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UFT hails mayor’s plan to fix struggling schools

New York Teacher
Mayor Bill de Blasio outlines his blueprint for turning around struggling school
Jonathan Fickies

Mayor Bill de Blasio outlines his blueprint for turning around struggling schools at a Nov. 3 conference.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Nov. 3 unveiled a blueprint for turning around the city’s lowest-performing schools. The mayor announced that 94 of the city’s most troubled schools will receive an infusion of social supports as well as academic interventions.

The new strategy was in sharp contrast to his predecessor’s practice of closing large struggling schools and replacing them with smaller ones.

“The previous administration had a policy that a school like this was left to fend for itself, and that’s why we’re here today, because we reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools,” de Blasio said in a speech at East Harlem’s Coalition School for Social Change, one of the 94 schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised the new approach, which embraces the philosophy of the UFT’s Community Learning Schools Initiative that makes each school a neighborhood hub for services such as medical, mental health and dental care, social services and supports for families.

“For the past 12 years, New York City’s answer for struggling schools was to warehouse our neediest students, starve their schools of support, and then close their schools if they didn’t miraculously turn around,” said Mulgrew, who was in the audience for the speech. “The fact that the mayor says ‘I’m here to help’ means a lot when you are trying to change the culture of the school system.”

The schools in the School Renewal Program, which will receive $150 million in funding, will have three years to show improvement before facing closure as a last resort.

Students at the 94 schools will receive an hour of additional instruction time each day as well as more after-school programs and summer learning programs. Mulgrew said that the additional instruction “won’t necessarily require teachers to work an extra hour. There are different ways to do it.” Teachers will be compensated for any additional time worked, he added.

Each school will be able to designate master and model teachers, new positions created in the UFT contract, to help support teacher growth, while principals will receive coaching from experts inside and outside the school system and be closely monitored by district superintendents. The plan also calls for more guidance counselors for these schools.

Jonathan Fickies

Listening to the mayor's plan are (from left) Schoos Chancellor Carmen Fariña, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

“In the past, a lot of schools were abruptly shut down based on a single standardized test and that was wrong,” de Blasio said.

Parent involvement will also play a key role, the mayor said. The program will move to create and strengthen parent-teacher associations and school leadership teams, giving parents more of a stake in the school’s success.

Parent engagement is crucial, de Blasio said, making note of a Harvard Graduate School of Education study from 2012 that found that strong communication between teachers and families boosted class participation by 15 percent and increased the likelihood that students finished their homework by 40 percent. “That is real progress,” he said. “That is why we need parents to be part of the solution.”

The mayor said that while “the vast majority of our teachers are not only highly capable but highly committed to the work,” those who “aren’t delivering” after receiving additional supports will be held accountable, as will principals who are found not to be up to the task.

“Every Renewal School will have a chance to succeed,” de Blasio added. “But we won’t wait forever. If we do not see improvement after three years, we will be ready to close any schools that don’t measure up.”

The program is partially under way at 23 schools. All 94 schools will be required to develop and implement a plan, based on the mayor’s guidelines, by spring 2015.

Among the 94 schools, 43 are located in the Bronx; 27 are in Brooklyn; 12 are in Manhattan; and 12 are in Queens.