Shakeup in N.Y.C. Puts Troubled Schools on the Hot Seat

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In the waning days of the recently completed school year in New York City, the district's accountability ax fell on superintendents, principals, and even entire schools.

At the urging of Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, the school board approved a shakeup late last month that includes shutting down 13 troubled schools over the next two years, including four this summer.

The chancellor is also assuming direct control of 43 low-performing schools, more than quadrupling the number of such schools under his immediate supervision.

In the 40 elementary and middle schools being taken over, teachers will receive 15 percent higher pay in exchange for working longer hours, and will implement extensive curricular changes under a new agreement with the teachers' union.

"This is a really brave experiment based on what we know works," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the city's affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Julio Caraballo cools off at a fire hydrant in front of PS 40 in New York City, where he just finished 5th grade. It is one of four low-performing schools that the district is closing this summer.
--Benjamin Tice Smith

Meanwhile, district leaders removed three of the system's 32 subdistrict superintendents for reasons of performance, and placed four more on a form of probation known as "directed supervision." And they announced that 58 principals systemwide left by the end of the school year for "reasons unrelated to routine retirements or new principalships outside their districts," mostly because of inadequate performance.

The accountability steps come 2½years after Mr. Crew won changes from the state legislature that consolidated his power over the 1.1 million-student system. The changes included the authority to hire and fire superintendents and greater latitude to intervene in failing schools.

"Since our successful campaign for the new legislation, sufficient time has passed to pull the lever of accountability and create a total dynamic of change," Mr. Crew said in announcing the shakeup June 23.

Extra Pay for Extra Work

A central part of that dynamic will be the agreement with the United Federation of Teachers for wholesale changes in the 40 schools. The schools are all on the state's watch list of "Schools Under Registration Review," which means they are under orders to improve student performance or face eventual closure. Mr. Crew has set a two-year goal for turning the schools around.

The schools are being removed from the control of their respective subdistrict superintendents and placed in the "chancellor's district," which previously contained 12 schools.

That special district, formed in 1996 to turn around low-performing schools, is overseen by a central-office administrator who reports directly to Mr. Crew.

Under the June 21 agreement with the UFT, the school day in the 40 schools will be extended by 40 minutes per day. In exchange, teachers will be paid about 15 percent more than they would otherwise, as long as they agree to remain in the schools for at least three years.

Teachers will also have to attend five days of professional development before students return to classes at the start of the school year. Support-staff employees in the schools will receive extra pay tied to the extended hours as well.

Both Ms. Weingarten and William C. Thompson Jr., the school board president, said they expected the union and the board to discuss expanding some kind of pay-for-extra-hours arrangement to the entire district when they start negotiating a contract to replace the one that expires in November 2000.

Calling the city's teachers "dramatically underpaid" compared with those in surrounding suburbs, Mr. Thompson said he had no quarrel with Ms. Weingarten's position that any such extra pay should come on top of a raise in teachers' base wages.

Kati Haycock, the executive director of the Washington-based Education Trust, said she thought the New York plan represented the first broad-based effort by a large urban district to use extra pay for extra work as a tool for turning around poorly performing schools. "I think it's something we can learn from," she said.

Besides the extra money, teachers in the takeover schools will benefit from a new tuition-reimbursement plan for teachers in all city schools on the state's SURR list.

A chief aim of the plan is to help attract more highly skilled instructors to those struggling schools, which have a higher ratio of uncertified staff members than the district as a whole.

Prescribed Curriculum

On the curricular front, the union and the district are crafting a prescribed curriculum to be followed in each school that has been added to the chancellor's district.

Tentative plans call for the elementary schools to feature hourlong mathematics periods and 2½-hour literacy periods.

For middle schools, 5th and 6th graders will no longer switch classrooms for core subjects but will instead remain in self-contained classrooms, under the tentative curriculum plan.

Students would also spend 90 minutes daily on the Success for All reading program as well as another 90 minutes on improving their literacy skills.

Among the schools that are being shut down, meanwhile, most will reopen with entirely new staffs and management. In addition to the four elementary schools that are closing this summer, nine others, mostly middle schools, will be phased out by June 2001.

Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 5

Published in Print: July 14, 1999, as Shakeup in N.Y.C. Puts Troubled Schools on the Hot Seat
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