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New York

Even as some buses roll, families struggle on strike's first day

Kayley, a student at Central Park East 2 (with head turned), traveled to school with his mother today. He took a city bus instead of a yellow bus because of a strike by school bus drivers. Families across the city contended with unfamiliar transportation routes, incomplete information, and bad weather to get their children to school this morning, the first during a strike called by the bus drivers union. Most bus drivers did not report to work today to protest the city's decision not to extend seniority protections to current drivers when opening bids for new contracts with bus companies. Their union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, also picketed outside some bus depots, in some cases briefly impeding non-union bus companies from operating, and released a television ad that paints new bus drivers as dangerous. But the Department of Education said 40 percent of buses actually did roll today, including 100 percent of routes serving children in prekindergarten. Those bus drivers work under contracts negotiated last year. Just 12 percent of routes for students in general education were running today, while 60 percent of routes serving students with special needs were disrupted. Preliminary data showed strong attendance citywide, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced at a city press conference where he praised parents for "being really focused on getting their kids to school." But he said attendance at District 75 schools, which serve the city's most disabled students, was down by about a quarter today.
New York

Ten schools to return home on Tuesday as recovery proceeds

After another day with abysmal attendance figures at dozens of schools relocated because of Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Education has its sights set on next week. "I think Tuesday [will be] the best barometer of how well we're doing," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Thursday night as he fielded questions about the department's steady but logistically complicated progress in getting students in storm-battered areas back in school. More than 40 schools will still be housed in temporary relocations when classes resume after the Veteran's Day holiday — the seventh day the city's schools will have been closed since Sandy struck Oct. 28. But for the first time, the department will be able to provide bus service to elementary and middle school students in all of them, and new generators mean that some schools will reopen in their own buildings. The seven schools that received generators are all on the Rockaway Peninsula, which is served by a power company that has drawn fire for not restoring power quickly enough. Another Rockaways school that is reopening did have its power restored this week, but the Long Island Power Authority now says some customers on the peninsula will not see their power come back on until after Thanksgiving, or more than two weeks from now. Attendance in relocated schools has been very low — 36.9 percent today, up from 30 percent on Thursday — and schools on the Rockaway peninsula have had the fewest students show up, with attendance remaining around 4 percent at some schools today.
New York

Attendance is low as storm-battered schools reopen in new sites

Channel View School for Research's Craig Dorsi greets students who arrived at their host school this morning. Thursday will mark a milestone in New York City's recovery from Hurricane Sandy: All public schools will be open for the first time, Chancellor Dennis Walcott confirmed this afternoon. But if today's attendance figures are any guide, students from the most storm-battered areas likely won't be there. Today, 43 schools in heavily damaged buildings opened for the first time in new sites, some many miles away. Another 25 of the city's 1,750 schools remained closed because they had no power or because the city had been using them as shelters. But for the vast majority of schools, today approximated a regular school day. Citywide, student attendance today at schools that submitted attendance reports was 87 percent, according to the Department of Education, and 95 percent of teachers reported for duty. Mayor Bloomberg called the attendance rates "encouragingly high" during a news conference this afternoon. But at most, 43 percent of students in relocated schools made it to their new sites as the city struggled to roll out new bus routes for tens of thousands of students. Some relocated schools drew far more students than others. Two selective schools in Lower Manhattan, Bard High School Early College and Millennium High School, each posted attendance rates over 95 percent in their first day in temporary sites. Several schools based in storm-battered Far Rockaway, on the other hand, had less than 10 percent of students show up today.
New York

More students get attendance mentors in program's third year

Jean Robinson, then a senior at the High School for Teaching and the Professions, spoke at a press conference touting the city's absenteeism initiative last year. After testing a range of strategies to combat truancy, the city is settling on one that's close to home: matching students with a mentor within their own schools. "Mentoring has been central to our fight against chronic absenteeism," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during his weekly radio address on Sunday, which focused on the start of the school year. Since 2010, when Bloomberg launched a campaign against absenteeism. the city has paired some frequently absent students with "Success Mentors," school staff and volunteers who monitor their attendance and coax them back to school. After starting with just 450 students in 2010, the program grew to about 4,000 students in 50 schools last year. Citing dramatic gains, the city has increased the program's size again this year. With more than 5,000 students in 100 schools, the Success Mentor initiative is now the largest school-based mentoring program in the country, city officials say. John Feinblatt, the deputy mayor in charge of the Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement, said last year that the city was exploring a range of "success mentor" models, including peer mentoring and enlisting volunteers from outside organizations. But the city has zeroed in on what it's calling the "internal school-staff model" in part because it can be expanded without adding cost or personnel, according to Lauren Passalacqua, a city spokeswoman.
New York

Anti-truancy initiative brings peer group mentoring to Marta Valle

Marta Valle High School seniors and freshmen participating in Peer Group Connection last week When Andy Rodriguez and Shanique Josephs told 15 Marta Valle High School freshmen last week that only half of all black and Hispanic students graduate from high school, the room grew quiet. “That means half of you guys probably won’t graduate — according to statistics," Josephs said. "How does that make you feel?" Rodriguez and Josephs were very much trying to teach the freshmen in front of them, but they are not teachers. They are two of 24 Marta Valle seniors participating in Peer Group Connection, a mentoring program run by the Princeton Center for Leadership Training. Used by more than 150 schools across the country, the program has so far been used in New York City only by elite private schools, such as Spence and Dalton. The program came to Marta Valle, the first city public school to adopt it, through Mayor Bloomberg's year-old Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement. (Washington Irving High School will start using Peer Group Connection next semester.) “We’ve been doing this program for so long in elite private schools so we love being able to mirror that experience for students in more high-need communities,” said Margo Ross, PCLT’s senior director of development. While the range of schools have different needs — and adjust their mentoring curriculum accordingly — the essence of the model remains the same. PGC calls for select seniors to enroll in a full-year, credit-bearing course which meets daily and trains them to be peer leaders. The course is co-taught by two teachers who have gotten special training. Once a week the seniors visit freshmen advisories for an “outreach class” in which they lead activities and discussions about relevant topics such as graduation, goal-setting, and decision-making. Seniors get credits towards graduation and a sense of responsibility. Freshmen get peer role models and help making the tough transition into high school — something that experts say is essential to keep them from dropping out.