A Turnaround on Turnaround for Seven Schools

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Like a roller coaster on its final descent, the city's "turnaround" push for 33 "struggling schools" seemed to be picking up speed and heading toward an inevitable conclusion. But in an unexpected twist, the Education Department decided to give seven schools a reprieve, acknowledging that they were on the ascent and should be given more time to continue to improve.

As SchoolBook and others reported late Monday, Education Department officials said the schools, which had received A's or B's on their latest school progress reports, would no longer be part of the "turnaround" plan -- which means they will not be shut down, have as much as half of their staff members replaced and then be reopened, probably under new leadership. In a statement, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said:

After careful consideration, including school visits from my leadership team, we have come to believe that these schools have strong enough foundations to improve — and today, I have decided that we will not move forward with proposals to close and replace these seven.

Early on, many people had felt that the plan to adopt the turnaround model for the 33 schools was a bluff by the city to get the teachers' union to agree to a teacher evaluation system at the schools -- something that was needed so those schools could receive nearly $60 million in federal aid that had been promised to them by the state. That accomplished, the thinking went, the city and the union could then push toward a citywide teacher evaluation system, which must be in place statewide by next January so the state can qualify for federal Race to the Top funds.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the turnaround plan in his State of the City address in January in what was characterized by the teachers' union and others as an act of defiance. Then it was suddenly moving rapidly forward, taking on an air of inevitability as the end of the school year approached.

But the logic of closing the seven schools that had shown improvement -- and which were, after all, meeting the city's own benchmarks for success -- came under fire. And even the city acknowledged that, at least for these seven schools, such a disruption was not necessary.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the union, the United Federation of Teachers, said more of the remaining 26 schools may be worthy of saving. But, he said, in an e-mail, “The idea that A and B schools deserved to be closed made a mockery of the D.O.E.’s system, as the agency has apparently now realized.”

It is not clear what the reprieve means for the seven, in terms of the adoption of a teacher evaluation system or the federal aid. Stay tuned.

That was not the only late-day conversion by the Education Department. As SchoolBook also reported, the city revoked a clause in its contracts with test-development companies that asked them to avoid 50 words and phrases in their subject matter. The clause, which had existed for years, banned words like dinosaurs, Halloween and other subjects targeted by special-interest groups.

Mockery of the city policy seemed to be spreading far and wide, and late on Monday Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city's chief academic officer, said enough was enough. The clause will be gone, he said: "New York City schools teach the broadest, richest curriculum in the nation and we can’t let this distract from the important work going on our classrooms.”

And also on SchoolBook late Monday, news of the death of Fortunato Rubino, the former principal of I.S. 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos and the recently appointed superintendent of District 14 in Brooklyn, has shocked and saddened many people who knew the popular administrator, who was known as Fred. Commenters like Suzane Thomas are weighing in with words of praise for what was clearly an extraordinary educator. She wrote:

A wonderful man who taught me that every child, regardless of their economic or social background can have a high quality education that is equal to or better than what any private school can offer. I was privileged to have my own daughter attend IS 318 and I was honored to meet and learn from such an inspiring educator. He will be missed.

You can read about him and add your own thoughts and anecdotes in the comments section under Monday's post.

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete listing of what is in the news this sunny Tuesday morning.

And here's what's planned for Tuesday in education in New York City:

Mr. Walcott will be speaking at New York University’s Kimmel Center in the morning to kick off a colloquium at N.Y.U. Steinhardt’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools, “Informing New York City’s Middle School Initiative,” described as "a day-long colloquium devoted to supporting the improvement of New York City’s middle grades." Mr. Walcott is expected to build on a speech he gave last fall focusing attention on middle school needs.

And the woman whose groundbreaking work on establishing methods of assessing good teaching, Charlotte Danielson, will be speaking from 6 to 8 p.m. at an event hosted by Pace University at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, 3 Spruce Street, Manhattan. The talk, "Framing Teacher Effectiveness/ Supporting Student Success: Why Educators Should Embrace a 'Framework for Teaching,'" is free.