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New Schools Squad Will Try to Broker Peace

Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 05:28 PM

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a City Council budget hearing on March 20, 2014 (William Alatriste)

The Department of Education will try to broker the peace between schools that share the same building.

“Starting within the next two weeks, the first protocol that we're putting in place is that schools will not be fighting each other in a building," Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the City Council's education committee Thursday. She said the D.O.E will be sending "campus squads" to settle questions such as who gets what room on what floor in a shared school, and how to use the rooms.

The D.O.E. portrayed this as much more intensive than the previous administration's approach, when officials would walk through buildings to see if there was enough space for different schools to exist side by side.

The chancellor said she is particularly interested in finding ways for schools to share space and resources more effectively. For example, she envisioned middle schools sharing foreign language teachers who are often in short supply. Or if one high school has Advanced Placement classes but other small schools in the building don't, it could offer seats to students from the other schools.

"I think we have to create a culture of collaboration and share, which has not been the culture," she said.

Space battles in co-located buildings increased during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, when hundreds of new schools and privately managed charter schools opened — often in the same buildings as regular public schools. Nearly half of the system's 1,800 public schools now share buildings.

Sometimes they get along just fine. But other times, "the dysfunction is mind blowing," said Mary Conway Spiegel, whose Partnership for Student Advocacy raises money for schools, including Christopher Columbus High, which is being phased out after several other schools opened in its Bronx campus.

Principals have complained that it cam be difficult to schedule students from different schools in the same classes, because their schools have different schedules. But they often share sports teams and after-school clubs.

The D.O.E.'s new campus squad has four members including Kevin Moran, the agency's Executive Director for the Division of Operations. He said they will be responding to current and future-co-locations as problem-solvers.

"We're there to support principals," added his squad-mate, Laura Feijoo, a senior superintendent who has worked in the school system for 25 years.

Sonia Hampton, a parent leader at PS/IS 149 in Harlem, call the squad "a beautiful idea." The city blocked a Success Academy charter middle school from opening this fall in her child's school building. It already shares space with another Success Academy charter school and a program for children with special needs. Hampton, however, said she wasn't sure the charter would want to share its block room or classes.

"I know that charter leaders are eager to look for ways to make this work," said James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center. The former lawyer added, "If we keep the lawyers out of the room, we'll find a way."

The co-location squad was described during a council hearing about the school system's $25 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

In other developments:

• Chancellor Fariña said in fiscal year 2015 there is a shortfall of $2.7 billion of outstanding school aid the state owes the city from the lawsuit that was settled in 2007.

• Daniel Dromm, the council's education committee chair, said funding for the next year is essentially flat because the additional $1.2 billion Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid for pre-kindergarten that has not yet materialized, and much of the rest will be used for growing expenses. He predicted class sizes will rise.

• If the pre-K funds come through, the Chancellor said the city will need to hire an extra 1,000 teachers.

• The Chancellor also said she intends to hire more reading intervention specialists throughout the system.

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Comments [1]

Joe Fiordaliso - President CEC3

I think we all understand and appreciate that in a city such as ours, sharing space is an inevitability, even in our schools. That said, what we have found all too often with co-locations of schools in one building - especially if the co-location involves certain charter school networks - is that there has not been parity or fairness in terms of decisions about space allocation. During the previous administration, certain charter school networks were allowed to cherry-pick space - science labs, music rooms, auditoriums, classrooms of all manner and size. Unfortunately there were no "campus squads" and so the co-located community schools were all too often relegated to basements and hallways, hardly adequate places for instruction.

Such was the case at PS149/811 in District 3, where Success Charter's space grab left severely autistic children from the Mickey Mantle School to receive occupational and physical therapy in hallways. The stories from parents and teachers at our public hearing on the 149/811 co-location last Fall were heartbreaking and left many (including some CEC3 members) wiping tears from their eyes.

So I'm encouraged by Chancellor Farina's statements and hope they represent a change in the way DOE conducts business. I have met with the Chancellor and believe her to be true to her word and committed to the education of all of our children. Instilling a sense of fairness and equity into space allocations as she called for today seems to me to be a prudent and meaningful step for our community.

Joe Fiordaliso is President of Community Education Council 3 which represents 32 elementary and middle schools on the West Side of Manhattan from Columbus Circle to the Apollo Theater.

Mar. 20 2014 11:19 PM

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