school students grade-appropriate content — while at the same time teaching them English. It's a question that teachers at newcomer high schools such as High School of Language and Innovation or International High School in Prospect Heights, the subject of "The New Kids," a new book by Brooke Hauser, confront daily. For help addressing the tension, High School of Language and Innovation's founding principal, Julie Nariman, turned to Learning Cultures, a curriculum designed by New York University education professor Cynthia McCallister. The basic philosophy of Learning Cultures – which is used in a dozen other city schools – is that students learn best through social situations. "The social interaction is what allows the writing to happen, the reading to happen, the learning to happen,” McCallister said. While Learning Cultures is not specifically designed for ELL populations, Nariman says it is the perfect fit for them because it allows students to pool their knowledge of English and content to help each other. Nariman is well-versed in the needs of ELL students, having previously been assistant principal of English as a Second Language at Long Island City High School, and having taught English as a Second Language in Korea. “This really spoke to me," she said about Learning Cultures. "It's a system of teaching students to work interdependently in the classroom and to use independent work time effectively. The content is still all there but in order to get to that content we are first working on social practices.” 
New York

Downtown residents disappointed by school zones proposal

A map of proposed new school zones for Lower Manhattan Tribeca’s P.S. 234 is no stranger to overcrowding, but last night the packed auditorium was full of stressed downtown parents instead of their children. The parents were there to speak out on the Department of Education’s rezoning proposal for downtown Manhattan during the first of multiple public hearings held by the Community Education Council for District 2. It is the third time District 2 has been rezoned in as many years as new schools have come online to serve the district's growing number of families. In 2009, the department offered up multiple rezoning options, pitting parents against each other based on how their children would be affected. This year, the department released a single proposal for the council to revise and approve. “We went through some wars together,” Elizabeth Rose, from the DOE’s department of portfolio management, told the parents at last night's meeting. “Tonight, I’m mostly here to listen.” Rose, CEC members, and other officials heard parents complain that they had moved to Tribeca in order to send their children to the popular P.S. 234, only to find out that they could be rezoned and see the value of their homes fall. They heard concerns about changes to a longstanding policy of treating the West Village as a single zone shared by multiple schools. And they heard worries about the "sketchy" neighborhood that students might have to walk through to get from Tribeca to P.S. 3 in the West Village. Together, the parents argued that the rezoning proposal did not meet downtown's real needs: for the DOE to bring school zones in line with neighborhood boundaries, ensure students' safety during their commutes, and build more schools in Lower Manhattan.
New York

Graduates of International High School are stars of a new book

Brooke Hauser's new book, "The New Kids," follows a year in the life of students at International High School in Prospect Heights, a small school that caters to immigrants. Among the book's many highs and lows is a moment at the end of the Class of 2009's school year when five students receive college scholarships from Jerry Seinfeld's foundation. Fifteen students in the city received the scholarships, and five were members of International's Class of 2009. (Another moment is prom, the event that led to Hauser's 2008 New York Times story and inspired the book.) We recently spoke to three of those winners, now college juniors. They are Mukta Mukta, seen wrestling with her religion and independence throughout the book; Freeman Degboe, a ham who introduces himself to Seinfeld as "the next Jerry Seinfeld"; and Marie Feline Guerrier, a mini-celebrity in Brooklyn's Haitian community. Mukta, who immigrated from Bangladesh in 2002, is now a junior nursing major at the University of Vermont. Degboe, who came to the United States from Togo in 2006, joins her there and is now studying film and television. Guerrier, a Haitian immigrant, is now studying health sciences and nursing at Long Island University. Mukta Mukta is a junior nursing major at the University of Vermont.   How did you end up at International High School? MM: In 2002 I moved to Nebraska first, and I went to school there for two and a half years. I was here in March at the very end of the year, so I started in New York with sixth grade. I was in a middle school in New York and one of my teachers – an English teacher – told me about International and she told me it’s a great school, it’s a new school, and it’s a small school with less students and I got in. FD: My father moved first and then he brought the rest of us to Brooklyn. During that first week we tried to go to different schools. We went to I.S. 292, but they only took my little sister because they said I was too old. So, they sent us to this office and they told me to go to International High School. I went there and they told me to come back after break – I think it was second semester. I didn’t have to take any tests; I just showed my transcripts from Togo and they accepted me. MFG: My dad had a friend of his who knew about high schools and who referred me to International High School. My high school experience started shaky, but I said to myself I am in the United States and the reason I came here was for a better future. Especially for Haitians, graduating is a great thing and they believe in education. My family worked hard to bring me here so it’s my job to work hard, not just to make then proud but to help me in the future.
New York

Diverse approaches to admissions labyrinth on view at HS fair

Eighth-graders and their parents began queuing up outside Brooklyn Technical High School on Saturday an hour before the annual citywide high school fair's start time, and by 9:45 a.m. a long line of families wrapped around the block. When the doors opened at 10 a.m., they poured into the stuffy building, some of the tens of thousands of families that passed through the fair this weekend. Inside, Brooklyn Tech's eight stories were something of a labyrinth — but no more so than the high school admissions process itself. Parents and students that we met outlined varying strategies for navigating the fair and the journey to high school. Laura Napiza with daughter Samantha, left, who wants to be a teacher Laura Napiza and her daughter Samantha tried traversing the hallways but seemed completely lost. “We just got here and it’s very overwhelming,” Laura Napiza said. “We’re looking for a high school with a strong academic program that also has something that she’d be interested in. Right now she wants to be a teacher.” They said their goal was to visit the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts, and the Sciences and Maspeth High School — if they could find those tables. Saying they planned to inquire about graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratios and extracurricular options, the mother and daughter disappeared into the melee. Spencer Jackson and Beverly Brailsford creating a plan of attack for the fair Beverly Brailsford and her son Spencer Jackson came in with a clear plan of action: Head straight to the seventh floor and methodically work downwards, hitting only the schools with strong academic programs and track and field teams. First, though, the pair found a quiet hallway where they could sit down and prepare. With the high school directory in her lap, a pen in her hand, and a notebook turned to a fresh page, Brailsford took notes on schools such as Aviation High School and Medgar Evers College Preparatory School while Jackson played on his phone. “I think it’s more of a mom thing,” Brailsford said of the process. “As long as they have what he’s into, it works for him.”
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