Friday, October 29, 2010

Making More Room for the CHARTERITES: City adds 16 schools to possible-closure list, bringing total to 47
by Maura Walz-- http://gothamschools.org

The city is eyeing 47 schools for possible closure next year, including 16 that have not previously been targeted by the city or the state.  

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On the watch-list, which education officials released today, are 19 schools that the city tried to close last year but were saved by a successful union lawsuit. It also includes most of the 23 schools currently on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools that did not begin federally-mandated interventions this year. All 16 of the newly-identified schools are elementary and middle schools.
City officials said today they had learned lessons from last year’s thwarted closure process and are re-strategizing for this year.

The city is hoping to avoid some of the confusion and shock that marred their efforts to close schools last year by announcing their plans early and by clarifying their rationale for shuttering schools, officials said. Last year a state appeals court ruled that the city failed to meet legal requirements for notifying the community about its closure plans.

Officials have already posted their criteria for adding schools to their watch-list to the Department of Education’s website: schools were tagged if they received two consecutive C’s, or a single D or F, on their progress reports, or if they received anything below a proficient rating on their last Quality Review.

Some schools met this criteria but are not on the city’s list: elementary schools that outperform their districts on state tests; high schools with higher graduation rates than the citywide average; schools that received high marks on their Quality Review; and new schools that received a report card for the first time this year.

Three schools that are on the state’s list of lowest-achieving schools are notably absent from the city’s list of schools targeted for possible closure: Washington Irving High School, Boys and Girls High School and P.S. 65 (Mother Hale Academy). Officials said today that they have decided not to close these three because of strides the schools have made under new leadership.

City officials stressed today that their list is not definitive. More schools could be added to the list once the state releases this year’s update to its “persistently lowest achieving” schools list and after high school progress reports are released in several weeks.

Decisions about which elementary and middle schools the city plans to close will be handed down by the end of next month; decisions about high schools will follow by mid-December. The city will then begin its formal public approval process, which involves hearings at the schools and eventual votes by the citywide school board.

If the city eventually decides to close all or most of the schools identified today, it would be a drastic jump in the number of schools it has closed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city has phased out — or is in the process of phasing out — 91 schools since Bloomberg took office.

Last year, the mayor promised to turn around the lowest-performing 10 percent of city schools over the next four years, double the number federal officials have required the state to identify.
Teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew sharply criticized the city for the potential surge in closures. ”If Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg want their legacy to be closing every school in New York City, they should be ashamed,” Mulgrew said. “They should be focused on fixing schools, not shuttering them.”

City officials also said they are changing their strategy of communicating with the schools marked for possible closure as it evaluates them. Last year, teachers and parents protested that the first time they had heard from the DOE was when the city announced its plans to close the school.

This year, the city is planning early meetings with principals, school leadership teams, parent associations and community groups before they finalize plans for the school. City officials characterized those meetings both as attempts to learn more about the school beyond what is captured in their data and to prepare the schools for whatever final decision is announced.

Those meetings have already begun or have been scheduled for 33 of the schools; officials said today they are waiting to schedule meetings at the schools slated for closure last year until this year’s high school progress reports have been released.

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