2012-02-01 / Features

LIC HS Drops From Transformation To Turnaround Status

BY THOMAS COGAN


Current and recent LIC HS students expressed distress that the school they loved was being disparaged and threatened with dissolution. Current and recent LIC HS students expressed distress that the school they loved was being disparaged and threatened with dissolution. At a meeting January 24 in the auditorium of Long Island City H.S. in attendance believed they were fighting for the school’s existence, as they know it. LIC HS, at 14th Street and Broadway in Astoria, is one of 33 high schools in the city facing possibly radical changes. The school has been judged chronically deficient in student achievement and had been designated by the city Department of Education (DOE) as being in a state known as Transformation.

As a Transformation school, LIC HS was to have been subjected to a program, to be carried out by the principal, aimed at improving the quality of teachers’ performance. Getting such a program started depended on the success of negotiations about a system of evaluating teachers that began last summer between the DOE and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). The deadline for an agreement between the two parties was Jan. 1, 2012. Failure to achieve such an agreement would incur suspension of School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the New York State Education Department (SED), which for the DOE would mean denial of $58 million.

DOE and UFT disagreed from the start and could never close a wide gap of dispute about teacher evaluation. The year ended with no agreement, no SIG funds and much bickering about who was to blame.

Another consequence of failure to reach agreement was the DOE’s move to reexamine the status of 33 schools, LIC HS among them. All had been classified Transformation or Restart. But in a January 12 letter to State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., many copies of which were distributed at the meeting, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was reclassifying 27 of those schools, LIC HS again among them, to Turnaround, just above the lowest status, Phase-out and Closing. Turnaround classification would require closing of each school and rehiring 50 percent of its staff before reopening. The chancellor also informed the commissioner that he would apply for Turnaround at another six schools that were outside the SIG model, bringing the total back to 33 schools.

The six remaining schools would retain Transformation status because, according to Walcott, DOE would use “existing funds from non-SIG sources” to keep them at that level, even though, according to Walcott, two of those six schools have already been proposed for phase-out.

At the time of the meeting, Commissioner King had not replied to Chancellor Walcott, but everyone in attendance assumed the worst. State Senator Michael Gianaris told attendees that he was sick of seeing school students used as pawns in a battle between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the DOE on one side and the UFT on the other. He said he was a Long Island City HS graduate and got an education there good enough to prepare him for eventual entrance into Harvard Law School. His message to DOE and UFT: “Get your butts back in the room” and complete negotiations.

Vivian Selinkas, sent to the meeting from the DOE to be a network leader for the school, was not cordially received, especially as she described Turnaround, with its closing of the school and rehiring of half the staff, which was interpreted as putting the student body in suspension and stripping the teaching faculty of half its current roster.

Pedro A. Rivera of the Chancellor’s Office for Family Information and Action said he was at the meeting only to listen and report back to the DOE. He said also that at the next meeting, expected to occur in late March or April, in advance of a final decision about LIC HS and the other schools, a deputy chancellor would be present to answer questions. He also noted that the commitment to rehire 50 percent of the staff did not clearly state that half the faculty would be removed and replaced; that, indeed, its meaning was quite unclear.

Current and recent LIC HS students expressed distress that the school they loved was being disparaged and threatened with dissolution. Parents who said LIC HS had been good for their children were angry that the DOE might leave them displaced. Teachers and other adults who pointed to commendable achievements by the students and the school in general believed LIC HS was about to suffer a great injustice. Selinkas replied that students, teachers and parents in other Turnaround schools felt just as passionate about their institutions and their current predicament. The Brooklyn high school from which she graduated is among the troubled 33. At her alma mater, she said, people had formed a “Friends of” group to defend their school as much as possible. She suggested that a similar group be formed for LIC HS.

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