New York

Survey of students about student surveys yields mixed opinions

New York

Students and staff say, again, that Lehman is on the upswing

As Elaine Gorman, a top official in the Department of Education's Division of Portfolio Planning, looks on, seniors Lindita Nuculli and Samantha Calero talk about Lehman High School's strengths. For the third time in a year, students and teachers at Herbert H. Lehman High School lined up Monday night to tell city officials why the school should remain open. They were there a year ago, when the city first shortlisted the school for possible closure. And they were back there this spring for a spate of meetings and protests over the city's plan to close and reopen the school according to a federally prescribed overhaul process — a process Lehman only narrowly escaped. Yesterday evening, Department of Education officials returned to Lehman to warn that closure is on the horizon again. At an emotional "early engagement" meeting—a meeting between officials, school staff, community members that is the first step in the closure process—current and former teachers and students defended the large, East Bronx school, arguing that the Department of Education's reform policies are to blame for Lehman's decline. Department officials have held early engagement meetings at Lehman twice before, but the school ultimately remained open. In a presentation at the beginning of the meeting, principal Rose Lobianco said the school is already on the slow and steady path to improvement, thanks to the creation of a small learning academy structure that splits students into several "academies," with their own assistant principal leaders, based on academic interest.
New York

Many are gearing up to defend schools the city might close

New York

Among 24 schools city says it could close, some familiar names

Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of school closures, said the city would consider whether to phase out 24 struggling high schools. Seven high schools that the city tried in vain to close last year are among the two dozen that the Department of Education might move to shutter this year. Department officials announced today that they had added 24 high schools to the list of schools they are considering closing. The schools join 36 elementary and middle schools already slated for “early engagement” meetings, the first step in the city's school closure process. The department named those schools in October but postponed the meetings because of Hurricane Sandy. The high schools were culled from 60 whose progress report scores made them eligible for closure under the city's rules. Their test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and readiness for college do not measure up to city standards, according to Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg, the department official who oversees school closures, who said the schools' presence on the early engagement list indicates that they have deep problems to address. "What we see in a school that can't demonstrate the capacity to improve dramatically and to improve quickly is a calcification of the systems that lead to good schools," Sternberg told reporters in a briefing on the reports this afternoon. "The adults are not communicating clearly and well with each other, there's a lack of collaboration, a lack of organizational alignment that will enable the kind of instruction we know is important and necessary to lead to good outcomes."
New York

Almost all mayoral hopefuls say educator should lead schools

Mayoral hopefuls, from left to right, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, John Liu, Tom Allon and Bill De Blasio, discuss city education policies. When the five leading mayoral candidates were asked on Monday how they would select the next schools chancellor at a forum on city education policy, the presumed longshot had the most specific answer. Newspaper publisher Tom Allon, who recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, was the only candidate to name names — and his shortlist contained an eclectic mix of people. He started with Eric Nadelstern, a former Department of Education deputy who is bullish on school closures and other Bloomberg administration policies, then moved to Hunter College President Jennifer Raab before naming Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor who has been critical of policies favored by the Bloomberg administration. To round out his list, he named John White, who became Louisiana's school superintendent not long after leaving the city Department of Education in 2011. Allon's list elicited laugher and whoops of surprise from the audience, as well as a disapproving remark from Comptroller John Liu, who was sitting beside Allon on the stage.  The forum was hosted by Manhattan Media, the company that Allon owns, with help from GothamSchools. (View the entire event.) The one thing all of people on Allon's list have in common is that they have experience working with schools and educators, which Mayor Bloomberg's three chancellors have not had. Bloomberg's first and longest-serving chancellor, Joel Klein, drew criticism because he had come from the corporate world, and most of the candidates were eager to say they would not make the same decision. Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and former comptroller Bill Thompson all promised to choose an educator to lead the schools. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was the only outlier. She said she did not think the next schools chancellor should necessarily have an education background.
New York

In a change, city is steering aspiring principals off the fast track

Realizing that its strategies for stocking the city's ever-expanding supply of schools with excellent principals have fallen short, the Department of Education is launching new programs aimed at slowing down the transition from teacher to administrator. The largest of the new initiatives is the Teacher Leadership Program, aimed at developing leadership skills in hundreds of teachers who are still working in the classroom. Other initiatives are meant to prepare leaders to handle the special challenges of running middle schools and to capitalize on the leadership skills of principals who are already in the system. And a foundation that helped the city underwrite a fast-track principal training program is now paying for educators to earn degrees in school administration at local universities. "Most of our principal training work that we've done historically is focused on that last year before you become a principal," Chief Academic Office Shael Polakow-Suransky said. "It's the last step in the process, and what we've come to understand is that there [are] a lot of steps that happen before that in someone's career. ... We want to begin to do that kind of training." The new programs represent a strong shift away from the Bloomberg administration's early approach to cultivating school leadership at a time when the city is losing about 150 principals a year, even as it has ramped up new school creation. Together with existing programs, they are set to produce 134 new principals and engage 300 teachers this year, according to the department.
New York

As DOE eases back into its regular plans, some raise objections

Chancellor Dennis Walcott takes questions after the Panel for Educational Policy meeting. The city postponed some Panel for Educational Policy votes to next month after Hurricane Sandy threw the Department of Education's public hearing schedule off track. But at the panel's monthly meeting Thursday night, several members argued that the department was getting back to its regular business too quickly. "We need to give people time to recover from this tragedy that we all have experienced in some way or another," said Kelvin Diamond, the new Brooklyn borough president's representative on the panel. Diamond proposed a resolution to suspend all public hearings until 2013 for Brooklyn schools. Hearings about four proposals to co-locate or shrink schools in Brooklyn were rescheduled because they were supposed to take place during the week when all schools were closed because of the storm. Hearings about another 6 proposals for changes to Manhattan and Bronx schools are set for between now and Dec. 20, when the panel is to meet next. The hearings must happen before the panel can vote on the proposals. Diamond said it would be unfair to hold hearings when many Brooklyn residents cannot focus on changes to how school buildings will be used next year. "They've been hit hard. We just can't have a machine run through them," he said. "I have a [Community Education Council] member who is grieving, who attended a funeral and didn't have time to respond to a letter" from the city. Other panel members jumped to support the resolution, even suggesting that it be broadened in scope.
New York

Graphics students are apprehensive on first day back to school

Students walk to the High School of Graphic Communication Arts Wednesday morning. Students from the High School of Graphic Communication Arts and several small high schools returned to their Hell's Kitchen building for the first time since Hurricane Sandy with trepidation. They had heard on the local news and read on Facebook that their school building was in disarray after serving as a shelter for more than 1,000 people displaced by the hurricane which destroyed homes and flooded many parts of the city. Many received emails from their principals and teachers reassuring them that the schools would be ready for them to return to normal, but some weren't convinced their classes were ready to pick up where they left off on Friday, Oct. 26, the last time the schools' held classes. "Yeah, I'm worried. It's pretty disgusting," said Yaina Reyes, a junior at Graphics, referring to conditions she observed in a news report about the school's hurricane shelter earlier this week. City officials originally planned to reopen Graphics to students Monday, while keeping its hundreds of shelter residents in place, even as Principal Brendan Lyons petitioned the department to send his students somewhere else on Monday, citing the turmoil that sharing the space might cause. "If it's not sanitary, it will be sanitary," Chancellor Dennis Walcott told reporters at the time. But as reports of the school's disarray trickled in, officials changed their plans. Instead of opening it to students on Monday, the city began shutting the Graphics shelter down earlier this week and relocating evacuees who had been staying there. Wednesday marks the school's first day back in operation.
New York

Dewey gets its building back, but longer-term problems remain

Smoke billows from John Dewey High School following the sound of an explosion on Monday night, during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Sandra Aronowitz-Garron/Youtube Teachers from John Dewey High School reported for duty to Sheepshead Bay High School on Monday with a sinking feeling. Months after narrowly escaping closure, the school had struggled since September to settle on programs for its 1,900 students and, if that were not enough, its Gravesend building had caught on fire during Hurricane Sandy. Now they thought  students and staff would have spread out among three different school buildings, including Sheepshead Bay, for the foreseeable future. "It could be, without a doubt, another nail in the coffin," one teacher said about the planned relocation. "It's a whirlwind to be told to go here or there." The school’s staff spent Monday deciding who would report where on Wednesday, and creating new schedules for their students. Then, late Monday evening, teachers got a phone call from the Department of Education with unexpected news: Dewey would be able to reopen right away after all. Teachers said the phone call came as a welcome surprise, but some said they thought the location was the least of Dewey’s worries. Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cited Dewey as one of the most severely damaged schools in the wake of the hurricane. And teachers said they had received no hints that the school would be ready to reopen any time soon, even after Principal Kathleen Elvin stopped by the building to assess repair efforts on Monday morning and afternoon. But department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey’s boiler to work, making the building safe for students and teachers. The quick return was exactly what some teachers said they thought the school needed.
New York

Schools reopen with low attendance, but officials are optimistic

Flanked by city officials, Mayor Bloomberg updated reporters on the hurricane relief effort from P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a South Brooklyn school that was damaged in the hurricane. Today marked the first day back to school for most city students, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed their attendance rate. But the figure he cited — 85 percent — didn't count the 75,000 students who weren't in attendance because their schools were temporarily closed, or hundreds of schools that did not report their attendance in time for his press conference. Despite lingering complications from Hurricane Sandy, including power and transit woes, the majority of students and teachers invited to return to school today for the first time in a week made it. And several buildings reopened this morning despite sustaining massive damages a week ago. For the site of his daily update on the city's hurricane relief effort, Bloomberg picked one of those schools — P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a southern Brooklyn school that flooded and originally seemed unlikely to reopen to students today. Flanked by other city officials, Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the number of closed schools is shrinking as more schools that were damaged or lost power slowly receive the repairs they need. On Sunday, buildings too damaged to reopen contained 57 schools; Bloomberg said that number is 48 today. And just 19 schools remain without power, he said, down from more than 100 over the weekend. One of the schools to which teachers will return on Tuesday is John Dewey High School, which Walcott cited last week as one of the most severely damaged in the city after an electrical fire during the storm. Department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey's boiler to work, obviating a planned three-building co-location.
New York

Disorganization, transit woes stymie many teachers' school prep

Teachers from schools in Chelsea relocated to LaGuardia High School's auditorium on the Upper West Side this morning. For most city high school teachers, today was a lesson in how to make do with less. All were asked to return to school for the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit, in order to prepare for the schools to reopen to students next week. But many did so without their usual subway routes, and without internet or access to their classrooms or school buildings. And for the ones who were not told to relocate to other school buildings, the task of the day was to decide which parts of the curriculum to re-arrange or cut to make up for five days worth of instructional time, and how to address the emotional needs of students effected by the hurricane. Some school communities were organized and had ambitious plans for the day, but others were more scattered. The education department's last-minute instructions to displaced staff did not include specifics on what today would look like. After commuting for up to three hours on foot, bus or by bike this morning, many teachers arrived at schools uncertain of how they should use their time. Hundreds of teachers were relocated to large school buildings like LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and the Performing Arts and the Martin Luther King campus because their schools lacked electricity or experienced flooding. Some said they tried to make the most of their first day back to work in a week, even though the vast majority lacked the supplies they needed. "We have no access to computers, and no materials here," wrote one teacher who was relocated to Art and Design High School in Midtown East on twitter. "Our principal and my AP won't make it in today."
New York

As city is urging, hurricane days prompt some to learn at home

Second-grader Jacob Stone and fourth-grader Thomas Daniel trick-or-treated in Harlem with Wanda Fisher. As it became clear on Wednesday that city schools would not be able to reopen this week because of damage to the city's infrastructure, concern deepened at the Department of Education. The department has ramped up a push to toughen academic standards this year, and a week off eight weeks into the semester — even if the days are likely to be made up later — could set back those efforts. So department officials started compiling worksheets, suggested study schedules, test preparation guides, and lists of television shows with educational merit for students in each grade. On Wednesday night, they emailed principals to ask them to send a message alerting families to the new resources. "We know that you and your students are eager to get back to school, and we are working hard to reopen schools as soon as possible," Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky wrote in the message to families, which schools without power could have difficulty distributing. "In the meantime, we are encouraging students and their parents to continue learning at home during this time away from school." He suggested that families look to a silver lining in this week's storm clouds: "Extra time at home is an opportunity to begin or continue planning for your future after graduation," he wrote. It's an approach that some families and schools have taken since early in the week, when Hurricane Sandy's danger passed for the many New Yorkers living out of the flood zone and in areas that retained electrical power. When her nephews finished the homework they brought home on Friday, Wanda Fisher said her husband started quizzing them on mental math problems.
New York

Conversation of the week: Participating in a controversial policy

New York

Even with no model middle school, city expands literacy push

New York

HS of Graphic Communication Arts in crisis, staff members say

Staff members at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts say Room 310, where musical instruments, books, and other discarded materials are piled high, is a symbol for deep disorganization at the school this year. Manhattan’s long-struggling High School of Graphic Communication Arts was supposed to turn a corner this year. But instead, students and staff throughout the school say a recent string of poor leadership decisions is threatening the school's ultimate fate. The toilet plungers that students were told to wield as hall passes last month — until the Department of Education ended the practice — are a distressing symbol of much larger problems at the school, they say. A month into the school year, longstanding programs are in disarray, materials and personnel are languishing unused, and many students have had such inconsistent schedules that their teachers say they have learned far less than they should have by now. "They are all so off-track right now that the first projects we have, I can't really truly grade them as I normally would," one teacher said about students. "I'm going to have to try to make up the knowledge somehow, but I don't know how yet. They should be much further along than they are now." GothamSchools spoke with nearly a dozen newly hired and veteran staff members under the condition of anonymity, as well as other people close to the school. The staffers span the school's grade levels, program offerings, and organizational hierarchy. All said that the ultimate responsibility for the problems should fall on Principal Brendan Lyons, who took over at the school last year and was the department’s pick to lead it through “turnaround.” The aggressive overhaul process for 24 schools was halted this summer after an arbitrator ruled the city’s plans violated its contract with the teachers union.
New York

City officials to ed commission: standards rollout needs funds

Chancellor Dennis Walcott and UFT president Michael Mulgrew talk at the education commission. The city and other school districts desperately need additional funding if they are to raise academic standards, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said today. Even though the city has done more to integrate new learning standards known as the Common Core than other districts and states, it cannot adequately train staff or buy the materials it needs with the resources it currently has, he said. "We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge," he told the commission, according to his written statement. The call for additional funding was one of three priorities that Polakow-Suransky outlined before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education reform commission today. The funding, he said, would be necessary to to purchase new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, and help schools hire coaches to train teachers in the implementation of the Core. He also said the city needed more funds to develop a key piece of the new teacher evaluation system, rigorous assessments developed by the city for each grade level and subject area that would factor into teachers' evaluations on top of many other criteria. "As these assessments become more authentic there are real costs that come along with them," Polakow-Suransky said. "None of this is funded." Polakow-Suransky was offering a solution to a problem that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the commission had already arrived. Mulgrew said the Common Core rollout has already been hindered by the lack of robust materials aligned to the new standards that teachers can use in classrooms now.
New York

City slowly backs up shifted rhetoric on parents, needy students

Like the Bloomberg administration's schools reform efforts, our series tracking the city's progress toward fulfilling its recent education policy promises started last month with teachers and schools. Now we are turning toward the students and families they serve. It's a shift that city officials also made in the last year. For nearly a decade, the Department of Education's approach to helping needy students focused largely on creating excellent new schools and closing ones that don't work. But its policies drew fierce criticism that families were shut out of decisions and that some student groups had not benefited from years of initiatives. Last year, the first that Chancellor Dennis Walcott led in full, city officials announced some changes to its approach, introducing policies aimed at helping students and parents. Concrete actions have been slow to come, but we found that the department is slowly plugging away at creating programs to back up last year's rhetoric shifts. (Each promise is in bold, followed by an explanation of how far the city has come toward meeting it.) On students: The city will study high schools that graduate black and Latino students at high rates to find out what they are doing right. (Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative speech, August 2011) The study is the intended outcome of the Expanded Success Initiative, the flagship education program of Mayor Bloomberg's recent effort to help black and Latino young men. The three-year, $24 million program got underway in June, when the city named 40 schools to monitor as they pioneer new college-readiness strategies funded with grants of $250,000 each. The city will decrease the concentration of high-need students in some schools. (Communication with the state, June 2012) Responding to pressure from State Education Commissioner John King, the city quietly embarked on a pilot program to distribute students who enroll during the school year and summer over a wider swath of schools, despite steadfastly maintaining that high concentrations of needy students do not make it harder for schools to succeed. The city gets about 20,000 new high school students, called "over-the-counters," each year, and they have traditionally wound up in a small number of struggling schools. Last year, about 800 of them went to 54 high schools that have not usually accepted midyear arrivals. But many schools still receive few or no over-the-counter students, while others complain they receive more than they can handle. All city high schools, even those with selective admissions processes, will accept students with disabilities. (Directive to schools, June 2012)
New York

Comparison of new and old state tests hint at challenge to come

This math problem is of the type that students in third grade should expect to see on this year's Common Core-aligned state tests, according to state education officials. Educators have gotten a few hints into what new, more challenging state exams could look like this spring. To help them prepare more, city officials are encouraging them to review old exams and new sample questions side by side to see exactly what has changed. While teachers waited for the state to release examples of how they are re-imagining the yearly exams to line up with new, Common Core curriculum standards, city officials offered their own comparison guide. The guide took the form of a slideshow, with examples of Common Core-aligned math and English tasks developed by city officials, and an explanation of how they compared to old lessons. And when the state's only batch of sample test questions came out in late June, city officials prepared another comparison, but with official questions and 2010 exam questions. They presented the comparison to principals in June at an annual conference for school leaders, and then gave it to reporters earlier this month. The comparisons, officials said, show that students can expect to read more challenging texts and see more multi-step math problems and word problems that reflect real-world scenarios. They include a set of algebra problems for third- and sixth-graders from 2010, followed by comprable problems from a 2013 sample test. One new question, for example, asks sixth-graders to consider a clothing store offering a 30 percent discount on its wares. In three parts, students must not only find the reduced price of several items, but also figure out what an item would cost with an additional discount, or without a discount at all. The comparison question from 2010 is a word problem with just one step, asking students to divide two numbers.
New York

Comments of the week: Weighing the need for more counselors

Two news items sparked disagreements in our comments section over the role guidance counselors play in schools this week. First, we reported that the city would be rotating guidance counselors and social workers who lack permanent positions between multiple schools throughout the year. In past years, the nearly 300 counselors who are members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, (the pool of teachers who lack permanent jobs) stayed in one school for the length of a school year, or longer. But this year they will rotate from week to week to different schools, where they will perform administrative duties, but probably won't be working one-on-one with students. Then City Comptroller John Liu called for an increase in school counseling positions during a speech outlining his educational policy ideas that could help students prepare for college. Liu, a likely mayoral candidate, said city students so badly need help applying to college that it would be worth spending the money to hire 1,600 new guidance counselors—more than double the city's current fleet of 1,300. Commenters on the stories argued about the merits of both of these plans. Many, but not all, said hiring more guidance counselors would be an unequivocally good idea, particularly at a time when fewer schools have the budget to take on extra support staff. "Mikemadden" described guidance counselors as "the lifeblood" of their schools: The average person on the street cannot understand how valuable Guidance Counselors are to the students. Guidance Counselors provide social emotional support for kids in high needs. Guidance Counselors work with staff including Principal, Asst. Principals, teachers in planning out student success paths. Guidance Counselors provide all the programs for students, program changes, transcript reviews with students. college planning with students, family meetings with parents, attendance monitoring.....should I keep going...
New York

City touts justice reform, other Young Men's Initiative outcomes

Jim St. Germain (second from left), who attended a Boystown school, said he thought the "Close to Home" law would help juvenile offenders. More than 4,000 black and Latino young men have already been affected by the constellation of programs and services in the city’s Young Men’s Initiative, Mayor Bloomberg announced today. Over one thousand young black and Latino men found jobs through expanded training and placement programs, according to a city report about the initiative's first year. Hundreds of men between the ages of 17 and 24 received special instruction aimed at boosting their reading skills. And dozens fewer students were suspended at 20 schools that piloted a less punitive approach to discipline. But it was a change that has so far involved just 50 young men that dominated Bloomberg’s attention at a press conference to tout the progress. When the Young Men’s Initiative kicked off in August 2011, Bloomberg said the city would lobby for juvenile justice reform to stop young offenders in New York City from being sent to private detention centers upstate. The “Close to Home” law that does just that passed in March. Already, 50 juvenile offenders have been relocated from upstate facilities to residential treatment centers in the city. As many as 250 will arrive before the end of the year, city officials said. Joined at a press conference by Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and Deputy Schools Chancellor Dorita Gibson at Passages Academy, one of five alternative schools expected to enroll the new arrivals, Bloomberg said the shift would give court-involved students a better chance of graduating from high school. For the first time this year, the credits the students earn during their time at the centers will count towards their high school graduation requirements.
New York

High schools that dodged closure try to woo new students at fair

A Long Island City High School student takes a break from his booth to meet an umbrella cockatoo from George Washington Carver High School. The white cockatoo perched on a student's shoulder during last weekend's Citywide High School Fair was just one squawking example of the lengths schools go to set themselves apart from eighth-graders' 500 other high school options. But for a small group of schools, those that the Department of Education tried but failed to close, winning the affections of eighth-graders could mean the difference between life and death. The schools were slated for an aggressive overhaul known as "turnaround" until an arbitrator ruled this summer that the process violated the city's contract with the teachers union. Turnaround would have caused the schools to close and reopen with different names, teachers, and programs. The high school of another school, Manhattan's Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts, was never at risk, but its reputation suffered when the city moved to shutter its middle school. All of the schools are under pressure to demonstrate demand by December, when high school applications are due and when the Department of Education announces its annual school closure proposals. The department frequently cites low demand as a major reason for moving to close schools. Many of the ex-turnaround schools already have lower-than-usual enrollment, after last year's tumult, which started in the middle of the high school admissions progress. Many also now have new principals, programs, and organizational problems. Still, the staff and students who spoke to GothamSchools on the second day of the fair said they are putting their best foot forward. Long Island City High School During a brief lull in the fair on Sunday, juniors Arissa Hilario and Wendy Li took a break from waving families over to the Long Island City High School booth to admire Winter, an umbrella cockatoo from George Washington Carver High School making the rounds in the area for Queens schools.