De Blasio: Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High symbol of progress

School Renewal Program aims to turn around struggling schools

March 11, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, and Boys and Girls High School Principal Michael Wiltshire, right, listen as teacher Victoria Bozeman instructs a 12th grade English class at Brooklyn's oldest high school, Boys and Girls High School, on Tuesday.  AP Photo by Bebeto Matthews
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Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña headed to Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Boys and Girls High School on Tuesday to highlight the early progress made at 94 of the city’s least successful schools in the city’s new School Renewal Program.

De Blasio also announced that Aimee Horowitz would be the new executive superintendent for the program. He called Horowitz “a leader with a track record of turning around troubled schools and raising student achievement.”

Horowitz has most recently served as superintendent for Staten Island high schools and 14 Renewal Schools, including Boys and Girls High School and Automotive High School.

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“We announced just a few months ago, a renewal schools initiative – 94 schools, $150 million, a huge set of actions and initiatives to turn schools around – an effort that really does not resemble anything attempted previously,” he told reporters.

 “Many of these schools have been broken for years, and they won’t be fixed overnight,” he said. “But make no mistake: this strategy is working. This is why it is so vital we renew Mayoral Control and secure the fair funding our students need.”

As part of the program, Chancellor Fariña replaced 16 of 45 school superintendents, giving them the authority to hire and remove principals. Other changes include “renewal directors” that will be part of every district, more professional development, a staff developer and new principals.

“We already have seven new principals in our renewal schools, and that number will continue to grow,” she said.

Changes at Boys and Girls, which had been put on the state’s “Out of Time” to improve list, include a new, experienced principal, new Advanced Placement course offerings, climbing attendance rates, and a new Saturday Academy. The city says twice as many seniors are on track to graduate on time. Every teacher there must reapply for his or her position. The School Renewal Program also aims to include an extra hour of classroom instruction.

The Schools Renewal Program is a departure for the city’s Department of Education, which under the Bloomberg Administration was quicker to close struggling schools and replace them with smaller schools or cede the buildings to charter schools.

De Blasio stressed, instead, the connection Boys and Girls had to the community. “Generations – literally, generations of people who grew up in Bed-Stuy and surrounding communities, this was their high school,” he said. “You had families whose parents and grandparents went to the same high school as their children and grandchildren.”

Horowitz described Boys and Girls as “a school was constantly labeled as failing, labeled as a school that couldn’t make it. Our belief is a school can make it if you actually give it the things it needs.”

Charter school advocates were quick to criticize the program. Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools (FES), a charter lobbying group, said in a statement, “New Yorkers have heard this script before. Grouping together failing schools and handing them over to the bureaucracy is a recipe for failure. It failed with Mayor Giuliani’s Chancellor’s District fifteen years ago. It will fail again now.”

FES also disputes that the city will be able to provide extra classroom instruction as part of the plan. On Wednesday, the group issued a statement claiming that “the UFT continues to block extended classroom time for New York City’s children in Renewal Schools.”

“I don’t know where they’re getting that,” UFT spokesperson Richard Riley told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday. “Many schools have extended learning times under various provisions of the current contract.”

NYC DOE spokesperson Devora Kaye confirmed that more than 50 city schools had already added extra instruction time, contrary to FES’ contention.

“We have deployed academic intervention teams to overhaul curriculum, sent groups of experienced principals and assistant principals to strengthen leadership and trained over 600 teachers, while 54 schools have already added instruction time,” she told the Eagle. “We are using an aggressive set of tools to improve these historically struggling schools.”

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