Mayor Unveils New Plan For Struggling Schools

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Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed his new strategy to revive failing schools this week.
Photo by Jordan Gibbons.

BY JORDAN GIBBONS

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the School Renewal Program Monday morning to turn around struggling schools, but education advocates said that the administration is not doing enough.

The 94 schools participating in the program will be transformed into community schools that tie together new services that support children’s families, as well as their mental health and physical well-being. There are 12 Queens schools participating in the new program.

Each school will add an extra hour each day of extended instruction and could offer additional after-school, weekend and summer learning opportunities as they are needed.

The Mayor said that the City needs to change the old policy of closing down struggling schools by lifting them up instead.

“Getting there means moving beyond the old playbook and investing the time, energy and resources to partner with communities and turn struggling schools around,” de Blasio said. “We’ll give them the tools, the leadership, and the support they need to succeed—and we’ll hold them accountable for delivering higher achievement.”

While de Blasio’s plan may be a step in the right direction, a recent report raises some additional questions about the state of City education and whether the Mayor’s plan goes far enough.

In September, Families for Excellent Schools, a parent advocacy group formed to organize parents around the need for excellent schools across the City, Massachusetts and Connecticut, released a report titled “A Tale of Two Schools.” The report highlights several City neighborhoods, which serve students who come from minority and low-income families, have schools with vastly different outcomes.

Jeremiah Kittredge, the CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, released a statement in response to the Mayor’s new program.

“The Mayor’s plan is too small, too slow, and too timid to help 143,000 students trapped in failing schools,” Kittredge said. “Instead of empowering parents to choose better schools today, the Mayor’s plan invests three more years and far more money in a broken system that is bound to fail.”

The report analyzed 923 schools that meet three criteria: they are Title 1 eligible, which have at least 60 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, the majority of students are minorities and they have at least one testing grade, grades 3 to 8.

There are 46 schools throughout the City that are Title 1 schools, where a majority of students are minorities and more than half of them meet rigorous Common Core academic standards.

But 185 schools had an average proficiency rate in English and math that was 10 percent or below. Out of the 257 elementary and middle schools where no more than 10 percent of students met academic standards in 2013, 87 failed to improve by one percentage point in 2014.

chartThe new plan includes an investment of $150 million to build each school’s education capacity across the elements of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s Capacity Framework, which is based on rigorous instruction, supportive environments, collaborative teachers, effective school leadership, strong family-community ties and trust.

The Dept. of Education will develop implementation plans, closely track every school’s progress and plans to hold schools accountable for meeting strict goals during the next three years. Schools that do not meet these goals for each year will face leadership and faculty changes and possible reorganization.

Fariña said that the City is committed to providing extra support to schools and she expects that support to improve student outcomes.

“We will ensure our school communities are anchored in trust, and with the cooperation of all major stakeholders, we will support our schools—our students deserve no less, and I’m determined to get this right,” Fariña said.

The schools in the program, including the 12 in Queens, were identified by the State for demonstrating low academic achievement for the past three years. They have ranked in the bottom 25 percent of City schools in math and ELA state exam scores or graduation rates and showed a limited capacity for improvement with a rating on their recent Quality review of proficient of below.

According to the report, some neighborhoods have successful schools just a few blocks away from failing schools.

In Queens, there are eight schools in District 27, two in District 29 and two in District 30 that show a 10 percent or less efficiency. But, there are seven schools that have been closing the achievement gap; one in District 24, one in District 25, two in District 28, one in District 29 and two in District 30.

Only four Queens schools that are on the list of struggling schools are participating in the Mayor’s new plan: PS/MS 42 R. Vernam, MS 53 Brian Piccolo and PS 197 The Ocean School, all in the Rockaways and PS 111 Jacob Blackwell in Long Island City.

“There are excellent schools in New York City that have student populations that are a majority minority and low-income students,” Kahn Shoieb, a spokesperson for Families for Excellent Schools, said. “The real question is how do you expand access to those quality schools?”

For more information on the Mayor’s program, visit nyc.gov/renewalschools. To learn more about Families for Excellent Schools, visit www.familiesforexcellentschools.org.

Reach Reporter Jordan Gibbons at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 123, jgibbons@queenspress.com or @jgibbons2.

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