P.S. 64 families protested the school's poor quality before its closure hearing in February. (Photo: Luke Hammill)
A quirk in the city's complicated school system means that some families are being told that their children must attend a school that the city deemed so low-performing that it should not be allowed to enroll any new students.
In the South Bronx, the Department of Education this year decided to close P.S. 64, a long-struggling elementary school — with some parents' support. In September, the youngest children at P.S. 64 will begin attending two new schools that are opening in the building, in keeping with the city's preferred model for phasing out low-performing schools, while older students will stay on until the last ones move on to middle school.
But even though no new kindergarteners will enroll at P.S. 64, some students have been zoned for the school. About two dozen families at P.S. 170, a nearby school that serves children in kindergarten through second grade, have been told that their children are zoned for third grade at P.S. 64.
Unlike P.S. 64, which has received D's on its two most recent city progress reports, including an F for student performance, P.S. 170 received a B on its most recent progress report.
To learn more about what's in each photograph, click to read the caption.
When Ife Lenard and her crew first entered the third-floor classrooms that will house the Children's Aid Society Charter School this fall, they found a dusty rotary phone, a decades-old beer can, and lockers coated with grime from years of middle-schoolers' use.
But Lenard, the founding principal, can already envision how the classrooms — now gutted — will look come September, when the school opens to 130 kindergarten and first-graders in a South Bronx public school building.
That vision includes lots of floor rugs and tables for small-group activities, computer stations, fall colors such as "squash yellow," a terrarium, and an aquarium, Lenard said as she led a procession of Children's Aid Society officials, clad in bright orange hard hats, including director Richard Buery, on a walking tour of the school earlier this week.
Producers of a new documentary about parent activism say they aim to inspire parents across the country to press for change.
The film, "Parent Power," traces the organizing story that emanated from an effort to improve a single Bronx school in the mid-1990s and resulted in the citywide Coalition for Educational Justice. Set to premiere on Thursday, "Parent Power" was produced by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, which has long supported parent activism efforts, in collaboration with FPS Video Productions. (The premiere, at NYU's Cantor Film Center, is open to the public.)
Filmmakers Norm Fruchter, an Annenberg Institute policy analyst, and Jose Gonzalez, a parent activist from the South Bronx, gathered 15 years of footage and photography of parent organizing efforts. They also interviewed teachers union president Randi Weingarten, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, parent activist Zakiyah Ansari, and others involved in supporting the parents' efforts.
I spoke with Fruchter, who told me about the making of the movie, the origins of its story, and his hope that parent activists across the country tune in.
JC: Where does this story begin?
NF: [In 1996,] parents at the New Settlement Apartments in the South Bronx were concerned about their local elementary school.
As a Bronx elementary school principal, Drema Brown routinely encountered students who were struggling to complete schoolwork without adequate health care, a stable address, or even electricity.
Challenges like those held Brown back from boosting academic achievement. Even worse, she said, she couldn't solve the problems wrought by poverty, either.
“I might take it for granted that I can just take my daughter to an eye doctor’s appointment and I have insurance that is going to get her that $300, $400 pair of glasses. But sometimes in a school something as simple as that could languish for an entire school year,” said Brown, who headed P.S. 230 in the South Bronx's District 9 from 2003 to 2007.
Now a top official at the Children's Aid Society, the 158-year-old social services provider, Brown is leading an experiment in integrating health and social services into a school setting. Children's Aid is set to open its charter school in the Morrisania section of the Bronx next fall. The Board of Regents formally approved the school's charter earlier today.
Plans for the school have been in the works since 2009, when Richard Buery became Children's Aid's president and CEO. Buery, who has a background in law and education non-profit management, asked CAS staff who worked with community schools to think about how a community school operated by CAS could have a longer-term impact than the agency’s usual school partnerships.
The group already works with city schools to deliver social services and connect after-school programs. And since 2000 the group has run a full clinic in Morrisania, offering preventive services and a meeting place for families whose children are in foster care. But the new project marks Children's Aid's first venture into school management.
The clinic “is a visible presence in the community with lots of welcoming faces," Brown said. "Our mission now is to a establish a school that feels the same way for kids and their families so that education becomes more attractive and a welcoming experience."
That's a sentiment that hasn't always been present in the South Bronx, which has a longstanding reputation for poverty, crime and lackluster public schools.
Students at Samuel Gompers High School in the South Bronx held a protest march today to ask for more support for their struggling school. (Patrick Wall)
Students at a South Bronx high school staged a march today to demand that the city seek more federal support to improve their school.
The students, who attend Samuel Gompers High School, have a specific improvement model in mind: the "re-start" option that is one of four models districts can follow in order to receive federal school turnaround funding.
Gompers is one of nine poorly performing high schools that are eligible for the federal help, but are not part of the city's application for federal turnaround grants. Twenty-two other schools are receiving the grants, and 11 schools are already working with federal grants under the "transformation" improvement model.
“Why hasn’t the DOE given the grants to all the schools?” Gompers sophomore Sony Cabral asked at the rally. “They’re setting us up for failure.”
The students ended their march, which attracted about two dozen students, at the nearby Banana Kelly High School, one of the schools slated to receive the restart funding.
The city chose schools for the restart plan that it felt showed signs of improvement and enough leadership capacity to work with outside organizations to make serious adjustments, said Department of Education spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.
“The schools we didn’t choose for restart just did not have the type of leadership and staff in place that we felt could effectively team up with an educational partnership organization,” said Zarin-Rosenfeld.
School officials said that the nine schools that are not part of the city's turnaround application will still get some support. The city Department of Education is adding an extra $300,000 to their budgets and offering help from teams in the Children's First networks, which support schools with a range of needs from professional development to budgeting.
Nine months after an anonymous teacher-blogger began waging an online campaign against the leadership at his school, PS 154 in the Bronx, the principal that he skewered has decided to resign.
As of today, Linda Amill-Irizarry is no longer the principal at PS 154, DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte confirmed for me. Amill-Irizarry, who before becoming PS 154's principal was briefly the superintendent of District 8 in the Bronx, is taking a position in the Leadership Learning Support Organization, one of the outside support networks that schools can partner with. PS 154 has been part of a different network, the Empowerment Schools Organization.
Marsha Elliott has been appointed as interim acting principal, Forte told me. Elliott was formerly an assistant principal at PS 50 in the Bronx, and she also led PS 158 while it was being phased out due to poor performance. According to The Chief-Leader, a newspaper produced by the city's labor organizations, Elliott was fined last year by the city's Conflict of Interests Board for encouraging staff members at PS 158 to visit the church in Queens where she and her husband were co-pastors.
Forte said there is an open investigation of Amill-Irizarry in the Office of Special Investigations, the DOE's in-house unit that examines allegations of wrongdoing in the city schools. Forte she said she could not characterize the allegations against the former principal but said the investigation would continue.
For the last nine months, the teacher-blogger has documented what he (or she — the blogger's gender isn't noted on the blog) says is illicit behavior at PS 154, charging that Amill-Irizarry and an assistant principal, whom he nicknamed "Numb Nuts," failed to report incidents according to required procedures.