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August 18, 2017
No. 1: This Denver turnaround school had the highest math growth in Colorado
The school also had the eighth-highest growth on state English tests.
Time will tell
November 30, 2016
Is one year enough time to make a bad school better? Experts are divided.
Whether or not one year of test scores says much about a school depends on who you ask.
Failure to launch
May 17, 2016
Freeing failing schools from bureaucracy hasn’t worked as hoped. So why is Colorado still doing it?
The state's 2008 innovation law was considered an education reform policy win.
January 27, 2016
Inside McGlone Elementary, a rising Denver turnaround school with even higher hopes
“I’m really proud of everything our school has done,” principal Sara Gips Goodall said. “It’s still not enough.”
no holds barred
January 21, 2016
Aurora Central grad: ‘Stop feeling sorry’ for poor kids
Former Aurora Central student advocates for better student-teacher relationships and college prep courses.
January 12, 2016
At Aurora’s struggling schools, teachers say they don’t know how to teach state standards
Among the recommendations to fix some of Aurora's most at-risk schools: Give more planning time to teachers and rethink how English language learners are taught.
July 17, 2015
Chris Barbic, founding superintendent of state-run Achievement School District, to exit
Barbic’s impending departure comes at a time of transition for the district, which has an ambitious goal of turning the state’s weakest schools into its best.
Turn It Around
June 18, 2015
Why Denver Public Schools thinks “Year Zero” may be the answer to rocky turnarounds
Denver is hiring principals for its turnaround schools a year ahead of time to give them a chance to learn about schools before starting improvement efforts.
May 4, 2015
Now aiming for 200 community schools, city unveils a plan to get there
The plan offers a way for community schools predating de Blasio's efforts to benefit from the new attention and resources being devoted to the model.
The Receivers at the Gates
March 30, 2015
Budget deal gives city tight timeline to fix troubled schools before others could step in
If the mayor's “Renewal” program fails to turn around the city’s struggling schools, the chancellor might have to yield control to outside groups.
March 19, 2015
Aurora Central High students: we’re not a failing school
Three junior girls say the state should look beyond Aurora Central's test scores to see the true value of the school.
February 18, 2015
Aurora chief will propose changes for struggling Central high school
The district's goal: come up with a local solution that will better student outcomes before the state intervenes.
a second look
October 23, 2014
Two years after escaping closure, a Bronx high school works to improve
Two years after a proposal to close Alfred E. Smith CTE High School was nixed, the school's principal has worked to increase attendance rates and morale, while still facing a number of big challenges common to low-performing schools.
September 10, 2014
Memphis school improvement efforts in spotlight as Duncan finishes back-to-school tour
"I moved to Memphis thinking I’d change lots of lives every year. But really, my life has been drastically changed," said teacher Brittany Ordue.
Steel City Turnaround: Part 1
August 12, 2014
As the state’s accountability clock ticks down, a district struggles to move forward
Pueblo City Schools, which enrolls nearly 18,000 students, is the largest in the state to near the end of the state's accountability clock. Unless Pueblo’s most recent test scores — which will be released later this week — reflect significant gains, officials will have just a year to get the district into the state’s safe zone.
Say You'll Be There
January 31, 2014
On an upward trajectory, Adams 14 reaches out to community to earn back trust
Commerce City school officials hope by proving they've put in the initial work to boost academic achievement, the community will follow. They want the community's help in creating the necessary political and social environment to push the district over the finish line as it races to beat the Colorado "accountability clock."
January 24, 2014
Report: Colorado needs more, better turnaround leaders
Finding principals to successfully lead turnaround efforts in Colorado schools is proving difficult, according to a report issued this week by the…
January 14, 2014
Green Dot prepares to “transform” first school in Memphis
A conversation with Green Dot's Megan Quaile about why Green Dot chose Memphis, about finding the right people to turn around a high school, and on why Green Dot prefers to refer to it as "transforming" rather than "taking over" a school.
January 13, 2014
Tennessee earns mixed reviews on national education report card
Tennessee schools ranked low in academic achievement and school finance, but high in other policy areas in Education Week‘s annual Quality Counts report, released last week.
January 10, 2014
Pueblo City Schools’ superintendent to retire
Pueblo City Schools Superintendent Maggie Lopez will retire at the end of the school year, the district announced today. The retirement marks the end…
December 18, 2013
Report: Poor oversight on Colorado turnaround effort
Fewer than half of all schools that received federal grant money in the first three years of the School Improvement programm outperformed the state average growth percentile, or how the state measures academic progress by students and their academic peers, a report from A+ Denver found.
November 13, 2013
State board to hear options for turnaround schools as ‘clock’ runs short for two
For the first time, the State Board of Education is hearing specific recommendations about its legal options and mandates when a school district is deemed failing for five years.
May 16, 2013
After appellate court ruling, city finally hangs up 'turnaround' bid
The city is finally, officially calling off its quest to close 24 schools that a labor arbitrator ended nearly a year ago. After an arbitrator ruled that the city's plans to overhaul the schools using a process known as "turnaround" violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions, the city filed suit, arguing that the issue wasn't fit for arbitration in the first place. A judge quickly ruled against the city, and the school closure plans were halted for the year. But the city appealed again, and today, the state's Appellate Court ruled again that the city's arguments were without merit. "The arbitrator neither exceeded his powers ... nor violated public policy in resolving the merits of the parties' disputes,” read the ruling by the panel of judges.
November 26, 2012
Among 24 schools city says it could close, some familiar names
Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of school closures, said the city would consider whether to phase out 24 struggling high schools. Seven high schools that the city tried in vain to close last year are among the two dozen that the Department of Education might move to shutter this year. Department officials announced today that they had added 24 high schools to the list of schools they are considering closing. The schools join 36 elementary and middle schools already slated for “early engagement” meetings, the first step in the city's school closure process. The department named those schools in October but postponed the meetings because of Hurricane Sandy. The high schools were culled from 60 whose progress report scores made them eligible for closure under the city's rules. Their test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and readiness for college do not measure up to city standards, according to Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg, the department official who oversees school closures, who said the schools' presence on the early engagement list indicates that they have deep problems to address. "What we see in a school that can't demonstrate the capacity to improve dramatically and to improve quickly is a calcification of the systems that lead to good schools," Sternberg told reporters in a briefing on the reports this afternoon. "The adults are not communicating clearly and well with each other, there's a lack of collaboration, a lack of organizational alignment that will enable the kind of instruction we know is important and necessary to lead to good outcomes."
November 6, 2012
Dewey gets its building back, but longer-term problems remain
Smoke billows from John Dewey High School following the sound of an explosion on Monday night, during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Sandra Aronowitz-Garron/Youtube Teachers from John Dewey High School reported for duty to Sheepshead Bay High School on Monday with a sinking feeling. Months after narrowly escaping closure, the school had struggled since September to settle on programs for its 1,900 students and, if that were not enough, its Gravesend building had caught on fire during Hurricane Sandy. Now they thought students and staff would have spread out among three different school buildings, including Sheepshead Bay, for the foreseeable future. "It could be, without a doubt, another nail in the coffin," one teacher said about the planned relocation. "It's a whirlwind to be told to go here or there." The school’s staff spent Monday deciding who would report where on Wednesday, and creating new schedules for their students. Then, late Monday evening, teachers got a phone call from the Department of Education with unexpected news: Dewey would be able to reopen right away after all. Teachers said the phone call came as a welcome surprise, but some said they thought the location was the least of Dewey’s worries. Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cited Dewey as one of the most severely damaged schools in the wake of the hurricane. And teachers said they had received no hints that the school would be ready to reopen any time soon, even after Principal Kathleen Elvin stopped by the building to assess repair efforts on Monday morning and afternoon. But department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey’s boiler to work, making the building safe for students and teachers. The quick return was exactly what some teachers said they thought the school needed.
October 18, 2012
HS of Graphic Communication Arts in crisis, staff members say
Staff members at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts say Room 310, where musical instruments, books, and other discarded materials are piled high, is a symbol for deep disorganization at the school this year. Manhattan’s long-struggling High School of Graphic Communication Arts was supposed to turn a corner this year. But instead, students and staff throughout the school say a recent string of poor leadership decisions is threatening the school's ultimate fate. The toilet plungers that students were told to wield as hall passes last month — until the Department of Education ended the practice — are a distressing symbol of much larger problems at the school, they say. A month into the school year, longstanding programs are in disarray, materials and personnel are languishing unused, and many students have had such inconsistent schedules that their teachers say they have learned far less than they should have by now. "They are all so off-track right now that the first projects we have, I can't really truly grade them as I normally would," one teacher said about students. "I'm going to have to try to make up the knowledge somehow, but I don't know how yet. They should be much further along than they are now." GothamSchools spoke with nearly a dozen newly hired and veteran staff members under the condition of anonymity, as well as other people close to the school. The staffers span the school's grade levels, program offerings, and organizational hierarchy. All said that the ultimate responsibility for the problems should fall on Principal Brendan Lyons, who took over at the school last year and was the department’s pick to lead it through “turnaround.” The aggressive overhaul process for 24 schools was halted this summer after an arbitrator ruled the city’s plans violated its contract with the teachers union.
October 10, 2012
New York City could get $25M for turnaround this year after all
Three of the 24 schools that the city tried to close and reopen this summer could undergo "turnaround" after all. Under the aggressive form of the federally prescribed school overhaul process that the department tried to carry out, all teachers at the struggling schools were required to reapply for their jobs. The city set no quota for rehiring, but the requirement that no more than 50 percent be rehired in order for the schools to qualify for federal funding was widely known. An arbitrator ruled in June that the city's version of turnaround ran afoul of its contract with the teachers union. But three of the schools — some of the smallest proposed for turnaround — turned over more than 50 percent of their teachers last year anyway, so they meet the federal requirements for funding. The schools are Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School, J.H.S. 22 in the Bronx, and M.S. 126 in Brooklyn. Now, the city has asked for turnaround funding for them and for 15 other schools that it is shutting down through its regular closure process. Under that process, used for years, one school phases out while others phase in in the same space.
September 20, 2012
Walcott visits ex-turnaround schools without addressing turmoil
Dennis Walcott, with Principal Magdalen Radovich, students, and several officials from the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, announced an AT&T grant to fund Flushing HS after-school programs. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has quietly visited several former "turnaround" schools in recent weeks, but he has done so without calling attention to the fact that the city planned to close them until just a few months ago. During the first week of school, Walcott made unannounced visits to two of the schools in Brooklyn. At John Dewey High School, where large-scale scheduling problems are prevailing, he shook hands with students one morning. He stopped by William Grady Career and Technical High School, which was removed from the turnaround roster in April, the same day. Neither visit made his public schedule, and department officials said they had nothing to do with the schools' ex-turnaround status. Instead, the stops were like many that the chancellor, an avid school visitor, has made outside of public view, the officials said. And on Wednesday, he shared the stage with the new principal of Flushing High School at a press conference heralding a substantial grant from AT&T to the Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, which runs an after-school program at the school. Working in about 150 city schools, SASF was only the second group, after the YMCA of New York, to receive a grant through Aspire, a $250 million AT&T grant program aimed at boosting college readiness among high-need students. The grant will help SASF hire staff to support its program at Flushing, which includes targeted efforts to help incoming ninth-graders make up academic ground. Speaking to the students and staff who attended the press conference, Walcott praised SASF and said, "We expect success from all of you to not just achieve but to achieve at a high level. To do that you need to support great teachers, you need to support great leaders, we need to support families, not-for-profits, the generosity of corporate giving." But he did not acknowledge the turmoil the school had gone through in recent months as the city tried to close and reopen it using the turnaround process. Nor did he note the school's leadership change, made in turnaround's early stages. And after the press conference, Walcott ducked out without talking to reporters. A department spokeswoman said he was late to a meeting and would be taking questions over email instead, but the spokeswoman did not respond by day's end.
September 11, 2012
With federal funds lost, city sending trainees to stronger schools
Chancellor Dennis Walcott talks to teachers at M.S. 223 while principal Ramon Gonzalez looks on during a visit last week. M.S. 223 is working with nine teaching residents this year. A program to train and keep new teachers inside some of the city's most struggling schools is expanding to include better-performing schools as well. The New York City Teacher Residency launched last summer at two schools that were receiving federal funds earmarked for overhauling struggling schools. The point of the program, city officials said at the time, was to create a talent pipeline for schools that have trouble attracting teachers. But because the city and its teachers union did not agree on a new teacher evaluation system by a state deadline, the funds were cut off in January. The city is going forward with plans to double the size of the residency program anyway, but instead of sending new residents only to struggling schools, it is also directing them to schools that the city has touted as success stories. And it is picking up the bill out of the Department of Education's regular budget. The department opened the program to stronger schools in order to expose the teachers-in-training to a wider range of "best practices" and mentorship from experienced teachers, officials said. "Think, what would it actually be like if these teachers were trained at a successful school instead of at a failing school?" said Ashley Downs, the special education director at M.S. 223 in the Bronx who is helping to mentor that school's nine residents.
August 21, 2012
After rueing SIG funding loss, city will give schools $18 million
A month ago, city officials said 24 struggling schools would have to miss out on costly school improvement programs because they were ineligible for federal "turnaround" grants. Now the city plans to pony up its own funds. In a release to reporters this afternoon that was short on details, officials said the department would allocate $18 million to the schools as "one-time transitional support" to make up for the loss of $30 million School Improvement Grants. City efforts to secure federal funding for these schools have been tense since the State Education Department yanked the funding from them and other schools late last December as a consequence for the city and union's unresolved teacher evaluation negotiations. To secure the funds, the city proposed to have 33 schools, later reduced to 24, undergo a stringent reform regimen called turnaround, which would have required the city to replace at least half the teachers at each school. To hit that quota, the city proposed closing the schools and re-opening them after replacing some teachers through a contractual process called 18-D. But an independent arbitrator ruled that those plans violated the teachers' contracts, and a court upheld the ruling in July. That ruling effectively made the city ineligible to receive the federal "turnaround" aid.
July 31, 2012
City hands long to-do list to principals of ex-turnaround schools
For principals, August is usually a time for putting the final touches on staffing and curriculum decisions for the year — and for sneaking in a long-awaited vacation. The principals of 24 schools that the city tried to "turn around" will spend the month putting their schools back together. The turnaround process would have meant new names, shaken-up staffs, and new programs for the schools. But those changes were undone when an arbitrator ruled earlier this month that staffing plans for the schools violated the city's contract with the teachers and principals unions. Now, on the last day of July, the schools' principals are finding out which teachers intend to return in September, according to a letter they received from the Department of Education this evening. The letter, which the city released to reporters, offered the most detailed guidance the principals have gotten yet about how to proceed after months of uncertainty and disorder. In the email, the department official in charge of turnaround offers instructions ranging from what to call their schools in formal communications (by their original names) to what to do with all of the files generated by the hiring committees that were reviewing teaching candidates for the overhauled schools (lock them in a filing cabinet).
July 31, 2012
City dissolves fleet of "master" and "turnaround" teachers
The teachers union's victory in a legal fight over the city's "turnaround" plans kept thousands of teachers at 24 struggling schools from losing their positions. But it has also put another group of teachers at risk. They are the "master" and "turnaround" teachers, a cohort of experienced educators selected to put in extra hours helping their colleagues in exchange for extra pay. The positions were funded through federal School Improvement Grants, but without turnaround or another overhaul process in place at the schools, those funds will not flow to the city. Last week, just after the city's final bid to reinstate turnaround failed, the 71 master and turnaround teachers got a letter from the Department of Education telling them to look for other positions. The demise of the elite positions has given rise to yet another city-union dispute centered around the schools formerly slated for turnaround.
July 27, 2012
With "turnaround" dead in the water, city releases plan details
Even as city officials swore that they had not set any quota for rehiring at schools it was trying to shake up, they were assuring the state that the schools would replace at least 50 percent of teachers. The assurances were made in nearly 800 pages of documents submitted to the state in March as part of the city's application for federal School Improvement Grants. The city released the original application Thursday, four months after submitting it and two days after a State Supreme Court effectively torpedoed the city's bid for the funds. The documents include a letter addressed to State Education Commissioner John King from the deputy chancellor overseeing turnaround, an outline of the plans, and a 770-page tome on changes the city proposed for each of the 24 schools, along with the city's justification for planning to close each of them. The release did not reflect changes that state and city officials said were made throughout the spring. The city also released a shortlist of programs on Thursday that it says are now at risk after an arbitrator ruled that the city's plans for staffing the schools violated its contracts with the teachers and principals unions. Much of the application's content for each schools mirrors the proposals the city released when it began preparing the schools for closure. But a separate section outlines just how changes at each school would meet federal requirements for "turnaround," the overhaul process that the city was proposing.
July 25, 2012
On NY1, "turnaround" survivors discuss the possible aftermath
From left to right, teachers Dan Mejias, Mike McQuillen, and Lori Wheal speak to NY1 host Errol Louis about turnaround at their schools. M.S. 22 Principal Linda Rosenbury is obscured behind Mejias. When three teachers and a city principal sat down with NY1 reporter Errol Louis on Tuesday evening, they had just learned that the city's final chance to "turn around" their schools had fallen short. The decision meant that, contrary to the city's intention, their schools' names won't change. And even if the teachers had been told not to return — none of them had been — they could. It also means that a two-year experiment in using federal funds to fuel extra programs at the struggling schools has almost certainly come to an end. Receiving the funds, called School Improvement Grants, was contingent on turnaround, but an arbitrator concluded that the city's plans violated its contracts with the teachers and principals union. Appearing on Inside City Hall, the teachers — all part of an advocacy group that has clashed with the unions — said picking up the pieces would require more than simply blaming the UFT for suing over turnaround, and one even gave an impassioned defense of the union. The teachers also warned that the schools might actually be in worse shape this fall than before they first received the federal funds in 2010. "Morale just crashed when we got those letters" telling teachers they had to reapply for their jobs, said Lori Wheal, a "master teacher" who was told she could stay on at M.S. 391 but is leaving for the policy arena instead. "We lost several effective educators."
July 24, 2012
Judge ends year's turnaround saga with a fast, firm "no" to city
PHOTO: Caroline BaumanTeachers union attorney Adam Ross and Secretary Michael Mendel talk to reporters after the judge ruled to uphold the arbitration. The Bloomberg administration's Hail Mary effort to shake up the staffs at 24 struggling schools fell short today when a State Supreme Court judge shot down the city's request to move forward. An arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, ruled late last month that the city’s hiring and firing decisions at the schools — key aspects of the Department of Education’s "turnaround" plans — violated the city’s contract with the teachers union. The schools were not closing, Buchheit ruled, so the city could not invoke article 18-D of the contract, which sets out staffing rules for schools that are shut down. In a lawsuit filed quickly afterwards, the city contended that Buchheit had overstepped his bounds. Lobis signaled earlier this month that she thought the city was unlikely to win that argument when she rejected its request to be allowed to continue rehiring and replacing teachers at the schools while she considered its appeal. Today, after listening to city and union lawyers lay out their cases for 45 minutes this afternoon, Lobis retired to her chambers with a warning that she might return with a decision today. Seven minutes later, she emerged to say that she had come to a conclusion: The arbitrator's decision would stand. "I could spend weeks trying to tease out an erudite decision," Lobis said, but she added that all parties sought a speedy resolution and the legal issues at stake were not complicated. The city will appeal Lobis's decision, according to a statement from Michael Cardozo, the city's top lawyer.
July 24, 2012
Before turnaround hearing, unlikely principal comes to city's aid
A screenshot from the online petition linked to in an email urging a State Supreme Court judge to allow the city to "turn around" 24 struggling schools. Twenty-four hours before city and union lawyers were due in court for yet another hearing about turnaround, a Bronx principal launched an email campaign to boost the city's case. Sarah Scrogin, principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future, sent an email titled "Love NY? Fix our schools!" Monday afternoon to a network of "Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers." The email asks recipients to sign on to a petition or forward a letter supporting the city's bid to overhaul 24 schools. That bid was rolled back late last month when an arbitrator ruled that the hiring and firing process being used at the schools violated the city's contract with the teachers and principals unions. Today, the city is asking a State Supreme Court judge to overturn the arbitrator's decision. Scrogin's letter urges the judge, Joan Lobis, to look beyond the legal dispute she is charged with adjudicating. "In the coming weeks, as the judge ponders her final decision and weighs the legal issues before her, we ask her to weigh also the value to which we hold the futures of our city’s children," Scrogin writes in the email, which multiple people forwarded to GothamSchools. "We believe she must want the best possible teachers and schools for them." The petition link takes recipients to a form titled "NYC Signatures July 2012" that asks for a name, email address, school, and borough. The petition does not include the names of people who have signed on. Scrogin said today that she could not comment until she secured permission from the Department of Education to speak to reporters. But as the hearing got underway this afternoon, she distributed a list of 93 signatories by email. The signatories included 19 city principals and 12 city teachers, many from Scrogin's school. They also include dozens of "concerned citizens" and people outside of the city school system, such as the manager of labor relations for the NFL.
July 24, 2012
City and teachers union return to court in turnaround saga today
The city and the teachers union are back in court this afternoon to argue over the fates of 24 so-called turnaround schools. Late last month, an arbitrator found that the city’s hiring and firing decisions at the schools — key aspects of the Department of Education’s turnaround plans — violated the city’s contract with the teachers union. With just weeks to go before the school year starts, the city is rolling back those plans and telling teachers and administrators who had been cut loose how to reclaim their positions, in accordance with the arbitrator's remedy. But the city doesn't want to give up the chance at using the turnaround model. So it is still arguing that the arbitrator overstepped his bounds and asking the State Supreme Court to overturn his decision. Two weeks ago, Judge Joan Lobis rejected the city's request to be allowed to continue rehiring and replacing teachers at the schools while she considers the appeal. At the time, Lobis signaled that she did not think the city would be likely to win the case in the end. That's what a city attorney who specializes in labor relations also told GothamSchools before the first hearing with Lobis.
July 11, 2012
Administrators warn of leadership vacuum at schools in limbo
A day after the city lost its latest bid to move forward with its plans to overhaul the staffs of 24 "turnaround" schools, school leaders say they are sitting on their hands as they await guidance from the Department of Education. Reiterating comments he made during a Monday radio appearance, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today that his goal is for the schools to open smoothly this fall, according to SchoolBook. He also said he would meet with their principals next week. But administrators at the schools today said they had heard nothing concrete. The department has declined to comment on its plans for the schools since a judge ruled on Tuesday that the city would have to reinstate teachers and principals cut loose from the schools while it appeals an arbitrator's ruling blocking the staffing changes. The teachers and principals unions said their members have not gotten any updates on how they can reclaim their jobs at the schools. And administrators at some of the schools say they can't see how the next school year can open smoothly when it's not even clear who is in charge right now. "We'd really love to get back in there and do what we do," said one administrator who was ousted last month but is now entitled to return. "I should be preparing stuff for the year. Seeing what kids didn't graduate, why they didn't; calling up kids who didn't come to summer school; attendance outreach; planning freshman orientation — it's a million things we'd be doing. And I'd be doing regular hirings, because we had a lot of retirements this year." The department's preferred principals were in place at 18 of the 24 schools before the end of the school year, and they cannot be displaced. But at six schools, principals from the 2011-2012 school year can reclaim their jobs under the arbitrator's ruling.
July 10, 2012
Judge rules that city must reinstate staff at turnaround schools
Lawyers for the UFT spoke to reporters about the union's short-term court victory outside of New York State Supreme Court today. Legal battles between the city and the United Federation of Teachers are typically long, drawn-out affairs. Not today. In just 40 minutes this afternoon, Judge Joan Lobis of the New York State Supreme Court made up her mind about the city's request to suspend an arbitrator's ruling in the UFT's favor while she considers the city's formal appeal. There will be no restraining order, Lobis ruled. That means that hiring and firing decisions that have been made at 24 struggling schools that the city was trying to overhaul will be reversed. The Department of Education will have to reinstate hundreds — and possibly thousands — of teachers and administrators cut loose from the schools as part of the "turnaround" process. "They no longer have an excuse for not complying with the arbitrator's award," Ross said about the city. Asked by reporters about the education department's immediate plans for allowing the teachers to reclaim their positions, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said, "Talk to the law department." The city's top lawyer, Michael Cardozo, said in a statement that he was confident that Lobis would side with the city as the case moves forward. The hearing was a first step in the city's appeal of a ruling handed down two weeks ago by an arbitrator who found that the city's hiring and firing decisions — a key aspect of the Department of Education's turnaround plans — violated the city's contract with the teachers union.
July 9, 2012
Phase one of Stuy HS cheating inquiry ends in canceled scores
It's summer break, so Stuyvesant High School students probably weren't listening to the radio at 7 a.m. today. But if they were, 69 of them would have found out from Chancellor Dennis Walcott that they will have to retake the end-of-year Spanish exams they took last month. That's the number of students that Department of Education investigators concluded had received exam questions in advance via a text message from a classmate. Walcott announced during an appearance on the John Gambling Show that also touched on the schools thrown into limbo by an arbitrator's ruling last month and the Department of Education's new focus on college readiness. The first phase of the investigation, conducted by the department's internal Office of Special Investigations, looked only at student behavior and meted out punishments, including some suspensions, according to the city's discipline code, Walcott said. The next phase, he said, is to look at whether Stuyvesant's principal, Stanley Teitel, and his staff followed the appropriate protocol after learning about the cheating on the city exams. "We have to look at the process," Walcott said. "Once the allegation was made, what happened after that?" Teitel sent a letter to parents June 20 alerting them to the cheating and informing them that students suspected of cheating would lose some privileges, such as the right to leave campus for lunch. But the city did not find out about the cheating allegations for nearly a week after that letter went home.
July 6, 2012
Arbitrator: City used "circular reasoning" to justify turnarounds
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's testimony before an arbitrator drove one nail into the coffin of the city's plans to replace or rehire teachers at 24 "turnaround" schools. Last week an arbitrator determined that the city violated the city's contracts with the teachers and principals unions when it moved to replace staff members at the schools. This afternoon the arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, released a detailed explanation of why he ruled the way he did. The city was trying to use hiring procedures set for closing schools and their replacements. But the unions argued that the turnaround plans were "sham closures" that would not result in new schools. Instead, they argued, the city was unfairly using contractual provisions about "excessing" to remove teachers and administrators it deemed unsatisfactory. In upholding the unions' grievance, Buchheit at times turns Bloomberg's and other city officials' words against them. He quotes a 2011 memorandum written by the Department of Education's chief financial officer, which said, "excessing is not a permissible way to deal with unsatisfactory teachers." Yet city officials said they intended to do just that from the start of the turnaround process, Buchheit determined.
July 6, 2012
Schooled in activism, Grover Cleveland grad aims for law school
Grover Cleveland High School student Diana Rodriguez spearheaded student protest against her school's closure. Less than two weeks after graduating from high school, Diana Rodriguez is staying busy. The Queens teenager is up at 6 a.m. to go for a morning run, work her two summer jobs, and take driving lessons a few months before she is set to start college. It’s a heavy workload — but it's not the biggest responsibility the 17-year-old has taken on. This spring, she led classmates at Grover Cleveland High School in a fight for the school's life. The school was one of 33 the city planned to close and reopen using an overhaul process, known as "turnaround," that included changing the school’s name and replacing half of the school staff. Rodriguez was enraged. Already the senior class president, she sprang into action galvanizing her classmates to protest the turnaround plans. “I wouldn't stand for it,” said Rodriguez. “You can’t mess with my education – education is a right.” That was Rodriguez's rallying cry as she joined other students in schools facing closure across the city in a group called Student Activists United. The group turned out students for public hearings, called Panel for Educational Policy members who would vote on the closures, and even held an early-morning rally outside Mayor Bloomberg's Upper East Side home.
July 5, 2012
Confusion reigns at schools affected by arbitrator's hiring rule
The Department of Education has replaced the schools' websites with new ones reflecting new names. Nearly a week after an independent arbitrator ruled that teachers cut loose from 24 "turnaround" schools could have their jobs back, confusion reigns at the schools. The city's turnaround plans involved closing the schools and immediately reopening them with new names, new leaders, and many new teachers. But an arbitrator rolled back those plans last Friday when he ruled that the schools could not replace teachers using its chosen strategy. Shortly after the arbitrator's decision, teachers at the schools received a celebratory email from the United Federation of Teachers, which had sued the city over the hiring procedures in place at the schools. Earlier this week, the city filed suit to get the arbitrator's decision overturned, and a judge is likely to consider the case early next week. For now, the Department of Education has suspended the hiring committees that had been meeting to consider teacher candidates, according to teachers union officials. But during the disjointed first week of summer vacation, it has given teachers and principals no guidance about how they can reclaim their positions, according to officials of the unions that represent both sets of educators. And at least one interim principal who seems likely to be bumped by the arbitrator's decision is reporting for work as usual.
July 2, 2012
Few hard details about 24 schools as city prepares legal action
Mayor Bloomberg speaks at a press conference this afternoon in Union Square. The city canceled meetings with the teachers and principals unions today as its lawyers prepare to seek a restraining order against a ruling that reverses thousands of hiring decisions at 24 struggling schools. Both the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators planned to meet with city officials this afternoon to figure out what would come next for the schools, which had been slated to undergo an overhaul process called "turnaround." The process involved radically shaking up the schools' staffs, which total more than 3,500 people. But the arbitrator's ruling undid all of the changes. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the meeting was already on his agenda by Friday afternoon, just hours after the arbitrator ruled that the city's staffing plans for the schools violated its contracts with the unions. A main agenda item would have been figuring out a mechanism for staff members who were not rehired at the schools to reclaim their positions. Another issue, Mulgrew said on Friday, was whether the city and unions might instead try to hash out a teacher evaluation agreement for the 24 schools so they could undergo less aggressive overhaul processes and still qualify for federal funding. But this morning, the city told the unions that the meetings were off. Mayor Bloomberg explained this afternoon that he thinks the city should not have to abide by the arbitrator's ruling until the arbitrator explains his reasoning.
June 29, 2012
Arbitrator rules for unions: Turnaround firing, rehiring reversed
Principals union president Ernest Logan and UFT president Michael Mulgrew announce their lawsuit over turnaround in May. An arbitrator has ruled that the city's plans to reform 24 struggling schools by shaking up their staffs violated its collective bargaining agreements with the teachers and principals unions. The arbitrator's decision adds a new and abrupt twist to months of uncertainty at the schools. It also guarantees that the city cannot claim more than $40 million in federal funds that the overhaul process, known as "turnaround," was aimed at securing. The turnaround rules require the schools to replace half of their teachers, and the city was trying to use a clause in its contract with the teachers union, known as 18-D, to make that happen. In recent weeks, "18-D committees" told hundreds and possibly thousands of teachers and staff members at the schools they could not return next year. Under the arbitrator's ruling, all of those staff members are now free to take their jobs back. The decision is a shocking blow to the Bloomberg administration, which turned to turnaround in January in a bid to win the federal funds without negotiating a new evaluation system with the United Federation of Teachers.
June 28, 2012
Graduation ceremonies are bittersweet for 'turnaround' schools
State Senator Michael Gianaris speaks at the Long Island City High School graduation ceremony. For two high schools that filled a large auditorium at Queens College yesterday for their graduation ceremonies, the festivities were bittersweet. Long Island City High School and Flushing High School are among 24 city schools graduating their final cohorts before closing and reopening this summer. Students who were enrolled in the schools this year and didn't graduate will continue to attend them. But their schools will have new names and many new teachers, in accordance with the rules of a federal school reform model called turnaround. Earlier this year, the schools had packed their own auditoriums to protest the turnaround plans, which Mayor Bloomberg surprised them by announcing in January. On Wednesday, the room reverberated not with chants but with applause — this time, to honor their newly-minted alumni. Yet the impending closures were not far from the minds of the graduation speakers, a mix of alumni, principals and top students, some who immigrated to the United States shortly before beginning high school. "It is sad to know we are the last graduating class of Long Island City High School, but it is also an honor," Xi Xi Hu, Long Island City High School's valedictorian, said in her speech.
June 22, 2012
State attaches several strings to city's bid for "turnaround" aid
Three months after the city asked the state for federal funds to fuel school 'turnaround' efforts, the state has responded — with a resounding "maybe." In a letter released late Friday, State Education Commissioner John King said the way the city plans to overhaul 24 struggling schools meets the state's requirements. But he said he would only hand over the federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants, if the city meets steep conditions. To meet some of those conditions, the city would need to come out ahead in arbitration with the teachers union over collective bargaining rules at the 24 schools. It must also prove that community members were looped in on the city's planning process. The arbitration, which covers a dispute over whether the city may use a process outlined in the teachers union contract for schools that close and reopen (called 18-D), is set to end next week. If the union comes out ahead, hiring and firing decisions at the schools would be reversed and, according to King's letter, the city would not be able to collect the SIG grants, which total nearly $60 million. Earlier this year, King said he saw the city's proposal as "approvable." But he stayed quiet as the city signaled it would not force schools to adhere to a central requirement of turnaround set by the U.S. Department of Education: that they replace at least 50 percent of their teachers. King's letter today says the city must meet the federal government's staffing requirements. State turnaround advisors say "the percentage matters," SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said over email. "18-D is the mechanism to achieve the required percentage."
June 19, 2012
Road to "turnaround" rehiring has been bumpy, teachers say
The hiring process has hit snags at several "turnaround" schools where teachers have been told to reapply for their jobs this year. Staff from many of the 24 schools that the city will close and reopen this year under a reform model called turnaround are complaining they are facing confusion and misinformation over who qualifies to be rehired and what will happen to teachers who are not rehired. At a handful of the schools, interviews were delayed by days because of last-minute administrative changes and unexpected time pressures. And some of the school-based hiring committees are working long hours but still falling behind. Department of Education officials say the rehiring process is underway at all schools and is moving smoothly considering the sheer number of interviews that must be conducted. Any teacher from the schools who applies to stay on is guaranteed an interview, and about 2,600 of them have. They represent 85 percent of the 2,995 teachers currently working in the schools. "All of the committees are up and running," said Marc Sternberg, the deputy chancellor overseeing the turnaround initiative. "Some are ahead of others, and some are getting momentum now. Offers are starting to be made." But teachers at the schools say the interviews and offers are coming only after logistical hangups that complicated an already stressful process in the waning weeks of the school year.
June 18, 2012
More than 3,500 "turnaround" school staffers getting pink slips
Thousands of teachers, administrators, and school aides in the city's 24 "turnaround" schools are getting official notification today that they aren't assured a position next year. The total number of workers at the schools who are being "excessed" — or having their positions eliminated — is 3,671, making this year's citywide tally of displaced teachers larger than in any recent year. The Department of Education released the figures this afternoon but did not share data about excessing taking place at the city's 1,600 other schools. Schools learned that the excessing letters would be distributed today on Friday, and at some schools teachers received the notices while interviewing to retain their jobs. The workers who received the notification include 2,995 people represented by the United Federation of Teachers, mostly classroom teachers; 497 people represented by DC-37, the union that includes school aides and parent coordinators; and 179 members of the principals and administrators union. Typically, schools excess teachers because of budget cuts, enrollment drops, and changes to program offerings that render the positions impossible to fund. But this year, every single person who works at the 24 schools undergoing a federally prescribed turnaround process is being excessed — and virtually every single person is being replaced, either by himself or by another person, during restaffing processes that are already underway. The expansive game of musical chairs is intended to shake up the staffs of struggling schools and make them eligible for a pot of federal funds known as School Improvement Grants. "We think it is an exciting opportunity and moment to infuse new talent into these new schools and produce gains for students," said Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor supervising the turnaround process.
June 12, 2012
Job interviews—and protests—continue at 'turnaround' schools
Teachers Kevin Kearns, (right) and others protest the turnaround plans in front of Department of Education headquarters. With the 24 turnaround schools deep into the hiring process, a small handful of teachers gathered in front of Tweed this afternoon to show their opposition despite the rain. Protesters from John Dewey High School Lehman High School grimly described their uncertain futures. But they did not renew any pleas to Department of Education officials to stop the turnaround. They were joined by several teachers from Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, which the city placed on its original list of turnaround schools but later removed. Marian Swerdlow, the FDR union chapter leader-elect, said she and several colleagues turned out this afternoon to show their support and register opposition to all school closures. She stood stone-faced in front of the DOE headquarters in a United Federation of Teachers rain poncho, holding a crumpled sign that read, "the turnaround model is all wet." The city cannot make any final hiring decisions at the 24 schools, which are closing this summer and immediately re-opening under the reform model known as 'turnaround.' But hiring committees made up of city and teachers union officials, school administrators and parents in each of the schools have been busily conducting back-to-back interviews with teachers hoping to keep their jobs.
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