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.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.