Walcott announces new networks for phase-out schools

Several months ago as the citywide school board considered whether to close nearly two dozen schools, critics of the plan accused the city of turning its back on schools once they begin phasing out. Now, the city says it has a plan to help them.

During a visit this morning to Paul Robeson High School — one of the schools that the Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out over the next three years — Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced plans to place all of the phase-out schools in the same networks. The change, which would take effect next school year, would mean that the new, as well as currently phasing out, schools would receive administrative and instructional guidance from the same set of people.

Currently, schools are grouped into networks — called Children First Networks (CFN) — that provide resources ranging from professional development to budget writing. Phase-out schools have remained within the same networks before and after the closure decisions, even though their needs often change as their size dwindles.

Under the new plan, schools like Robeson will leave their current networks and join new ones composed only of other schools that are phasing out. Typical networks have a staff of about a dozen people and focus on giving guidance to 25 schools.

Walcott was vague about what additional help the phase out schools would receive in the new networks. The city’s plan does not include additional funding or staff for closing schools, which are forced to excess many of their teachers and close their after-school programs as their student population shrinks.

“Next year, schools in the process of phasing out will receive a range of supports that are specific to the goals they share in common—with a focus on resource management, leadership and teacher development, communication with parents and families, and guidance for students with disabilities and English language learners,” wrote Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the Department of Education, in an email.

A Department of Education official said that the network employees hired to oversee the phase-out schools will be chosen from applicants who have successfully led or taught in closing schools. The city will release their names in the coming weeks, he said.

Since the city announced plans to close Robeson last year, teachers and students at the school have not been silent about their concerns that they will be neglected while the city focuses on the new school it plans to open in the building. At a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in February, Robeson student Lizabeth Cooper, who is also the student representative on the panel, pled with the panel members to save her school.

Today, Cooper said that she is still concerned that Robeson will be ignored over the next three years. Currently a junior, she will graduate before the school closes.

“I want the freshman and sophomores to be able to graduate. I want them to focus not just on the new school,” she said.

A Principal at another phase-out school shared Lizabeth’s fears. She spoke about her students: “They feel left out of the community. We’re going to be losing resources because we’re losing teachers.”

Today, Walcott, along with Councilman Al Vann and Borough President Marty Markowitz, framed his visit as a response to those concerns. “I just don’t ignore you, that’s why I’m here,” he said to a classroom of juniors.

Walcott emphasized that space-sharing schools would receive equal attention. “I don’t want any us versus them,” he said, referring to the incoming school.

Robeson has been operating under the leadership of interim Principal Ronald Wells, who stepped in after the DOE removed another interim Principal, Katherine Kefalas. Students, parents and faculty have expressed their concerns about conditions at the transitioning school.

Currently, Robeson is affiliated with Network 305, which provides supports ranging from professional development to technical support. Principal Wells said that he was awaiting information about the supports that the new network would provide, adding that he would welcome “the types of supports that we are currently receiving.”

A principal at another phase-out school, said she would have to wait for more information before judging whether the city’s plan will help her school.

“I don’t really know what it all entails.” she said.

An official from the city’s teachers union did not return requests for comment.

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.