Big Fix Weekly Update: Chelsea High

Monday, November 08, 2010

How do you improve a failing school? This fall, WNYC has been looking at that very question in a series we're calling The Big Fix. It's a collaboration with the Web site GothamSchools. Together we're following three low-performing high schools to see what they're trying. Two of them received federal grants to make improvements and the third did not. WNYC's Beth Fertig is covering Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School in Manhattan, which did receive one of the grants. She answers questions here on progress so far.

1) Last time we heard from you about Chelsea High, the school had just gotten almost $1 million in federal funds and the principal was going to use the money to improve instruction. How are things going?

The principal used more than half of the money to extend the school day. So four days a week, teachers come in at 8 a.m., a half hour before their first class, to work on instruction. And they stay an extra 45 minute class period (four days a week) with the kids to give them more time to go over things they did during the day or to catch up on certain subjects.

2) That is a longer day. But don't a lot of teachers already come in early before the official school day begins?  What's the big deal?  

Yes, teachers do come in early to plan their lessons. So if school normally starts at 8:30, they'll arrive at 8. But now they have to go to meetings at 8 which means they have to arrive at 7:30 to plan their lessons. They're working with someone inside the school -- and consultants from outside -- who are helping them figure out how to target different kinds of learners. These meetings happen in the morning but also throughout the day so sometimes they're running late if they have to meet with students. And then they're teaching an extra period -- even though it's set up to be a smaller class. That's why teachers say they're feeling burnt out. Principal Brian Rosenbloom told me he sent a memo to the teachers recently because even though he says his staff is fantastic, overall, he thinks not all of the teachers were showing up early enough. 

"Some staff are coming late continuously when they shouldn't be," he said. "And it's not a lot of staff its just very few. Nevertheless I believe every staff member should be made aware of it. Which is what I did the other day."

3) What about the students? How do they like the longer school day?

They don't like it, but attendance has been pretty good so far.

4) How are the grades so far? They just finished the first marking period, right?

Principal Rosenbloom went over the grades with me. More than 60 or 70 percent of the kids in each grade are passing which is typical. He's watching the seniors very closely because many of them are missing a lot of credits. This is a school with a graduation rate of just about 50 percent. So far, 76 percent of his seniors passed their classes this first marking period. That doesn't include some of the ones taking credit recovery classes, though.

5) What does that mean?

Students need 44 credits to graduate -- so these are kids who failed at least one class and won't have enough credits by June unless they make up their work. Credit recovery programs have been offered before in high schools. But this year, Chelsea's taking part in a new experiment with online learning. Kids who need to make up science or history classes, for example, can take them online. They read chapters from an online textbook and then take quizzes. And they do this in class, with a teacher watching, but they can also work at home if they have their own computers by logging into the program. This lets them work at their own pace. But this software program has had a few quirks. Some kids have had trouble logging in. One boy lost all the quizzes he passed in a certain topic. The software company's had a representative helping the teachers and the students. It's been a bit of a learning curve for everyone.

We'll hear more about that later this week in our series.


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Comments [3]

Thank you for the questions and comments. Here's what I can add to clarify:

According to the principal, 63% of freshmen, 72% of sophomores, 84% of juniors and 76% of seniors passed all of their courses in the first marking period, which ended 10/22. That does not include seniors still taking online credit recovery courses. The pass rate for this first marking period is slightly higher than last year, when between 60-70% of freshmen, sophomores and juniors were passing and 80% of seniors. We will continue checking in.

Also - the Department of Education states that attendance at Chelsea has been about 85% to date, which is ahead of last year's overall rate of 81.7%.

Nov. 08 2010 06:13 PM
Agatha Hamilton from Brooklyn, NY

The idea that the way to discourage teachers from being late is to send a memo to the entire staff is no way to supervise people who are insubordinate. A memo to all staff demoralizes the folks who are doing the right thing and has no effect on the ones who are not. Supervision involves sitting down, one on one and telling your employee that they are not living up to expectations; that there will be consequences if improvement is not seen and setting a date, mutually agreeable, for a next meeting to review progress. Why does this not happen in DOE? It's not the UFT's fault; I think UFT would be happy to see proper supervisory practises in place. Does anyone TRAIN the supervisors to supervise?

Nov. 08 2010 10:14 AM
ceolaf from NYC

1) What does "60-70% of students...are passing" mean? Does that mean all their classes? Or does it mean the typical "eligable for promotion" garbage? Does it even mean "most of their classes?"

2) If that 70% passing rate continued each year for 4 years, not even a 1/4 of kids would graduate in 4 years. Do the math (i.e. 70% x 70% x 70% x 70% = 24%). Even at 80% passing each year, that's just 41% graduating in 4 years. Why not point that out, instead of implying that things are better this year?

3) Is attendence better than it was last year at this time, or better than the overall attendence rate for the entire 2009-2010 school year? If the latter, you DO know that attenendence drops when it's cold, rainy, snowy and all kinds of bad weather, to say nothing of kid who have just started not going to school and will then be classified as dropouts.

4) That's not what credit recovery is.

5) Why not find out if it is true whether the vendor is losing records of student progress is this online credit recovery system. If true, it's huge news that should be its own piece. What do students have to do when that happens? Is anything being done to fix the problem? How many students are impacted? This is a HUGE story. But here, it's just a line or two.

Nov. 08 2010 09:55 AM

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