The city has announced that 11 schools the state considers to be persistently low achieving will get intensive interventions this fall. The schools all had graduation rates of less than 60 percent at the time they made the list. They enroll a combined total of nearly 12,000 students and include big schools such as Flushing High School, vocational schools like Automotive High in Brooklyn, and the smaller Bread & Roses Integrated Arts School in Manhattan.
The move marks a significant shift in strategy, following months of controversy about whether the city has been closing schools without giving them a chance to improve. The city is using federal school improvement grants worth about $2 million per school annually, for three years, to fund the transformations at schools it considers to have potential.
“We see capacity there to implement some pretty exciting reforms for the city,” says Marc Sternberg, deputy chancellor for portfolio planning.
Though the city hasn’t decided yet whether the schools will keep their principals, the schools will hire some new “master” and “turnaround” teachers who will be paid up to 30 percent more in exchange for taking on extra leadership responsibilities and helping other teachers. The Department of Education considers this a major step toward a pay-for-performance system for teachers. The union and the city agreed to a pilot program in which these two new titles will be filled by teachers who have demonstrated an ability to improve student test scores. Sternberg says they’ll make a huge difference.
“First of all they’re going to provide a superior level of instruction, and you could almost stop right there,” he states, adding that their classrooms will become laboratories for others. “I mean these are going to be the best of the best teachers in New York City, attracted to this set of schools that have shown promising signs but have difficulty and show data that something like this is needed.”
WNYC was unable to reach any principals at the 11 schools, which is not surprising on a Friday afternoon at the end of the school year. But Ernest Logan, who heads the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, was disturbed that his members would be left in limbo -– not knowing which, if any of them, would be able to hang onto their jobs in September.
“Each school on this list has a different story. Some have B's on their school report cards; some have principals with strong principal performance reviews; at least one is on the list of Newsweek magazine’s best public schools of the year,” he said in a statement. “All things considered, it makes no sense to suggest removing the principals of these schools while retaining all the teachers. It is foolish to assume that the principals of these schools bear sole responsibility for their presence on New York State's list of ‘persistently lowest achieving schools.’”
The schools are receiving federal grants that require them to remove their principals. However, the city appears to be searching for wiggle room. A spokesman said the Department of Education is determined to "craft the best possible educational plan for individual schools, and we'll take conditions into account on a school-by-school basis as we work with the state."
The 11 schools slated for transformation will eventually partner with organizations that can help them improve instruction. They could have a longer school day and opportunities for online learning. They may also work with organizations that can provide social and emotional support services for students, to provide more order and a calmer environment.
There are a handful of organizations that already work with low-performing schools, but they do so with a combination of city and private dollars. Lawson Shadburn, Chief Operating Officer of Turnaround for Children, says the infusion of $2 million annually in each school, with the federal improvement grants, marks an enormous investment in this type of strategy. Turnaround for Children works with more than 20 low-performing city schools and Shadburn says keeping schools open can be preferable to closing them.
“Ultimately it’s a great thing if you can help the people already in the schools to succeed instead of having to close the school down and go through all the disruption of what that means for staff and the students,” he says. Nor could the city afford to fire everyone who works in a low-performing school. “Sometimes you can't find out who's a bad teacher or a good teacher until you turn a school around and then teachers who before were not succeeding can become very, very successful.”
No decisions have been made about which organizations will work with the schools, but the city says the school communities will be involved in the planning. Because of the need to move quickly, the city will choose organizations that already have contracts, such as Turnaround for Children, City Year, and the Children’s Aid Society.
Parent groups who had criticized previous efforts to phase out failing schools applauded the move through a press release. “Unfortunately, there are many more schools in New York that need this kind of urgent help,” said Victoria Bousquet, a parent leader with the Coalition for Educational Justice. The group has been calling for the city to try similar strategies with 19 schools it wanted to phase out starting this fall until it was blocked by a lawsuit, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the local chapter of the NAACP. The city has appealed.
The city intends to take more dramatic turnaround actions with another 23 schools that will also get federal school improvement grants. Eight of those are among the 19 schools in the lawsuit. No plans have been announced yet for the other 15, which include the High School for Graphic Communication Arts in Manhattan and Newtown High School in Queens. State law prevents the city from taking action this Fall, because more time is needed to plan such a major change. The city’s options include closing them outright, replacing a minimum of half of their teachers and creating new schools in the same buildings, or turning them into charter schools. The Department of Education says it will be studying data over the next school year.
The 11 “transformation” schools include:
- Automotive High School
- Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School
- Brooklyn School for Global Studies
- Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School
- Cobble Hill School of American Studies
- Flushing High School
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School
- Long Island City High School
- Queens Vocational and Technical High School
- Unity Center for Urban Technologies
- William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School
The remaining 23 schools are:
- August Martin High School
- Beach Channel High School *
- Boys and Girls High School
- Christopher Columbus High School *
- Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology
- Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School
- Grover Cleveland High School
- High School of Graphic Communication Arts
- Jamaica High School *
- Jane Addams High School for Academic Careers
- John Adams High School
- John Dewey High School
- John F. Kennedy High School
- Metropolitan Corporate Academy *
- Monroe Academy for Business/Law *
- Newtown High School
- Norman Thomas High School *
- Paul Robeson High School *
- P.S. 065 Mother Hale Academy
- Richmond Hill High School
- Sheepshead Bay High School
- Washington Irving High School
- W.H. Maxwell CTE High School *
* indicates school was already among the 19 schools the city wanted to phase out and replace with small schools and/or charter schools this fall, until it was blocked by a lawsuit.