Process of elimination

Against mounting criticism, city targets 17 schools for closure

The Bloomberg administration is trying to make the most of its last chance to close schools.

The Department of Education today announced plans to shutter 17 low-performing schools in four boroughs and will propose more schools for closure on Tuesday. That means the Bloomberg administration is on track to begin phasing out more schools in its last year than in any previous year — though fewer than some speculated.

Last year, the department proposed closing 17 schools and shrinking eight more during its regular closure process. It also proposed closing and reopening 24 others as part of a controversial overhaul process that ended after an arbitrator ruled that the process violated the city’s contract with the teachers union.

The large number of closure proposals is not a surprise. The city wants to open 50 new schools this fall, and it needs to put them somewhere. Plus, some of the schools proposed for closure today have escaped the city’s ax in recent years, including six that the city wanted to close and reopen through the overhaul process, called “turnaround.” Another school, Choir Academy of Harlem, was one of nearly two dozen schools saved from closure by a union lawsuit two years ago.

The department is proposing to close two of the schools, Freedom Academy High School and M.S. 45 in Manhattan, outright at the end of the year. The rest of the schools would phase out over time.

The closure proposals come as criticism of the Bloomberg administration’s closure policies is coming from new directions. In addition to the advocates and school communities who have dutifully protested school closures each year, several mayoral candidates have said they would halt or dramatically scale back school closures. State Education Commissioner John King has joined the chorus, putting his concern about the impact of closures on high-need students on the record over the last year.

In July, the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Coalition for Educational Justice filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education charging that the city’s school closures have disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities.

Similar complaints filed by advocates in other cities have already triggered investigations, and Maria Fernandez, who coordinates the Urban Youth Collaborative, said the department is set to decide whether to investigate New York City by the end of the month.

“We’re optimistic. I think we have a strong case based on the numbers and data that we’ve seen over and over and over again around school closures in this city,” she said.

Department officials said they selected the schools for closure after weighing community input and assessing how likely the schools are to improve without being phased out or closed. The elementary and middle schools on the list have test scores that average less than half of the city average, while the high schools have an average graduation rate that is 83 percent of the city rate.

“These are difficult decisions that we’ve arrived at after thoroughly evaluating each school’s record — and now is the time to take action,” Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said in a statement.

But critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies said the schools are struggling because of the department’s inaction in the past and should not be penalized now.

“Under his direction the Department of Education does not feel like its job is to support schools,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said today.

The 17 schools were culled from 62 whose academic performance landed them on the Department of Education’s closure shortlist. Two charter schools that the department considered closing will remain open, but with short-term charter renewals, the department announced today.

Last year, the department tried to shutter the two charter schools it shortlisted for closure. But both schools fought back in court, with one arguing successfully that the city’s process for closing schools was “riddled with inconsistencies and lacks a certain level of transparency.”  The city opted to reverse course on the second charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, and kept it open for at least one more year.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposals at its March meeting, after a series of public hearings and, presumably, protests. The panel includes a parent whose child attends one of the schools, but its majority is controlled by the mayor and has never rejected a city proposal.

The schools proposed for closure today are listed below, by borough:

Manhattan

High School of Graphic Communication Arts*
M.S. 45/S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy***
Choir Academy of Harlem
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School*

The Bronx

M.S. 203
Herbert H. Lehman High School*, **
P.S. 064 Pura Belpre
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications
MS 142 John Philip Sousa*, **

Brooklyn:

Freedom Academy High School**, ***
P.S. 167 The Parkway
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin*
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero
Sheepshead Bay High School*
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science**

Queens

P.S. 140 Edward K Ellington
Law, Government and Community Service High School**

*City proposed the school for turnaround in 2012 before the process was halted
**City considered closing the school during the 2011-2012 school year but opted not to
***City is proposing to close the school at the end of the year, rather than phase it out

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.