The final bell rang for the seven Queens Turnaround high schools as the last students passed through the doors of what the city graded as failing institutions.
Wednesday, June 27, marked the final day of class for August Martin, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown, Richmond Hill and William C. Bryant after the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close the schools in April. Seventeen other high schools around the city have also closed.
Under the Turnaround model, the schools will reopen in the fall under a new name with half the staff possibly replaced.
“I guess I’m happy that I’m the last graduating class of this high school but at the same time it’s disappointing because we’re not coming back and half of these teachers are not coming back at all,” said Newtown senior Adianes Dalle, fighting back tears. “I tried my best to keep it open… There’s no point in coming to visit because [the teachers] are not going to be here.”
The state’s Education Department approved the closings on Friday, June 22, saying they met New York’s requirements.
“I’m disappointed that I’m not going to finish my career here,” said Bryant teacher Mike Sherwood, who has been at the school for 20 years.
The Queens schools shutting their doors were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on an evaluation system.
Flushing teacher Robert Pomeranz called the Turnaround “a trick by renaming and renumbering.”
“Next year, the new school won’t have statistics that will count for another three years. It is a trick by the mayor and his flunkies.”
By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city was eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.
That funding has been provisionally approved by the state pending the outcome of arbitration.
“My conditional approval of these plans is contingent on the NYC DOE’s ability to meet the relevant staff replacement requirements, ongoing consultation and collaboration with stakeholders,” state Education Commissioner John King wrote in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
The UFT filed a lawsuit in May saying the method of replacing teachers at the turnaround schools violated their contracts.
An arbitrator will determine if the DOE has properly staffed the turnaround schools.
If the arbitrator decides against the DOE — which says it is properly following the guidelines in the teachers’ contract — the department may revisit and consider additional staff from the closed school in order to receive SIG funds. The DOE said that the fact that the state education commissioner approved the closures will be brought the arbiter’s attention.
Though the federal funding is important to supporting the new institutions, the spokesperson said, the main mission of the turnaround plan was developing a strategy to improve student achievement.
Committees composed of representatives from the UFT and DOE will make the decision on whether former teachers meet the qualifications at the new school.
The final decisions on hirings cannot be made until after the arbitrator’s decision, the UFT said, which the union expects soon.
“No final personnel decisions involving these schools can be made until the arbitrator rules on the UFT’s contention that these are not really new schools,” a UFT spokesperson said.
— Additional reporting by Chris Brito