Dewey up in arms over DOE plan for school

February 7, 2012 Heather Chin
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John Dewey High School may close and reopen under a new name,according to a new plan announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg andthe city Department of Education (DOE) last month that would forcethe school to undergo a turnaround process that would alsoreplace or eliminate up to 50 percent of the teachers.

Dewey is one of 33 city public schools targeted for the plan,which has drawn intense ire from teachers, parents and students,who have taken to protesting weekly outside the school on FightBack Fridays, in meetings with High School Superintendent AimeeHorowitz and elsewhere.

A main point of contention is the fact that the school isalready one of a few schools chosen last May to undergo a differenttransition model called restart, which brought $2 million peryear in federal funds and a private nonprofit management companycalled Institute for Student Achievement (ISA) to manage theschool.

Dewey was targeted because matriculation rates are slower andthe graduation rate fell below 60 percent, but we have thecollege-readiness and as many course offerings in AP classes as[highly-rated schools in the area], said history and psychologyteacher James Harmon. The ISA has brought more structure toschedules, $2 million for tutoring, and [possibly] a return of theculinary arts program, the theatre program and the engineeringprogram.

Such changes are slated to continue should the turnaround planbe approved by the state education department, say city officials.But that doesn’t stop the school community from feeling depressed,say staff.

They’re breaking the morale of teachers and students, saidWade Goria, an 18-year veteran social studies teacher. Studentsare always wondering, where am I going to be next year? Where willDewey be?

According to data from DOE Progress Reports, Dewey has receiveda C overall rating every school year since 2008, but has a 30percent college-readiness rate for the approximately 60 percent ofthe student population that graduates. That surpasses the citywideaverage of 21.5 percent college-readiness.

At a recent meeting between parents, alumni and school districtofficials, some parents said they would be contacting lawyers justin case the DOE does in fact get approval to implementturnaround. The next stage of approval will be up for a vote bythe DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) on April 26. Ifpassed, then the measure would go to the state.

In the meantime, the teachers’ union, the United Federation ofTeachers (UFT), has filed a lawsuit against the DOE on behalf ofall 33 schools, and is sending representatives to let teachers knowwhere the UFT stands on the issues.

The DOE’s decision comes amidst stalled negotiations with theUFT, over how teachers would be evaluated under differenttransition models.

Elected officials are also weighing in, with Council SpeakerChristine Quinn, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer speaking outagainst the proposed closures.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz also sent a letter toChancellor Dennis Walcott criticizing the turnaround decision andstating that although it is unfair to suddenly move the goalposts for school success.

My office is being flooded by outraged parents, teachers andstudents crying foul, he wrote. While I know these schoolsstarted out on the State’s persistently low achieving schools’list, we should all be celebrating their success, not closing themand letting go the very people who turned the school around.

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