Group Shifts From Aiding Schools in Crisis to Those Starting Fresh

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An organization that helps schools meet the needs of children raised in poverty will be involved with six new schools from their start in the fall, a change of pace for a group known for helping existing schools that are dysfunctional.

The group, Turnaround for Children, goes into schools whose students mostly live in the city's poorest neighborhoods, have little access to affordable health care and are exposed to violence. Turnaround was founded by Dr. Pamela Cantor, a psychiatrist, in 1994 as the Children's Mental Health Alliance and focuses on the students' psychological and emotional well-being, in addition to academics.

Every school with which it forms a partnership is required to hire a full-time social worker and is linked to a clinic, which promises to see students within 72 hours.

Turnaround has rarely been present for a school's beginning, before trouble truly sets in. This fall, six schools in southeastern Queens and central Brooklyn will open their doors with Turnaround in house.

Although the schools are still being chosen, most of the selections will reflect the city's efforts to improve the lackluster performance of schools serving the middle grades.

"What all of these school have in common are children who are growing up in deep poverty and who are coming to school with those challenges, coupled with the fact that they’ve been in underperforming schools their whole lives," Dr. Cantor said. "And if a principal is picking us, they're picking us because they're assuming that there will be challenges to establishing a positive culture."

A $2.5 million grant from J.P. Morgan will finance the partnership for the next three years, as well as Turnaround's expansion into several existing schools in central Harlem.

Like all schools opening this fall for the first time, the six working with Turnaround will receive $100,000 from the city's Education Department, money that comes from the federal Race to the Top grant program. That financing runs out after two years, at which point the schools may have to shoulder some of the costs themselves.

Currently, all new schools can choose a partner organization, but this is the first year the city's Education Department is allowing Turnaround to take part. Fourteen schools applied to work with Turnaround, Dr. Cantor said, but funding limited the number of participants to six. "The hope is that this will be expanded," she said.

Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said, "I think they've got a very unique skill set and a very creative and effective model that makes a ton of sense." He said the city would analyze Turnaround's impact before increasing its role further. And Turnaround's approach does not make sense for every school, he said. "I don't think this is one-size-fits-all."