Week Ends With Uncertainty for 24 City Schools

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In 55 days, classes resume in the New York City public schools. Students, teachers and other staff members will be back together at more than 1,700 schools, and the 2012-2013 school year will be off and running.

At 24 city schools, however, it's hard to say just what will happen on Sept. 6.

The big news of the week was a judge's decision to uphold an arbitrator's ruling, which said the city violated teachers' and administrators' contracts when it removed staff members from those 24 schools.

The city had deemed the schools "failing," and received the state's conditional approval to place them into "turnaround." That meant the schools were to be shut in June and reopened in September, with revamped staffs and new names, though with the same students.

The arbitrator had ruled that the school closings were a sham, and that the city had to abide by its contracts with principals and teachers, which preclude it from removing all staff members from a school and hiring back the ones it wants to keep.

Needless to say, the city is not pleased and is determined to appeal. That's because the outcome of this case could define some of the legal parameters for the city as it pursues its policy of breaking up the culture of failing schools, even if it means shutting them down.

Meanwhile, though, what's to happen at those 24 schools?

As SchoolBook reported:

Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said Wednesday that principals at those schools were moving ahead to plan for the start of the school year.

“My goal is to make sure that these schools open with minimal disruption,” he said.

Mr. Walcott said education officials would meet with the principals on Tuesday afternoon to go over their budgets and help discern staffing needs, since recent hiring and firing decisions at the schools were reversed in late June by an arbitrator’s ruling. He also said the city would “work in collaboration” with the teachers’ and principals’ unions to make sure schools were ready for September.

“It’s a very ambitious schedule, but we’ll meet that schedule,” said Mr. Walcott.

The remarks left many people scratching their heads — including the staff members at the schools, who said they were not clear about what they are supposed to be preparing for. Not only that, some said they had heard little from the folks at Tweed. As Rachel Cromidas of Gotham Schools reported:

... 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 city has another court date on July 24. Perhaps that will bring clarification.

But even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was not optimistic about the city's chances in court. On WOR radio on Friday, he continued to rail against the arbitrator's decision, saying it was "playing with kids' lives."

But, the mayor acknowledged, "it is very hard to get courts to overturn arbitrator's decisions."

On Friday, also on "The John Gambling Show," Mr. Bloomberg also spoke about the city's attempts to reach a deal with the union over the creation of a new system to evaluate teachers — part of the mayor's attempt at school accountability.

"We're not going to sign on to anything that is not a real evaluation system with real teeth that you can actually do something with, and do it in a reasonable time frame," he said, of the steps required to remove a teacher from the classroom. "Some of these things will drag on for years."

Listen to the full excerpt from the mayor's comments on education.

WOR radio

Also in the news this week — and not in a good way — was one of the city's premiere schools, Stuyvesant High School. Mr. Walcott announced that 71 students had been accused of cheating on their Regents exams, all but one for using their banned cellphones to share information.

That news set off lively discussions about cheating, the cellphone ban and the culture at Stuyvesant.

In another issue that hits home for some, The New York Times reported that students are being denied gym time, as well as access to gyms and certified gym teachers. But, as Al Baker, who covers city schools for The Times, reported:

Kathleen Grimm, New York City’s deputy schools chancellor for operations, said the Bloomberg administration required adequate physical education in schools, but acknowledged it had work to do. Since principals face challenges in providing space and time for those classes, she said, the administration hoped to put a plan in place by summer’s end to provide them “better support” across all areas of education, including physical education.

And the city plans to submit its long-overdue phys ed plan to the state by September, Mr. Baker reported.

This week also saw the start of summer school for 33,000 third through eighth graders and an ode to paraprofessionals, written by SchoolBook's teacher-blogger, Laura Klein.

Rising eighth graders and their parents are already embarking on a hunt for high school. Inside Schools shared the best advice from one of the high school workshops that the city offers through the summer. You can find dates and locations here and search the high school directory online here.

Voices of New York, an online site that curates the best journalistic work being produced by scores of community and ethnic publications and translates that work into English where necessary, produced a series of reports about the "Parachute Children of Korea" -- the thousands of children who are sent to the United States without their parents to study in American schools and get a leg up on college admissions.

Big news anticipated for next week: the release of the results of the state English Language Arts and math tests in April. SchoolBook will be reporting the numbers and trying to explain what they mean.