school search

New site marries New York real estate and school searches

A search for P.S. 321, an A-rated school in Brooklyn, shows market rate rents and home prices in the area and a link to the nearest Starbucks.

A founding board member of two New York City charter schools has started his own website to help parents find good elementary schools in neighborhoods they can afford.

Called SchoolFisher, the site grades elementary schools according to its own criteria — mainly students’ scores on the state’s tests — and only includes the top 200. Of those, a group of 50 are highlighted in gold for posting the highest scores of all.

“Like Lake Wobegon’s children, all of the schools on this site are above average,” the site reads.

SchoolFisher’s creator is Eric Grannis, who sits on the board of the Public Prep charter school network and is married to Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Charter Network. A longtime charter school supporter, Grannis said he wanted to show parents that they didn’t have to live in the poshest neighborhoods to win entry to the best schools.

“This is important information because I think a system that works upon biases and prejudices — the assumption being, oh this school is in a poorer neighborhood, therefore it’s bad — is actually unhelpful,” he said.

Visitors to SchoolFisher can select whether they plan to buy or rent an apartment and approximately how much they’re looking to spend. The lowest rent a person can select is $800 for a 1-bedroom and the highest is $3,800 for a 3-bedroom. With that information, the site creates a map of top-scoring schools in neighborhoods that meet the visitor’s price point. But knowing the right neighborhoods isn’t enough, as the site notes, parents will have to do some research on their own to make sure they buy in the right districts.

Inevitably, the more a person is willing to pay, the more options she’ll have. Entering the lowest rent of $800 turns up 19 results, most of them in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. Of the 19, the majority are charter schools, which tend to open in low-income neighborhoods.

And some of them have yet to open. SchoolFisher assigns grades to charter schools that have yet to post any test scores based on how other charters in the same network have performed. So even though Icahn Charter School 4 doesn’t have test scores yet, the site gives it an A- because other schools in Icahn Charter network have high scores.

Along with telling parents where to buy or rent apartments in order to find a good school, the site offers another service: coffee scout. Enter the name of a school and it will tell you how much it costs to live nearby, but also where the nearest Starbucks is located.

Grannis said that in the course of reviewing schools’ scores and assigning grades — no school earns less than a B — he was surprised at how many district schools were among the city’s best.

“Of course I always knew there was a spectrum. But I’m amazed at how astonishingly good some of them are,” he said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”


What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said