open question

These 25 New York City schools could face closure or state takeover this year — but most probably won’t

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin-Office of the Governor/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

The state is expected to reveal this month whether 25 low-performing New York City schools will be taken over or even forced to close. But if history is any guide, it’s likely most schools will be spared.

Those potential consequences are part of the state’s “receivership” law, championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a way to give the state more power to aggressively intervene in struggling schools that had floundered for years.

To avoid that fate, the schools must meet a range of goals around measures like attendance, suspension, and graduation rates.

But even though more schools are in the receivership program’s crosshairs (just three “persistently struggling” city schools were considered for takeover last year), observers say the state has not deployed the program aggressively, making it unlikely that most schools will actually be taken over or forced to close.

Across the state, just one school has been threatened with takeover so far: a middle school in the Bronx that was closed last year and replaced with a new school. Meanwhile, state officials have gradually reduced the number of city schools in the program over the past two years — from 62 down to 25.

“My guess is there will not be much action,” said Aaron Pallas, a Teachers College professor.

All 25 city schools in the receivership program are already part of the city’s own “Renewal” turnaround program, and Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city is conducting its own review of those schools that will result in additional mergers and closures.

“The fact that the city is being a bit more vocal about shutting down struggling schools may make it seem like less of a priority for the state,” Pallas added.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who could be forced to cede control of schools that fail to meet their goals, has indicated that at least one school on the list — August Martin High School in Queens — will definitely avoid closure. (She assured parents it would remain open during a public hearing, which the city is required to hold at each receivership school.)

The State Education Department’s willingness to remove schools from the program, sparing them from outside takeovers, has previously frustrated the governor. But Cuomo, who pushed for the receivership law as a more aggressive intervention for struggling schools, has warmed to the approach favored by Mayor de Blasio and the state’s unions: infusing struggling schools with resources instead of shutting them down.

The state will announce its decisions about the city’s 25 receivership schools in late October, according to a letter posted on the state’s website, though officials cautioned that the timeline is tentative.

Below are the city’s receivership schools.

Bronx:

BANANA KELLY HIGH SCHOOL
BRONX MATHEMATICS PREP SCH (THE)
HERBERT H LEHMAN HIGH SCHOOL
HUNTS POINT SCHOOL (THE)
MS 301 PAUL L DUNBAR
BRONX HIGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
IS 219 NEW VENTURE SCHOOL
IS 339
NEW MILLENNIUM BUSINESS ACAD MS
DEWITT CLINTON HIGH SCHOOL
FORDHAM LEADERSHIP-BUS/TECH
PS 85 GREAT EXPECTATIONS
PS 92
BRONX SCHOOL OF PERFORMING ARTS
IS 117 JOSEPH H WADE (Persistently Struggling)
BRONX JHS 22 JORDAN L MOTT (Persistently Struggling)

Brooklyn:

JUAN MOREL CAMPOS SECONDARY SCHOOL
BOYS AND GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL
CYPRESS HILLS COLLEGIATE PREP SCHOOL
PS 165 IDA POSNER
PS 298 DR BETTY SHABAZZ

Queens:

FLUSHING HIGH SCHOOL
MARTIN VAN BUREN HIGH SCHOOL
AUGUST MARTIN HIGH SCHOOL
PS 111 JACOB BLACKWELL

gratitude journal

Gracious students, baking adventures, and kindergarten babies: what Chalkbeat readers say they’re appreciating this year

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Indianapolis kindergartners dressed for a Thanksgiving feast

For people who mark their lives by the school-year calendar, November can be an especially tough time. The optimism of a fresh start has worn off, but hard work hasn’t fully borne fruit, and there are so many months left before summer break.

So Thanksgiving comes at exactly the right moment to pause and appreciate everything that’s going right. Here’s what Chalkbeat readers said when we asked them what they’re appreciating this year:

“I’m appreciating my students more than ever this year. In a time of such political strife, my students have shown incredible resilience and courage in the face of a very uncertain future. Their ability to balance hard work at school and the work they do outside of the classroom makes me incredibly grateful that they are willing to show up each day and put forth their best effort.” — Ashley Farris, 12th-grade teacher, Denver

“A supportive school family.” — Anissa Christian, kindergarten teacher, Memphis

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to be able to inspire and teach our future leaders of tomorrow!” — Darlene Dorsette, Detroit

What are you thankful for? Add your voice here.

I am thankful for students who are gracious and forgiving when mistakes are made in the classroom. I am also thankful that students who have suffered from so much teacher turnover but are still willing to trust teachers and allow them to invest in their lives.” — Michael Schulte, 11th-grade teacher, Memphis

“It’s now my fourth year in the role of elementary art teacher, and although I do miss the deeper connections I used to make with the students in my classroom, I am thankful for the chance to teach over 400 students every week. Being able to touch so many lives is what teaching is all about.” — Kevin Vaughn, Dolores, Colorado

“Acting wildly goofy with my family. Taking long walks in the cold woods. Baking adventures (mishaps) with my mom. Laughing uncontrollably. Napping on the couch for hours with a good book.” — Katy C., sixth-grade teacher, Denver

“The reaction that you see in students faces when you share an interesting or funny background story about an event.” Virginia DeCesare, high school history teacher, Greenwood, Colorado

“My kindergarten babies.” — Kristy Russell, kindergarten teacher in Memphis

“I’m thankful for my wife, my kids, and that I’m a public school teacher.” — Jeff Ponce, high school special education teacher in Los Angeles

We’ll update this list with more reader submissions as they come in, so add yours here. And please know: We appreciate you. From the comments you leave, to the tips you offer, to the Facebook shares that help our stories reach more people, your contributions make our reporting about your schools so much stronger. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mixed messages

Is the Board of Regents hostile to charter schools? Depends upon whom you ask.

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regent Collins and Regent Johnson engage in a discussion after a Board of Regents meeting.

When the Board of Regents took the unprecedented step of rejecting two new charter schools last week, it sent shudders through the charter school sector.

Even before the meeting last Monday, the Regents had been making charters “nervous,” said Andrea Rogers, the New York State Director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network. The rejections only heightened the anxiety.

“I think these denials skyrocketed the issue to the front of people’s minds,” she said.  

And yet, during the same meeting, the board praised and signed off on the opening of five other charter schools, which brings the number of new schools approved this year to more than any year since 2013.

The meeting was emblematic of the mixed signals that this Board of Regents have been sending over the last few months, feeding different interpretations among both those who advocate for charter schools and those who champion traditional schools

The board’s willingness to criticize and question charters have many believing the Regents are, at best, skeptics and, at worst, opposed to the publicly funded, privately run schools that they authorize and oversee.

At the same time, the Regents have not been without praise for charters, and some charters say they have appreciated the support of the body and the state’s support staff.

Chancellor Betty Rosa said the Regents’ decisions are evidence of nuance, not rigid ideology or partisanship.

“I think there’s too many times when people want to simply say ‘you’re for’ or ‘you’re against.’ It’s so much more complicated than that,” Rosa told Chalkbeat in an interview Wednesday. “To me, if it’s a wonderful opportunity for kids — you got me. If it’s not, I’m probably going to be your worst enemy.”

As an authorizer, the Board of Regents has the power to approve new schools and decide which of its 87 schools should remain open. In addition to deciding the fate of individual schools, the board is rethinking how it evaluates all of its schools   and whether they should take a closer look at measures like surveys or chronic absenteeism.

With several new members and a relatively new leader, the Regents’ actions have been under particular scrutiny for signs of partisanship. Some have seized on recent events, such as critical statements made by some Regents as charter schools have come before the board for approval or renewal.

One Regent suggested that charter schools achieve high test scores by pushing out students; another suggested a charter school in Brooklyn is contributing to segregation.

Rosa has fiercely opposed a proposal that would allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers, calling the idea  “insulting.” The board also rejected a batch of Success Academy renewals, arguing that their authorizer attempted to renew the high-performing but controversial charter schools too soon. (The move had little practical effect, since their authorizer, SUNY, can override the board’s decision.)

Rosa said the sum of these decisions does not mean either she or the board is anti-charter. Her opposition to the teacher certification proposal had nothing to do with the source of the proposal — a charter authorizer — but because, she said, she believes the idea is an affront to the teaching profession and will allow unqualified teachers to enter classrooms.

The Success Academy renewals, she said, were returned based on legal requirements — and were not an appraisal of the charter network.

But taken together, observers of different educational ideologies have concluded that the board is more likely to probe problems with charter schools than in the past.

“It is quite a change from a couple years ago, and it does show greater misgivings about charter schools than what we saw under the board as it was previously constructed,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. (Lowry said he appreciates that the board is paying more attention to how charter schools will affect the funding of surrounding school districts.)

The state’s teachers union has picked up on the change and praised the board for providing more oversight of charter schools, while calling on them to do more.

“The Regents, at this point, are providing much overdue scrutiny of the charter sector,” said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn. “We believe that the Regents and the state education department need to do more, but this is a good step.”

Charter school advocates agree, seeing the Board of Regents’ actions as worrying. Since the board’s philosophy is hard to pin down, schools are starting to wonder if they can switch authorizers, Rogers said.

Yet there are signs that charters’ fear are based on conclusions that are far too sweeping. As the board rejected two schools outside of New York City, they also lauded applications for schools opening in the city a fact that may suggest differences in how the Regents assess schools in different areas of the state.

Regent Christine Cea welcomed a new school in Staten Island, saying she is “totally in favor of it.” Rosa expressed excitement about a new KIPP school in the Bronx, saying the community has “tremendous support” for its opening.

Rosa said Regents are more thoughtful and involved in reviewing schools now. She suggested that there are educational innovations that can be learned from charter schools, but also offered some critiques. At the top of her list, she worries that charter schools are not well-equipped to serve students with the most severe disabilities.

Several schools that are currently authorized by the board expressed their appreciation for the Board of Regents and those in the state education department’s charter school office who provide technical assistance to schools and create charter school recommendations for the board.

“On our quest to better serve scholars with learning differences, we have found no better ally,” said Eric Tucker, who is a co-founder of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School. “Through technical assistance and oversight, the Regents push public schools like ours to continually improve to better serve the needs of all students, all days.”

Still, said Bob Bellafiore, an education consultant who works with charter schools, several Regents come from district school backgrounds, and so their default attitude is to question charter schools and support the traditional school model.

“They’re much more district school system people,” Bellafiore said.