receiver to the rescue

City adds two schools to turnaround plans after ‘failing’ schools law

Two schools have been added to the city’s broadening school-improvement initiative, months after the state flagged them for posting dismal academic track records for the last decade.

P.S. 64 in the Bronx and M.S. 126 in Brooklyn will receive an extra $1.9 million next year to provide students with additional academic and social services, similar to the changes being planned for 128 “Renewal” and “community” schools, city officials said on Monday, though the schools aren’t officially a part of either program. The de Blasio administration set aside the money in its proposed budget, which includes $162 million to support its initiatives to improve low-performing schools next year.

Their inclusion reflects the city’s move to close the gap between its own school-turnaround efforts and new state mandates.

P.S. 64 and M.S. 126 were among the 12 New York City schools that Gov. Andrew Cuomo singled out as “persistently failing” for having ranked in the bottom 5 percent of state schools in performance on state English and math tests for the last 10 years. Cuomo and the legislature then passed a law that gives districts authority to switch up staff at those schools, fire principals, and negotiate new payscales for teachers, and provides $75 million in funding to support school improvement. (The law adopts a similar definition of “persistently failing,” but state officials are still finalizing the criteria.)

Under the law, the city has just one year to improve its “persistently failing” schools and two years to improve “failing” schools, whose academic performance have not lagged for as long. Schools that don’t demonstrate improvement over that span will be eligible to be put under the control of a receiver — a nonprofit, another school district, or individual chosen by the chancellor.

The city has already had plans for 10 of its “persistently failing” schools. Seven were included in the city’s Renewal program and are developing improvement plans for next year. Three others will close for good in June, having years ago begun the process of phasing out.

That left P.S. 64 and M.S. 126. The city promised in May to increase the schools’ budgets and to provide them with new access to substance-abuse counselors, but had not yet promised them additional resources like those offered to schools in its high-profile Renewal program.

The two schools were not included in the Renewal program for different reasons, officials said. P.S. 64 is phasing out, with the 2015-16 school year set to be its last. Meanwhile, M.S. 126’s proficiency rate on last year’s state English tests was just good enough, at 9.6 percent, to stay out of the bottom quartile of all city schools, one of the city’s criteria for inclusion.

With P.S. 64 set to shrink to just a fifth grade as it prepares to close, a department spokeswoman said its new money will be shared with P.S. 294 and P.S. 311, the two schools that have opened up in the Bronx building to replace it. Local advocates said they were relieved that those schools would benefit, although it’s not clear how the state will measure academic progress or if a receiver could take over the new elementary schools, both of which are finishing up their second years.

“There’s a lot of confidence in the new leadership in the new schools and we want to see them supported,” said Emma Hulse, a community organizer for the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, a Bronx group.

Calls and emails to P.S. 64 and M.S. 126 and their principals were not immediately returned.

The receivership law received new attention on Monday, two weeks before the State Education Department and the Board of Regents are set to finalize the details of new law. The city teachers union and advocacy groups urged officials to set reasonable performance targets for the schools and, as the United Federation of Teachers put it, enforce the receivership portion only as a “last resort.”

“The Regents, in enacting regulations for these struggling schools, need to set them up for success and not failure,” said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition allied with the teachers union.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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.”