Future of Schools

City finds private space for Success Academy schools whose co-locations it blocked

The city will provide private space for three Success Academy charter schools, City Hall announced Saturday, just two months after blocking those schools from moving into public buildings, which sparked a bruising backlash and eventually a state law reversing the city’s decision.

The schools will move into three former Catholic school buildings, which the city will renovate and lease on behalf of the charter schools, the announcement said. In return, Success Academy parents will halt legal actions they launched after the city canceled the co-locations, the city added.

“I’m heartened we’ve been able to put politics behind us and establish a positive working relationship,” Success CEO Eva Moskowitz said in a statement, where she also thanked Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has offered strong support for Success. (Success backers have contributed generously to Cuomo’s reelection campaign.)

In his February decision, de Blasio left untouched the previous administration’s plans to let several Success schools move into public school buildings. But his administration blocked co-location plans involving three Success schools, which provoked outrage among charter school supporters. After a well-financed pro-charter lobbying campaign and political pressure by Cuomo, state lawmakers inserted new protections for charter schools into the recent budget deal and effectively voided the mayor’s co-location cancellations. The deal also said the city must now provide expanding charter schools with public-school space or funds for private space.

Meanwhile, co-locations critics were furious that de Blasio did not cancel more of the space-sharing plans, which the Bloomberg administration pushed through at the very end of its tenure. At a teachers union event on Saturday, Public Advocate Letitia James voiced that frustration, saying that concern for charter school students caught up in the co-location debate seemed to have eclipsed concern for students in district schools who would have to share building space.

“Where is the voice for those children?” James asked, adding that she continues to move forward with a lawsuit challenging the planned co-locations.

Here’s the city’s full announcement:

The city announced today it had finalized agreements for space for three charter schools that will enable them to move forward for the coming school year. Alternative space for Harlem Success Academy 4, Success Academy Jamaica, and Success Academy City Hall was secured in three former Catholic school buildings that meet the necessary requirements and standards for occupancy by students.

The new locations replace co-location proposals previously halted by the Department of Education due to clear and consistent criteria established to ensure high-quality learning opportunities for all students. The resolution settles legal actions related to those co-locations. Under the agreement, the city will provide for leasing and renovations to ensure a high-quality school environment for students. Each site has program space commensurate with that of the original co-location proposals.

“It doesn’t matter whether a child attends a district school, a charter school, or a parochial school―these are all our kids. We pledged to parents we would have a safe, high-quality environment for these students, and this outcome delivers on that promise. I am grateful to Deputy Mayor Buery and Schools Chancellor Fariña for all their work reaching this solution,” said First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris.

The three schools will be sited at the following locations for the coming school year:

Annunciation School, 461 West 131st Street, Manhattan
St. Pius X School, 147-65 249th Street, Rosedale, Queens
Mother Cabrini High School, 701 Fort Washington Avenue, Manhattan

The administration will now move forward on final lease negotiations at each site.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”

Future of Schools

Four school leaders hope to bring innovative ideas to Indianapolis education

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Brandon Brown introduces four new innovation school fellows.

Hoping to jumpstart innovation in Indianapolis education, four experienced educators will spend a year or more developing new models for schools.

The educators were chosen from among 39 applicants for fellowships from the Mind Trust, a nonprofit that supports district-charter partnerships. This is the fifth round of innovation fellowships, which give leaders one to two years to prepare to launch or takeover schools in Indianapolis Public Schools.

The fellowship includes an annual salary of about $100,000, benefits, and support for creating new schools, such as visits to other schools, training, and legal assistance. The package for each fellow is worth approximately $200,000 per year.

The city has 16 innovation schools, and they enroll about 20 percent of the students in Indianapolis Public Schools. They are under the umbrella of the district, but they are managed by outside charter operators or nonprofits, and most of the teachers are not employed by the district nor do they belong to the teachers union. The Mind Trust has been instrumental in the creation of innovation schools, and the vast majority of the schools were founded with support from the nonprofit.

The innovation fellowship winners include two people from Indianapolis and two recruits from other cities. But in a sign that the nonprofit’s leaders have become more cautious in their choices, all four have years of experience in education.

Brandon Brown, CEO of the Mind Trust, said that’s by design. About four early innovation fellows never ended up opening innovation schools. But all of the recent winners have either opened schools or are on track to open them, he said.

Candidates are much more likely to be successful, he said, if they have the entrepreneurial spirit to create their own nonprofits and win community support — and have experience in education.

“There’s this notion that if you’re a great entrepreneur, you don’t have to have the unique skill set to know education and [yet] you can go operate a school,” Brown said. “We’ve learned that that’s a very rare thing to see.”

While the winners have all worked in established schools, however, Brown said they are trying new models.

Tihesha Henderson, principal of School 99, won a fellowship to develop a school designed to meet the social and emotional needs of students. She will take a yearlong leave from her current job and hopes to return and transform School 99 into an innovation school.

Henderson envisions a school that adjusts to meet student needs, whether through therapy, small classes, or classroom redesign. School 99 already has significant flexibility, but as an innovation school, Henderson would be able to change the school calendar and set teacher pay, she said.

“We don’t have to be the status quo,” she said. “We can branch out and do some things differently, but it all comes back to — are we meeting out kids needs?”

The other fellows are Alicia Hervey, dean of student development for Christel House Academies; Kim Neal, managing director of secondary education for the charter school network KIPP DC; and Brandy Williams, an expert in special education from New Orleans.

Although innovation schools are considered part of Indianapolis Public Schools, they also often have charters through the office of Mayor Joe Hogsett. The collaborative nature of the schools was on display at the announcement Thursday, where Hogsett, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, and Brown all spoke.

The innovation schools, said Ferebee, are part of a broader district strategy to give principals more flexibility to run their schools.

“We hire great leaders, get out of their way and give them the space and agility to make decisions about academics [and] operations to better serve our students and our families,” he said.

The city’s reputation in the education community is helping it attract educators from across the country, said Hogsett.

“They know our city is one where they can make a difference,” he said. “Indianapolis welcomes their passion with open arms.”