Second time around

New York

At HS fair, turnaround schools struggle to define themselves

Paul Heymont, a social studies teacher at Automotive High School, shows off the list of sports and clubs on offer at the Brooklyn school. It's hard to get students interested in your school when, according to the  city's "turnaround" plan, it might not exist in the fall. That's what Deborah Elsenhout, a guidance counselor at Banana Kelly High School, reasoned when droves of families walked right past her booth at last weekend's Round 2 High School Fair, toward the hallway reserved for new schools opening in the fall. As one of 33 schools proposed for the "turnaround" school reform model, Banana Kelly is waiting to learn whether it will shut down this June, to reopen in the fall with the same students but a new name and a staffing overhaul. Students who apply to the 25 high schools on the turnaround list would automatically be transfered to the new schools that would replace them. Elsenhout said she either glossed over the turnaround situation to families who did stop, or didn't mention it at all. But it's hard, she noted, to advertise a school without a name. "We do have a rigorous academic curriculum and a strong connection with the community," she said. "But there's a sadness, knowing people will be losing their jobs." Teachers at many of the turnaround schools have expressed persistent confusion about the plan and its implication for their students. They also found it posed a dilemma at the fair, where 270 schools were given a weekend to pitch their programs, new and old, to hundreds of eighth-graders who were not accepted at their top-choice high schools during the city's main admissions process. Some teachers reassured families their schools weren't going anywhere, but others said the schools were already gone.