Tag Archive | "DOE"

Emotional pleas aside, panel votes to close Bronx Academy

When Angel Sosa transferred to Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx almost a year and a half ago as a sophomore, he only had 10 credits out of the roughly 44 needed to graduate. “I woke up this morning with three acceptance letters to college,” the 18-year-old senior told  the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which on Thursday night voted to close the school. In March, the Department of Education proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and its inability to turn its failing record around quickly. The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards. Students and teachers presented data to demonstrate the changes the school has implemented in the past eight months under the leadership of new Principal Gary Eisinger. According to a 43-page document distributed to the panel, the school saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students who passed the Regents exams, and attendance is up to 73 percent from 67 percent. Senior Snanice Kittel, 16, told the panel members that  her teachers genuinely cared about students and were helping them to succeed. “They will call in the morning to make sure you go to class. And they will even visit your house and talk to your parents if you haven’t come,” she said, explaining that these practices were put in place under the new administration. Their case was not persuasive enough to convince the panel to vote to save the school. “We are proud of the work Gary has done in the school,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “Even if there has been improvement, it’s well below what we expect to see,” he said, adding that the numbers presented by the school staff was inaccurate and that its own assessment revealed a different story. Frederick R. Coscia, a statistician and economics teacher at Bronx Academy, insisted the Department of Education was basing its decision to close the school on two-year-old data. “We deserve our own report this year,” he said. Monica Major, the Bronx representative to the panel, requested a postponement of the vote to phase out of the school. The motion was denied. “We asked for a miracle, we got it and now we will not see the end of it,” said Major as the audience yelled at the panel to “look at the data.” She reminded her colleagues on the panel that Bronx Academy High School is a transfer school that takes students who  have already failed in other schools. Opened in 2003, this “transfer school” serves an alternative for overage students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school. Despite acknowledging the work done by transfer schools and what they represent, the newly appointed Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Bronx Academy “has not done the job.” “We base our decisions on facts and not solely on emotions,” he said, citing the school’s poor performance and its inclusion in the New York State’s “persistent lower achieving” schools list. “We cannot allow more students to go to a school that is not performing at the standards,” Walcott said. After four and half hours of testimony and amid chorus of “lies, lies” and “shame on you,” the panel approved the phase-out of Bronx Academy by nine votes to five. Only the five borough representatives opposed the closure. Starting in September, the school will not accept new students and will have until June 2013 to graduate those who are currently enrolled. It will be replaced by Bronx Arena High School, a transfer school that will open its door for the 2011-2012 school year. English teacher Robert MacVicar expressed his disappointment with the chancellor and the panel for not giving the school a one-year reprieve. “I am saddened by Mr. Walcott's and Mayor Bloomberg's failure to take reasonable and compassionate account of our students’ deep and abiding goodness, despite their sometimes soul-trying circumstances at home and on the mean streets of South Bronx,” he said. Visibly upset, Angel Sosa asked why the panel did not take his testimony and others who spoke into consideration. “I had come with hope,” he said. As students and supporters of the school left, Principal Eisinger said he appreciated the support he received. “I put a lot of heart into the school,’’ he said, “and it shows.”

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Bronx Academy High School to DOE: Not us too!

Bronx high school superintendent Elena Papaliberios explained to Bronx Academy parents the proposal submitted by the DOE (Foto credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

By Clara Martinez Turco Teachers and parents at the Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx were surprised by a last-minute proposal by the city’s Department of Education to close the school. “I really wasn’t expecting they would come in and say we might close,” said Linda Butkowski, 52, a teacher of American studies at Bronx Academy and a representative of the United Federation of Teachers representative. In a document dated March 3, the DOE proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and because “the school lacks the capacity to turn around quickly to better support student needs.” The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards and had a six-year graduation rate of 49 percent. A new school administration took over in September and teachers say they thought the DOE would take into consideration the changes made since then. “The school had an amazing turn around under the leadership of the new principal… Is almost as if it was a new school,” said Butkowski. Changes to this “transfer school,” which was opened in 2003 as an alternative for students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school, include trimester terms and the appointment of a faculty advocate for every student. Last December, the New York State Department of Education identified the Bronx Academy as a "persistent lower achieving" school and gave it a year to implement a major transformation to turn around. State representatives later visited the school and said they would release in late April a report with their recommendations, said counselor Linda Vinecour. However, the city’s DOE cited the identification of the school as an under achiever as one reason to close it.  “At the end of the day, Bronx Academy is not doing the job, and we feel it will not turn around and serve better the kids,” said spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, explaining that the DOE decisions are independent from the state. Both city and state departments of education were unavailable for further comments. The proposal to close Bronx Academy comes after the city’s Panel for Education Policy voted to close 22 schools, ten of them in the Bronx. During an informational meeting held at Bronx Academy on March 8, parents expressed their frustration with the proposal by city’s school officials. “It seems the decision has already been taken,” said one angry parent soon after the Bronx High School superintendent Elena Papaliberios explained the next steps in the school’s phase out pending approval by the Panel. “I don’t agree with the closure because students need a school like this,” said Rosa Ramirez, 39, who enrolled her 16-year-old son, Jorge, in October after she said he had been bullied several times at his previous high school. Jorge said the school has helped him to stay on track. “A lot of us come here for a second chance to get our diploma,” he said. Despite the shock caused by the proposal, students and faculty vowed to fight the phase out, Vinecour said. On April 6, the Bronx Academy community will meet at the school to make the case against the closure. The meeting will be recorded and a copy of the recording shared among the members of the Panel for Education Policy, which will vote on April 28 on whether the phase out should proceed.

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Citywide Plan to Replace Hazardous PCB Lighting Fixtures

By Sana Taskeen Gulzar On the heels of an alarming study of PCBs in New York City Schools by the Environmental Protection Agency, the city’s Department of Education has announced a $708 million plan to replace PCB lighting ballasts and to improve energy efficiency in 772 city schools. The EPA’s study of fluorescent lighting fixtures in seven city schools, including PS 68 in the Bronx, showed PCB leaking in levels higher than federally approved limit of 50 parts per million. In PS 68, 10 out of the 13 samples taken showed PCB leakage exceeding that limit. The EPA has been conducting spot inspections at random city schools to help steer a city-wide policy to address the issue of PCB leakage in schools, said Mary Mears, the agency’s spokeswoman PCB or Polychlorinated Biphenyl is a chemical found in florescent lights and caulking and was manufactured before a 1979 congressional PCB ban in the United States. Extended exposure to PCB has to cause cancer in animals and other health problems including damage to human immune, reproductive and endocrine systems. In response to increased pressure by the EPA and concerned parents and community leaders, the DOE says it will replace lighting ballasts in schools all over the city over a period of 10 years. According to the Department of Education, the city will prioritize 772 city schools according to the following criteria: 1)    schools with visual leaks, 2)     elementary schools built between 1950 and 1966, 3)     secondary schools built between 1950 and 1966, 4)     elementary schools built between 1967 and 1979, 5)     secondary schools built between 1967 and 1979, 6)    elementary schools constructed prior to 1950, and 7)     secondary schools constructed prior to 1950 The DOE spokesperson, Marge Feinberg asserted that this 10-year plan will not only rid the schools from PCBs but will also make them more energy efficient. “We believe this is a fiscally responsible approach to addressing the issue of PCBs in our schools—the plan can be accomplished without disrupting student learning and it will generate significant energy savings for the city and taxpayers in the long run,” Feinberg said in an email response.

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UFT rejects bill that would end “last in, first out” policy

By Clara Martinez Turco The United Federation of Teachers condemned a state Senate bill that would end the “last in, first out” policy, which requires that teachers be laid off by seniority. “The proposed bill would send us back to the days before civil service protections, when people could be fired for being the wrong race or gender, too young or too old,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. The legislation, introduced Wednesday by Long Island Senator John Flanagan, would allow the Department of Education to fire teachers who have received unsatisfactory ratings in the last five years, who have been convicted of minor crimes or those who have a long list of absences. “Under its terms, people who were accused—but never found guilty—of misconduct would find themselves on the chopping block,” said Mulgrew in a statement. The bill also targets teachers whose students have low scores and those who have failed to fulfill the certification requirements. “Meanwhile, principals who have targeted certain teachers without even seeing their work would have a new way to force out employees they just don't like," said Mulgrew citing the example of Iris Blige, principal of Bronx’s Fordham High School of the Arts. According a DOE report, between 2007 and 2009, Blige ordered her assistant principals to give unsatisfactory ratings to those teachers she dislike. The DOE imposed a fine of $7,500 against Blige but did not fire her.  Blige has denied any wrongdoing. The Senate Education Committee is expected to discuss the bill on Tuesday.

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Protesters refuse to give up on Columbus High School

Protesters refuse to give up on Columbus High School

By Clara Martinez Turco

Mary Conway-Spiegel, founder of Partnership for Student Advocacy, asked the DOE to reconsider the conversion of Columbus High School as a charter (Photo Credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

Dozens of teachers and students of Christopher Columbus High School gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday night to oppose the Panel for Educational Policy’s decision to close the school. They were joined by several current and past public officials. “It is critically important for Columbus High School to stay alive and to keeps its doors open,” said former New York Attorney General and former Bronx Borough President Robert Abrams while calling the Department of Education to reevaluate its decision. The group also called authorities to reconsider an alternate plan to convert Columbus into a charter high school, a plan that was rejected in September by the State Education Department. Under the proposal, submitted by principal Lisa Fuentes in August, the school administration would take control and redesign the curriculum to better serve the needs of the community. “We in the Bronx, more than in any other place, are impacted by schools that the Department of Education says they are failing,” said City Council Member and Columbus alumni James Vacca. Columbus, along with nine other schools in the Bronx, are set to phase out in September because of low performance in the past four years. “The Department of Education has to look in the mirror… they have an opportunity to save a school whose tradition in the Pelham Parkway community and in the Bronx is without equal,” said Vacca. “Give us another look, we are worth saving and we want you  to save us.” Representatives of the United Federation of Teachers, State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein and the Partnership for Student Advocacy group also expressed their support to the charter conversion plan. As several students took the podium to oppose the school’s closure, 17-year-old senior Wendy Valladares said Columbus has always supported its students. “Many of us come from other countries, and Columbus has always welcomed us, even if we came in the middle of the school year,” she said. According to DOE’s statistics, 69 percent of the 1,466 students who attended the school between 2008-2009 come from families whose yearly income is lower than $28,665. At least 20 percent of the students have limited English proficiency. Columbus will be replaced by Bronxdale High School, which will open its doors in September. Although the new school is expected to serve the same community, it will be smaller and will only take 450 students.

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In vote, panel seals fate of six Bronx schools

In vote, panel seals fate of six Bronx schools

After a massive walkout at Brooklyn Tech High school to protest school closings, demonstrators displayed messages to the Panel for Educational Policy.

By Clara Martinez Turco Vincent Malfetano, 61, a teacher at Christopher Columbus High School, waited more than five hours before he could offer “some advice” to Schools Chancellor Cathie Black during a boisterous meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy Thursday night. “Columbus has its problems, but we’ve been opened for 70 years and graduated scholars for years in our building,” Malfetano said before a diminished crowd at Brooklyn Tech High School. “The school needs a change of leadership, there are five principles and there has been a poor management.” But his words and a massive walkout staged by some 2,000 parents, teachers and students during the meeting, were not enough to prevent the panel from approving the closure of Columbus High School and nine other schools, five of them in the Bronx. Along with Columbus and Global Enterprise, the panel voted to close John F. Kennedy High School, Frederick Douglass Academy III Middle School, P.S. 102 and Performance Conservatory High School. The building had a heavy police presence as a few hundred students briefly protested outside after the walkout. They marched around the block holding banners that read “closing is not the answer” and “save our schools,” but the protesters acknowledged that they already knew what the outcome was going to be. By the time the panel started to vote, only 80 people remained in the auditorium. “Shame on you!” shouted a group of parents as the members approved the closings one by one. The Department of Education cited  “substantial evidence” in closing Christopher Columbus. Spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the school has had received Cs and Ds in the last four report cards. “Ninety-nine percent of the schools in the borough are outperforming this high school,” he said. The panel had already voted last year to phase out the school, but a lawsuit filed by the United Federation of Teachers prevented the Department of Education from closing it. The Manhattan Supreme Court found the city had violated the provisions of mayoral control by not properly assessing the impact that the closures would have in the community. “We knew they’d do it again,” Malfetano said of the panel’s vote , in an interview after he addressed the group. “The lawsuit last year was just a procedural victory. It just said that Bloomberg did not follow the law properly, but he needs our buildings for other schools.” According to the proposal presented by DOE’s Division of Portfolio Planning, two new schools will replace Columbus High School and Global Enterprise High School, which shares the same building and will also close. Starting in September, the outgoing schools will not accept new ninth graders and will be closed by 2014. Meanwhile, the two new institutions would move into the Christopher Columbus Educational Campus, which since 2004 hosts Columbus High School and four other schools. “They are going to cram these two schools into a building that already has three other schools, it’s going to be a zoo,” said Malfetano. “It’s so out of control, we don’t have a teacher’s room to sit in anymore, there’s no refrigerator to put your lunch in anymore. You don’t even know who to go to order supplies.”

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