September 14, 2010

Yonkers, Syracuse to share $10 million in federal school improvement grants

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
Caption: Yonkers Federation of Teachers president Pat Puleo talks to students at Yonkers Montessori Academy. File photo by Maria R. Bastone.

Yonkers, Syracuse to share $10 million in federal school improvement grants

Syracuse and Yonkers are the first two New York schools to be notified of awards from federal School Improvement Grants for the lowest achieving schools; Syracuse will receive $6 million for the current school year; Yonkers will receive $4 million.

The awards, announced by state Education Commissioner David Steiner, are to be used to follow four models for either restarting schools, turning them around, transforming them or closing them (see details below). Fifty-seven persistently lowest-achieving schools in seven New York school districts were invited to apply.

NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi and Vice President Maria Neira presented information at an educational meeting earlier this year with local union presidents from struggling districts to prepare them for the grant application process.

"NYSUT really went out of its way to bring local presidents together from districts that might qualify," said Yonkers Federation of Teachers President Pat Puleo. "They prepped us like we prep students."

Syracuse TA President Kevin Ahern noted that the local union was very involved in meetings and hiring a design team to create the winning application. "We hope this will help the schools," he said. "We hope the state will help us with this process."

The Syracuse grant money will be split among three schools that will implement the transformation model:

  • Fowler High School will now be focused on community involvement and strategies for working with English language learners. Teachers will also be doing home visits after school.
  • Hughes Elementary will now be K-8, since Syracuse closed one of its middle schools due to declining enrollment. It will focus on professional collaboration and community, Ahern said. Academic and study skills will be stressed. Like Fowler, the school day will be extended for teachers in order to pursue professional development.
  • Delaware Academy will shift to experiential learning with a project-based curriculum. Students will learn from real experience and outside projects, adopting a model from a small city middle school. Money will be set aside for dedicated building substitute teachers for when permanent teachers have professional development, ensuring that students stay on point. Students will also have a longer school day.

In Yonkers, Puleo has been meeting since June with school administrators to prepare ways to improve two schools that leaders had hoped would be supported by this funding. "There was dedication of union and administrative staff to find some solution," she said. Equally dividing the $4 million grant and choosing the transformation and turnaround models, Emerson Middle School and Roosevelt High School were each reopened this week with new grade levels, a new philosophy, new evaluation process for teachers, longer school days and some reassigned teachers.

The high school, beginning this year with the ninth grade class, is becoming an Early College High School where students have the potential to graduate with an associate degree. Previously, the school had a very small component of dual-credit courses.

Now, Puleo said, it will be "the major theme of the high school and the thrust of all classes to make sure students have support systems and ability to gain college credit." The school day will run from 7:30 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.

Transforming the school will be complete once each grade has moved on, so as to keep students in a stable environment, Puleo said.

Funding will be used for "a major increase in professional development with after-school, weekend and summer training," she said. A consultant will be a liaison between teacher and administrators and the central office to oversee professional development.

"And hopefully there will be funding for a librarian (at the new K-8 school)," Puleo said. "None of our elementary schools have librarians. It will be very much an uphill battle to inspire a love of reading when so much is being taken from students."

This year 90 Yonkers teachers and librarians were cut because of the lack of state funding, even after 140 retirements, Puleo said. She said the district has lost 15 percent of its staff, including art and music teachers, school counselors and a psychologist staff cut in half.

The funds are part of more than $308 million made available to New York this spring through the U.S. Department of Education's School Improvement Grant Fund under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, from money set aside in the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The four models available to lowest performing school grant recipients are:

  • RESTART MODEL: Convert a school or close it and re-open it as a charter school or under an education management organization.
  • TURNAROUND MODEL: Replace the principal, screen existing school staff, and rehire no more than half the teachers; adopt a new governance structure; and improve the school through curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time, and other strategies.
  • TRANSFORMATION MODEL: Replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and, by the end of the 2010-11 school year, amend any existing collective bargaining agreement as necessary to require that teachers (or building principals where applicable) assigned to these schools be evaluated in the 2011-12 school year and thereafter in accordance with recently enacted legislation pertaining to principal and teacher evaluation.
  • SCHOOL CLOSURE: Close the school and send the students to higher-achieving schools in the district.

Yonker's application can be found on the SED website at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/nclb/programs/titleia/sig1003g. the Syracuse application will be online at the same page soon.