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What’s Next for the 34 Schools?

March 29, 2010

By Carol Boyd

Everyone knows that last Friday, Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis ruled against the NYC Department of Education (DoE) for noncompliance with the terms of the new mayoral control laws in order to schedule closure of 19 city public schools. So far, so good but far too early to celebrate this cause célèbre

What you probably do not know is that less than 18 hours before the judges ruling, frustrated parents, students, teachers, clergy and communities at large from across the city gathered at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan to seek answers, to organize and to strategize on behalf of fixing and not closing the 34 schools identified by NY state as “persistently lowest-achieving” schools.

It was at this meeting that the people who should be viewed as key partners in such a process learned for the first time that due to the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG), the DOE is going to receive $500,000 to $2 million a year for three years to implement improvement programs in their school. They also heard for the first time that federal guidelines provide alternatives to school closure: restart, transformation and turnaround. At first, parents, PA Presidents, Parent Coordinators and others questioned the reliability of the information that they were hearing simply because – outside of getting a transfer packet for their child in the mail – none of them had ever heard any of this from anyone. In fact, at some schools, the very issue of being on the state’s list is a taboo topic whispered in hallways.

All that is known so far is that New York State has applied for this funding, the grants are expected to be approved by the USDOE in early April and school districts will hopefully have the funds available by the end of the school year. Given that 34 of the 57 schools eligible to receive these funds are in NYC, that NYS is in the midst of a fiscal meltdown, that NYS was not a first round pick for Race to the Top funds, that April is merely hours away, and that the DoE has yet to publicly announce any public process for deciding how to use these funds … there is no time to waste.

A viable and sensible strategy might be found in the Impact Statement issued by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice on March 2, 2010, which recommends the creation of a School Transformation Zone to support the 34 schools and other low-performing schools in the process of turnaround. School Transformation Committees of parents, students, teachers, administrators and community members should be created immediately at each school to lead the redesign process and identify the essential actions to improve the school. But so much for sense and sensibility. The adage “there is no such thing as a free lunch” was never more apparent particularly as it applies to SIG’s. For it will be the DoE that will receive the funding and determines how that funding is to be used. Once again, the people who should have the most voice are left voiceless.

Was last Friday’s court ruling simply a stay of execution for these 19 schools? Will this ruling ultimately be a cause for celebration or merely a cause célèbre?

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