March 15, 2011
The city is putting in new measures to help the schools that it is closing, the Department of Education’s top deputy said yesterday.
Those measures, which include formalizing the city’s plans to support the schools and developing best practice guidelines for closing schools, come in response to criticism from the Panel For Educational Policy and others, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told GothamSchools.
But parents and teachers should still monitor the city’s progress and hold the department accountable, he told people attending a public meeting in Brooklyn last night organized by City Councilman Brad Lander.
The exchange took up just a few minutes of a two-hour meeting that focused on the effect of testing on city classrooms and on Polakow-Suransky’s hopes for new tests based on national standards.
At the meeting, Ann-Marie Henry-Stephens, an assistant principal and English teacher at Paul Robeson High School, one of the schools that the city plans to phase out, asked Polakow-Suransky how the city planned to better support teachers.
“The teachers who are at my school or at any school really don’t feel supported by the DOE — when is the DOE going to treat us as equals and treat us with some professional courtesy?” Stephens asked, prompting applause from the audience of teachers and parents. She continued:
Right now, we have a new evaluation system, we are hearing about layoffs, the Teacher Data Initiative. A lot of what you are doing and saying to teachers is punitive, and we want support because it’s really hard, there’s so much to learn, so much to do…. So really, when are we going to get the support especially in schools that are struggling?…Schools are struggling and they’re crying out for help, but we don’t get the help, we get evaluated.
I think you’re right that there’s not been consistent set of supports for the schools that are phasing out as part of the process of creating new schools. There’s an obligation to the kids and to the adults in those schools to provide thoughtful consistent support and communications, so that people know what to expect and know what is going to happen from year to year as the school changes and gets smaller, and to actually create opportunities for those that want to stay and be part of moving the kids that remain to graduation — or to the end of that level of schooling if it’s not a high school — for them to actually have have really strong leadership and real resources to do that.
I think it’s happened in some places. I know that in the building where I was a principal, there was a phase out school, which was Morris High School, and as that school got smaller it became much more successful and many more kids graduated from that old school that was being phased out than ever before. I mean, it was a school that used to take 700 kids into the ninth grade every year and graduate 70 four years later. And as it was phased out, in the second year of the phase out it graduated 120 kids – this is separate from the new schools, just the old school as it was getting smaller. In the third year it graduated over 200 and in its last year it graduated 300. And I remember standing next to one of the asst principals, who had been there since 1966 who had been fighting against the decision to close Morris and to phase out the school, and he had tears in his eyes. And I asked him what he was thinking and he said he’d never seen so many kids graduate from this school.
And so there is the possibility to do this well. And I think that’s our obligation and that’s something that you and others need to hold us accountable because we do know what it takes to do it well and we can.