Struggling City Schools Face State Takeover

By Tess McRae

The New York State Education Department identified 144 schools in 17 districts statewide, including nine in Queens, as Struggling or Persistently Struggling institutions. In an effort to improve each school, many of which are chronically low performing, NYSED created a new section of education law pertaining to school receivership.

“In those schools designated as Persistently Struggling, there will be an unprecedented infusion of resources to support school turnaround efforts,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. “This is an opportunity that communities must seize to come together to fundamentally rethink how these schools carry out their obligations.”

The program addresses two kinds of underperforming schools: Persistently Struggling and Struggling. Persistently Struggling schools are the most severe and have been so since the 2006-07 school year and Struggling schools have been priority schools since the 2012-13 school year.

In Queens, nine schools were identified as Struggling. They include PS 11 in District 30; JHS 8 in District 28; MS 53 and Richmond Hill and John Adams high schools in District 27; Martin Van Buren High School in District 26; Flushing High School in District 25 and Grover Cleveland High School in District 24.

8-Feature-Schools2These, along with the 62 other Persistently Struggling and Struggling schools in New York City – higher than any other area in the state – will be placed in the hands of the superintendents of the specific schools’ districts, who will be given “receivership powers” to improve performances. Superintendents will have two years to show improvement in Struggling Schools and one in Persistently Struggling Schools.

Under the receivership law, a school receiver is granted new authority to, among other things, develop a school intervention plan; convert schools to community schools providing wrap-around services; expand the school day or school year; and remove staff and/or require staff to reapply for their jobs in collaboration with a staffing committee.

The Board of Regents will oversee receivers.

If the schools are still under-performing, an independent receiver will be appointed by the district and approved by the state commissioner, who will make the appointment if an acceptable receiver is not selected by the district.

Among the schools that would be placed in receivership are Martin Van Buren, top, and Flushing, bottom, high schools.

Among the schools that would be placed in receivership are Martin Van Buren, top, and Flushing, bottom, high schools.

Though the NYSED praised the receivership program as a win for schools and educators, the United Federation of Teachers came out against the new law.

“Receivers have no magic wand. We have seen that over and over again, in New York State and across the country.” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a written statement. “What these schools need are resources, and that is what New York City schools are getting in Mayor de Blasio’s Renewal program. Investing in schools is what makes them better and what works for students — not receivers, whose default is simply to close schools, not to fix them.”

As it stands, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña acts as the receiver for city schools.

In the past, specifically during the Michael Bloomberg administration, struggling schools were often shut down and collocated – creating smaller schools within a single building. The process was unpopular and many schools, particularly in Southeast Queens were closed and re-closed. In the past few years, forums and town hall meetings were held at Jamaica and Martin Van Buren high schools as well as Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship High School – which will close next semester after having been collocated to replace Campus Magnet High School. Rallies were held all over the borough and citywide to protest the closing of neighborhood schools – many unsuccessfully. Community leaders, including Assembly District 29 candidate Alicia Hyndman and Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams have called into question the effectiveness of co-locations. Even de Blasio, while campaigning, said he would work to limit the DOE’s use of co-locations.

The DOE, one of the largest school systems in the country, did not respond to the possible removal of power directly, a spokeswoman said the education agency has worked and will continue to work hard to improve school performance.

“Turning around a school requires difficult decisions, a targeted intervention plan, and having the right leader and school staff in place,” DOE Press Secretary Devora Kaye said in a written statement. “The schools designated are all schools that the DOE has already invested tremendous resources in and we are closely tracking all indicators of progress—there are no surprises. While no new schools were added to this designation this year and the number of New York City schools identified has decreased, we must ensure that all kids have access to high quality learning. We’ll continue to work tirelessly to ensure a pathway to college or a meaningful career for every New York City student.”

Reach Editor Tess McRae at (718) 357-7400 ext. 123, tmcrae@queenspress.com, or follow her on Twitter @tess_mcrae.

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