Challenging School Year Comes to a Close

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By midday Wednesday the school year officially will be out for summer. And, while educators say each year has its highs and lows, many concede the 2012-2013 year was especially packed with challenges.

“It was a very unique year in that we had the hurricane, we had the bus strike,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, listing just a couple of the events that upended school communities and which came on top of an already ambitious year that saw changes to the special education program and the roll-out of new Common Core learning standards across the system.

Sandy closed all schools for at least a week, and forced dozens of schools to relocate. Many students and staff were flooded out of their own homes, while some school buildings were too-badly damaged to reopen and shared space with schools in other neighborhoods. And other schools still intact after the storm served as emergency shelters, and reopened to students and evacuees under the same roof.

For many students and school staff, the effects of the storm lingered the rest of the year.

“That’s definitely been a huge issue for a lot of students,” said Justianna Kubersky, a 10th grade English teacher at the Academy for Young Writers in Brooklyn. “We had students transfer to our school in the middle of the year. We had students displaced for a very long time, or living with relatives instead of their parents. And those students had hard times turning their grades back around.”

It wasn’t long after the storm when school communities learned of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Connecticut. Families tried to figure out ways to discuss the violence with their children.

Then in January, parents faced a school bus strike, which affected thousands of students — particularly those with disabilities who had to work extra hard to find alternative transportation to school.

And let’s also not forget the failed teacher evaluation negotiations, followed earlier this month by the final plan imposed by the state since Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the unions could not reach a deal on their own. Plus, the year ended on a note of testing mishaps, a recurring theme this year whether it involved the tests for gifted and talented students, which angered many parents, or most recently the scoring of Regents exams for high school students.

But the year had plenty of high notes as well.

The 6-year high school model exemplified by Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, got a shout out by President Barack Obama. We heard about various student achievements, including a sweep of chess victories to debate team prowess to a national spelling champion and, just this week, remarkable seniorsgraduating while having faced exceptional hardships.

Plus, after a six-year slump, Midwood High School finally beat James Madison in the “Battle of the Bedfords.” And who doesn’t love a good underdog win?

SchoolBook also learned a lot this year, about attrition rates at charter schools and the traditional public schools nearby; how a suspension hearing, for a student in trouble for using a laser pointer, sounds a lot like court; and how a family making $25,000 a year is willing to pay a fifth of that salary for tutoring to get into specialized high schools.

After dismissal on Wednesday, we still want to hear from you. How are families and school staff spending their summers? We know that principals and some teachers will be attending training sessions on the new evaluation system, set to take effect in September.

In terms of sending off students for the summer, Marie Chauvet-Monchik, principal of P.S. 138 Brooklyn, said she hopes her students read books from the list they will take home and visit libraries and museums.

“This way, the children learn by doing,” she said. “The curriculum comes to life.”

Happy Summer.