Streams

In Last-Minute Reprieve, 2 Failing Schools Are Spared

Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - 06:16 PM

On the eve of the meeting deciding the fate of 25 poor-performing schools, the city’s Education Department offered two of them a reprieve. One, Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Harlem, will retain its middle grades. The other, Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, will be spared from closing.

The decisions, reached after three exhaustive weeks of public hearings and protests, signal the department’s faith in the role of school administrators when it comes to improving failing schools.

Wadleigh will get a new principal who will be charged with boosting its anemic middle school enrollment, which, at just 86 last year, was barely 20 percent of that in its high-school grades.

The principal at Kappa VII, as the preparatory academy is commonly known, entered the school in the fall and will be given more time to make changes.

“While these two schools continue to struggle, what we learned is that they are also poised to quickly improve,” the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in a statement.

On Thursday, the panel that oversees education policy in New York City will decide the fate of 23 other schools: 18 could be closed and five would lose some of their grades. The meeting promises to be raucous and long: Votes to close or cut grades from 25 schools last year were cast over two meetings, each ending well after midnight.

A cast of political dignitaries showed up for the hearing at Wadleigh on Jan. 26, including three mayoral hopefuls, the city’s comptroller, John C. Liu; the public advocate, Bill de Blasio; and the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer. There were also more than 200 people in the audience, including parents and students who delivered emotional pleas on the school’s behalf.

The hearing at Kappa VII was notable for its sparse attendance, though: just a few parents testified. The school has struggled for some time. In 2010, just 13 percent of students were at grade level in math, and only 15 percent were at grade level in English, according to city statistics.

On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio, in a statement, praised Mr. Walcott for reversing course on Wadleigh and credited the victory to “this vibrant school community that never gave up.”

Anthony Klug, a history teacher at the school and the leader of its union chapter, said, however, there is still some fear that Wadleigh could find itself in the same position next year. In five weeks, its middle school students will be taking the state’s English and math tests; poor results in past years were exactly what put the middle grades in danger of disappearing.

“We still haven’t received the support we would like to ensure our kids reach the highest level,” Mr. Klug said.

A charter school, Harlem Success Academy, will still move into the Wadleigh campus in September, as has been the plan since last year. A spokesman for the Education Department said Wadleigh’s middle school grades occupy just four classrooms, so there is room in the building to accommodate another school.

Wadleigh’s new principal, Tyee Chin, starts his new job on Monday. He is an assistant principal at Edward R. Murrow High School.

Beth Fertig contributed reporting.

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