school closing season

City officials confront blame for a Brooklyn school's fall

City officials came the closest they’ve gotten to acknowledging the Department of Education’s role in a Brooklyn school’s problems on Friday when a deputy chancellor said he was aware that teachers and parents feel abandoned.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky spoke at P.S. 114 — a Canarsie elementary school the city hopes to phase out next year — after more than two hours of parents and teachers testifying that the DOE ignored the school’s problems. Though they’d petitioned the city to remove a principal who overspent her budget by $180,000 and was hiring unnecessary staff, Maria Pena-Herrera wasn’t forced out until 2008. Now, the school owes the city thousands of dollars and has seen its students’ test scores plummet in the last year.

Polakow-Suransky responded to the outpouring of anger by telling parents that the city hasn’t made a final recommendation to close or keep P.S. 114 open. 

“I want to recognize the fact that in the view of the faculty of the school, and in the view of many of the parents, that we haven’t done what we needed to do to support you,” Polakow-Suransky said. “And that came through loud and clear. And I think that I want to be clear with you that we do see this school as our responsibility, five years ago, three years ago, and today.”

His comment suggested that the city could change its mind before the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the school’s closure this Thursday. Last year, officials decided to save Alfred Smith High School’s automotive program shortly before the panel was to vote on its closure.

But many in attendance said they believed the city had sentenced the school to failure years ago when allowed the principal to rack up debts.

“This school lost Project Read, Project Math, lost its gifted program, lost two guidance counselors, lost half of its gym teachers, lost dozens of other things, because of the mismanagement of the principal you sent here,” said City Councilman Lew Fidler. “And it’s not like the teachers and the parents didn’t tell you so.”

Teachers said that, for years, they essentially ran the school on their own and often didn’t know where the principal was.

Angela Best, the parent of a P.S. 114 fifth grader and a second grader said she didn’t know what she’d do if the school closes. Her daughter in second grade will be eligible to enter the lottery for Explore Excel Charter School, which will open in the building next year.

“I’ve been here for nine years and my kids have succeeded,” she said. “They should give P.S. 114 the money they’re spending to open the charter school.”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.