PEP Talk

Fariña defends school merger plans as panel signs off

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Members of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policymaking board unanimously voted in favor of merging together two sets of schools, a strategy his administration hopes can be used to boost schools that have struggled due to low enrollment.

Chancellor Carmen Farina defended the plans, which will consolidate schools in East Harlem and Crown Heights, at a meeting before the vote Thursday night. In response to concerns raised by parents, Fariña framed the plan as a fix for schools that are suffering from limited resources due to their dwindling number of students, since funding is based on enrollment.

Fariña said the schools are currently struggling to afford basic staff and services, such as guidance counselors, art teachers or extracurricular programs. A merger would let them pool their resources.

“It doesn’t make sense for those schools to exist alone,” Fariña said.

“This is not about saving money,” she added. “This is about giving students more resources.”

But Fariña also sees the mergers as a school-improvement strategy, where a higher-performing school absorbs a weaker one. That is her hope for M.S. 354 and M.S. 334, two co-located middle schools in Crown Heights that serve similar student populations but post significantly different test scores. Fariña has appointed the principal of the higher-performing school, M.S. 354, to take over both schools this year ahead of the official consolidation.

For the other merger approved Thursday night, both schools have struggled. Enrollment at both schools, Global Neighborhood Secondary School and P.S. 96, has decreased for years. Competition from a growing number of charter schools in the area and a decline in school-aged children have contributed to their enrollment woes.

She also stressed her belief that turning the two schools into one would more easily allow them to trade and share their unique offerings, whether it’s an extra art teacher or an after-school science program.

“Our hope is that by putting two schools together—and typically they’re in the same building—the students will have twice as many choices, twice as many resources,” she said.

Fariña said the transition at M.S. 354-M.S. 334, whose merger was announced in April, has so far been smooth. It’s been bumpier for the East Harlem schools.

To prepare for their merger, officials moved Global Neighborhood, a middle school, into the building occupied by P.S. 96, a kindergarten through eighth grade school. Officials estimate that between 506 and 596 students will attend the merged school next year.

At Thursday night’s meeting, a parent at Global Neighborhood Secondary School said she and many other parents at the school planned to transfer their children out of the school because they did not support the merger plan. They said that the new space-sharing arrangement and pending consolidation had caused tension with parents and students at both schools.

“Our kids don’t feel comfortable,” said Yvonne Figueroa, president of the Global Neighborhood Parent-Teacher Association. “If you come and speak to our children they’ll tell you they don’t approve of it.”

Fariña said she was open to keeping some version of the Global Neighborhood name in the newly-configured school, but insisted that the mergers were an improvement. Two more merger plans will be voted on next month, and city officials say more proposals are in the works.

“I really see this as a win-win,” Fariña said.

All 12 members of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, whose majority is controlled by de Blasio, voted to approve the plans.

The panel also voted 7-3 with two members abstaining in favor of a plan to give space to Success Academy Charter School inside a building that already houses two district schools on Far Rockaway in Queens. It is the first Success Academy plan voted on since the panel rejected a Success Academy colocation in June.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

These are the 13 education bills poised to become law in Indiana in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma talks with Democrats shortly before the session adjourned without passing several bills.

Despite a chaotic end to this year’s legislative session, lawmakers managed to push through several education bills that could bring changes for teachers, students and schools.

And it’s not quite over either.

Lawmakers ran out of time before their midnight deadline last week, leaving behind several major bills, including a bill that would expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie school districts. On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he’d be calling for a special session so they could revisit that issue and others.

In non-budget year, it can be hard to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. This year, the biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to Holcomb, where he can decide whether to sign them into law. You can find the status of all the bills introduced this year here, and Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

Graduation and workforce

Senate Bill 50 establishes the governor’s workforce cabinet, which would oversee job training efforts across the state. The cabinet would create a “career navigation and coaching system,” which all Indiana high schools would be required to participate in. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be a cabinet member.

House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. It makes several changes to state tests, replacing the state high school exam with a national college-entrance exam and eliminating the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. The final version of the bill also changes the timing of testing from earlier version. Students wouldn’t begin the new graduation pathways plan until 2021, so the same deadline was applied to switching to a college entrance exam for state accountability. Until then, state education officials will have to decide what annual test high schoolers take when students in grades 3-8 switch to the new ILEARN test next year.


House Bill 1001 would close the gap in school funding that resulted from miscalculations in the number of students attending public schools. The bills would let the state transfer up to $25 million this year and up to $75 million next year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts. The bill also calls for a study of virtual education programs within school districts.


Senate Bill 172 would require public schools to offer computer science classes as an elective in high schools, as well as a part of the science curriculum for all K-12 students, by 2021. The bill also sets up a grant program to help pay for teacher training in computer science.

Senate Bill 297 would require schools to include “employability skills,” also known as “soft skills,” in their curriculums. The idea for the bill came from David Freitas, a member of the state board of education.

Senate Bill 65 would require school districts to let parents examine any instructional materials dealing with sex education. It would also require schools to send out consent forms for sex ed classes, where parents could then opt students out of the class. If they do not, the students would still receive instruction.

House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science. It would also require the state education department to create an incentive program to reward teachers who earn the content area licenses.

Senate Bill 387 would allow districts to pay teachers different amounts and give special education and science teachers extra stipends in an effort to fill jobs. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers has been added and removed several times this year, and was killed for good in conference committee. The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit. Career specialists would have to pass an exam showing they understand how students learn and the practice of teaching, in addition to content exams. The bill also removes a provision from the current version of the permit that says a career specialist must have a bachelor’s degree in the area they wish to teach in.


House Bill 1420, among several other measures, would not let a student who has been expelled from a virtual charter school for non-attendance re-enroll in that same school during the same school year.

House Bill 1421 would ask the state education department to develop a school discipline model that reduces suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color. It also requires the department to provide guidance and information to districts, beginning in 2019, that want to use that model. It encourages the legislative council to study positive student discipline and restorative justice and asks the education department to survey districts on those practices.

House Bill 1398 would allow a group of charter schools and districts to form a “coalition” to pursue innovative academic strategies. Coalition members could also waive certain state requirements, such as the requirement that students pass Algebra 2 to graduate.

Senate Bill 217 would require districts and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia and by 2019, to employ at least one reading specialist trained in dyslexia, among other provisions.

House Bill 1314 would set up data sharing between the state’s education and child services departments. It would also require that the Indiana State Board of Education release an annual report about foster and homeless youth education.

'A Significant Change'

Done doing ‘more with less,’ Brighton district will move to a four-day school week

PHOTO: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post
Students in Alicia Marquez's 6th grade science class at Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton watch a video and work on home work in August 2017. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Students in the Brighton school district will attend school just four days a week starting next school year.

Officials with the fast-growing district north of Denver announced they were considering the change earlier this year after voters turned down a request in November for more local taxes, the latest in a string of defeats for District 27J. This week, they made it official.

There are already 87 school districts in Colorado that use a four-day week at all their schools, but until recently, the phenomenon was largely limited to rural districts. Brighton will be the largest school district in the state on a four-day week

In response to the concerns of working parents, the district will offer paid child care for elementary-aged children every Monday, when school is closed, officials said. Teachers will work some Mondays on planning and professional development.

The change is expected to save the district about $1 million a year, but Brighton Superintendent Chris Fiedler previously told Chalkbeat that the biggest benefit will be “to attract and retain teachers” in a district whose salaries are among the lowest in the metro area.

“I realize this will be a significant change for our students, their families, and the communities we are so fortunate to serve, but our district can no longer be expected to do more with less financial resources,” Fiedler said in a press release.

A mill levy override, a type of property tax increase, hasn’t been approved in District 27J since 2000. A 16th request for more revenue failed in November.

“We are 100 percent committed to providing our students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation,” Fiedler said. “To that end, I believe it is in our students’ best interest to provide high-quality, engaged teachers using 21st Century tools for learning four days a week rather than not have them five days a week.”

Local union president Kathey Ruybal told Chalkbeat that teachers showed “overwhelming support” for the change.