rocky road back

City anticipating turmoil as most students resume classes today

The auditorium at P.S. 195 in Manhattan Beach was flooded last Wednesday. Today, the school opened its doors to students and Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott plan to visit and welcome them back.

As more than 90 percent of city schoolchildren head to school today for their first day back after Hurricane Sandy, some with extra sweaters to ward off cold, Department of Education officials will have their sights set on the 102 schools that still cannot reopen.

The number of school buildings unable to accommodate students fluctuated over the weekend, but by Sunday night, department officials determined that 57 schools were so damaged that they must be relocated and 29 schools still lacked power, down from nearly 200 at the beginning of the weekend. Another 16 schools are housed in eight buildings that have for the last week been used as shelters for New Yorkers displaced from homes and hospitals by the storm.

The roughly 73,000 students who attend the schools are expected to return to classes on Wednesday, after the entire city takes another break for Election Day on Tuesday, when many schools will function as polling centers.

In the next two days, officials aim for power to be restored to schools that lack it, shelters  closed and cleaned, and damaged schools shoehorned into other locations. But Mayor Bloomberg said the transition back to school — coming after students and teachers alike have had their homes and neighborhoods disruption — would likely be rocky.

“We just can’t predict who’s going to show up where … and we’re obviously going to have problems,” Bloomberg said during a news conference on Sunday. “We’ll just have to bear it, but we’ll have a day between the first day and the second day of school – namely Tuesday – and we’re going to use that day to straighten things out to the best of our ability.”

The sudden relocation of 57 schools whose buildings suffered flooding, oil spills, and fires as a result of the storm has posed the most daunting logistical challenge. Some schools are moving miles away from their original locations, and others are being divided over two or three different sites, according to the department’s plans, which changed over the weekend with conditions on the ground.

“We don’t have a very large group of empty seats, but we think … by moving things around in these schools we’re able to accommodate everyone,” Bloomberg said on Sunday.

In one extreme example, John Dewey High School, which suffered an electrical fire Tuesday morning, is sending its ninth- and 10th-graders to Sheepshead Bay High School, 11th-graders to James Madison High School, and 12th-graders to the Lafayette High School campus. While Lafayette is very close to Dewey, the other two schools are about three miles away — and more than a mile away from each other — in an arrangement that some teachers said would make it impossible to continue with students’ existing class schedules.

Other schools are moving part and parcel to another building, some as far as eight miles away. But their plans are no less complex. Principals in buildings that are getting surprise co-locations are meeting tomorrow with their new neighbors to devise space-sharing schedules and strategies, while teachers in the relocated schools will use the day to set up their new classrooms.

Letting families know that their children would have one more day off was a steep challenge for the department. More than 1 million “robocalls” had gone out to families by Sunday, officials said, and the city placed full-page ads in multiple major newspapers today announcing the changes.

But Bloomberg said on Sunday that he expected some families to make their way to school this morning, only to find it dark and shuttered.

“I’m sure we’re going to miss some people,” he said. “That’s just the reality of doing something we have to do quickly.”

He added, “It is complex and people are going to make mistakes. People are going to be misinformed. We know that.”

Some families could be misinformed in the other direction. Students at some schools where power was restored over the weekend got calls telling them that they would not have classes today even though their schools are open for business. At Harvest Collegiate High School and the Beacon School, both in Manhattan, school officials reached out to students to let them know they should attend today after learning that some had been told to stay home.

Bloomberg also emphasized that reengineering bus routes for the tens of thousands of students who will be relocated would likely not come without problems, and that downed trees and many news drivers could complicate routes even for students whose schools emerged unscathed. As temperatures dipped near freezing, he warned that some students could be left out in the cold.

“I’m sure there’s going to be cases where just the driver made a mistake on the route and we didn’t get to everybody,” Bloomberg said. “We’re trying to do our best, and I want to support them and give them all the tools that we possibly can, knowing that it’s not going to be perfect.”

Even in schools that are reopening on schedule, conditions might not be optimal. Three dozen schools are opening with power but no assurance of heat, and Bloomberg said on Sunday that parents should make sure to send their children off today with “extra sweaters.”

But for the most part, the city is viewing the return to school as an important step in the storm recovery process. P.S. 195 in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, is located just a block off the water and suffered severe flooding, a broken boiler system, and loss of power during the storm; last week, a watermark stretched across its front door while mansions a block away had their facades completely ripped away. This afternoon, Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott will visit the school to welcome students back to class.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.