turning it around

With evaluation standoff past, city wins new round of grants

New York City is getting nearly $75 million in federal grants to help 16 struggling schools improve and support another six school buildings where schools are shuttering, the state announced today.

The grants are the second round of New York State’s disbursements from its share of the U.S. Department of Education’s $3.5 billion grant program known as School Improvement Grants, or SIG. The grants are designed to improve outcomes in schools with large numbers of students in poverty.

Two years ago, the city forfeited a large chunk of the first round of grants after failing to reach a deal with the teachers union on teacher evaluations, which was required to qualify for the majority of the funding. Officials said today that of $58 million awarded to the city, just $15 million was spent that year. The rest was returned back to the state. Those funds may be reallocated to future grant winners, a state spokesman said.

Now that evaluations are in place for the 2013-2014 school year, teachers union leaders endorsed this year’s grant applications. Union officials cited other reasons this year’s applications were an improvement over the previous round, too. They said that this year, individual schools had a more prominent role in determining how the grant money will be spent. In previous years, the city Department of Education applied centrally.

“It’s more targeted to the needs of the students versus the needs of the administration,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said of the new grants. Mulgrew said he was “very happy” with this year’s version.

A department spokesman said the while grants will still be “centrally facilitated,” the city has improved the way it engages with schools in the process.

Over the next three years, 16 schools will split up $20 million to implement the “transformation” strategy, one of four improvement models in the grants. The strategy, which calls for less invasive reforms, requires that schools replace their principals, bring in extra support services, and experiment with new teacher training and longer school days.

An additional 14 schools, including six that will begin phasing out in the fall, will receive $55 million under the “turnaround” model. Turnaround requires a new principal and that most teachers be replaced — hallmarks of the city’s longstanding closure program.

It’s the third straight year that the department will allocate a significant portion of the federal grants to schools being closed, though officials did not provide details about how funds would be broken up. The city spent $15 million in 2011-2012 and $24 million in 2012-2013 on the “turnaround” schools.

“The additional dollars will support students at schools that are phasing out, provide resources to bolster interventions in schools that are struggling, and help new schools deliver great outcomes,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

The city’s school closure policy has been criticized in the past for concentrating needy students in a small number of schools and not doing enough to support schools that are phasing out.

Commissioner John King has been among those critics. Last year, he threatened to withhold funding to the city if it did not show proof that it was making changes to the way students were assigned schools. A city official said that no such conditions were attached to this year’s SIG grants.

“Many English language learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students are in schools that need to change,” King said today in a statement. “SIG grants can help give those students the opportunity to attend schools that are changing what’s happening in the classroom.”

Specific details of how schools plan to use the funds weren’t released, but the state’s press release highlighted a few of the winning applications. Harlem’s P.S. 123, for instance, plans to use its $4 million winnings to add arts and sports programs and provide “job-embedded, authentic” professional development.

A complete list of schools receiving grants is provided in the press release below.






State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. today announced that seven school districts will receive more than $126 million in federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) awards to support turnaround and transformation efforts in thirty-four schools. King said that New York City will receive $74.2 million; the Buffalo City School District will receive nearly $13.1 million; the Rochester City School District will receive $22.5 million; the Utica City School District will receive $4 million; the Amsterdam City School District will receive nearly $3.9 million; the Schenectady City School District will receive $4.5 million; and the Albany City School District will receive $4.3 million. The school districts will use the grants to engage in dramatic and transformative whole-school change in their lowest performing schools. 

“SIG grants are an important part of the Board of Regents Reform Agenda,” New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said.  “Too many students are struggling in low-performing schools, denied a realistic chance at success. SIG awards are targeted to help our most at-risk students so they will be prepared to graduate college and career ready.  These grants are focused on improving chronically underperforming schools and raising achievement.”

“Many English language learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students are in schools that need to change,” King said.  “SIG grants can help give those students the opportunity to attend schools that are changing what’s happening in the classroom.  Our goal is to prepare all students to graduate college and career ready.  SIG grants are an important step toward giving students in struggling schools more opportunities to succeed.”

SIG awards are targeted to support the implementation of a whole-school change model in Priority Schools (Priority schools are among the lowest performing schools in the state based on combined ELA and math performance). To receive funding, districts with identified schools must implement one of the following prescribed intervention models:


  • TURNAROUND MODEL: Replace the principal and at least half the staff as part of the process of phasing out and replacing the school with a new school(s) or completely redesigning the school.
  • RESTART MODEL: Convert the school to a charter school, replace the school with a new charter school that will serve the students who would have attended the public school, or contract with an Educational Partner Organization (EPO), such as a local Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), institution of higher education, or other non-profit partner organization as identified in Education Law 211-e, to govern and manage the Priority School and its implementation of the SIG plan.
  • TRANSFORMATION MODEL: Requires replacement of the principal, but without the requirement to replace at least half the staff. Rather, the implementation of
    approved Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans would serve as the basis for rewarding effective teachers and removing ineffective teachers after ample professional development opportunities.
  • SCHOOL CLOSURE: Close the school and enroll the students in higher achieving schools in the district.

For example, the Rochester City School District will extend learning time in each of its Transformation Schools. The Albany City School District will adopt a full service neighborhood school model with after-school programming for students and families at the Philip J. Schuyler Achievement Academy.  New York City will provide job-embedded, authentic professional development for teachers as well as social service, extracurricular arts and sports enrichment programs through partnerships at PS 123 Mahalia Jackson.

Of the forty-one eligible applications received, thirty-four schools are approved to receive SIG awards for the September 1, 2013 to August 31, 2016 project period. This second round of the 2013 SIG RFP competition resulted in SIG awards totaling $126,516,610. The RFP is posted at http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/rfp/ta-13/home.html.   A summary of the district awards is attached. The application process will be forwarded to the Office of the State Comptroller for review and approval.

SIG aligns with the New York’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver application that the U.S. Department of Education approved on May 29, 2012 (see http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/ESEAFlexibilityWaiver.html).


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Follow the Commissioner on Twitter: @JohnKingNYSED






New York City

























The Hunts Point School

PS 123 Mahalia Jackson

Cypress Hill Collegiate Preparatory School

PS 15 Roberto Clemente

Juan Morel Campos Secondary School

JHS 291 Roland Hayes

PS 107

School for Democracy and Leadership

Alfred E. Smith Career Tech High School

East Flatbush CommunityResearch School

The Heritage School

PS 277

Bronx High School of the Visual Arts

Marta Valle Secondary School

DeWitt Clinton High School

Martin Van Buren H.S.

JHS 302 Rafael Cordero


PS 50 Clara Barton

Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications

PS 64 Pura Belpre

MS 142 John Philip Sousa

Performance School

















Turnaround (Phase-Out JHS 302 ; Phase-InVista Academy andLiberty Avenue Middle School)

Turnaround (Phase-Out PS 50; Phase-In Fairmont Neighborhood Schools)

Turnaround (Phase-Out Jonathan Levin; Phase-In New DirectionsSecondary School)

Turnaround (Phase-Out PS 64; Phase-In Walton Avenue School & Lucero Elementary School)

Turnaround (Phase-Out MS 142; Phase-InBronx Alliance Middle School)

Turnaround (Phase-Out Performance School;Phase-In ConcourseVillage Elementary School)

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”