NYCDOE: lousy mini-schools, by the dozen
(inspired by a post here at Rocking the School System in NYC)
In other places, or here at earlier times, good small schools were carefully created. The principal or the founding teachers shared some sort of vision of what the school would do, why it existed, how it was different from other schools. Staff were recruited who found the concepts appealing and wanted to work there.
which one of these George Washington alumni doesn’t belong: Henry Kissinger, Rod Carew, Manny Ramirez? (answer at bottom)
One nice thing about these places was their cohesiveness. Another was that kids didn’t fall through the cracks. When Johnny didn’t show up, 5 – 7 adults, maybe a fifth of the staff, were asking “Where’s Johnny” and the rest of the adults knew who they were talking about. Celia’s English teacher and Math teacher discussed ways of handling her bad behavior in class. And Anthony had a good chunk of the school concerned when his grades slipped.
“Themes” have become mostly gimmicks.
(much more, below the fold) — >Fast forward to 2000 or so, and the New York City Board of Ed or whatever it was calling itself decided that the intimacy of small schools would solve the overwhelming sense of failure in some of our poorest largest schools. (They didn’t try dropping class size, which would have helped; they didn’t deal with the horrendous overcrowding; they certainly did not address the rapid teacher turnover which plagued most of these schools.)
… the “Empowerment Zone” CEO [sic] … took an awful school and created a handful of awful mini-schools. … Those schools still exist … worse than big Monroe could have possibly been.
The first experiments (and this is before my time, so I may get the order wrong) were Andrew Jackson in Queens, then something in Brooklyn (Boys and Girls??), and Monroe in the Bronx. I know a little about Monroe: Hank Greenberg and Ed Kranepool, two great baseball players, went there. And the man in charge of breaking the school up was Eric Nadelstern. We should learn from the “Empowerment Zone” CEO [sic]. He took an awful school and created a handful of awful mini-schools. Now, on top of everything else, five principals could not even agree on bells and fire drills. Those schools still exist today. IMHO, they are awful, worse than big Monroe could have possibly been.
But the Board must have considered them a success, because they kept rolling out more. (no more Brooklyn and Queens in this post, because I don’t know much). George Washington, alma mater of Henry Kissinger, Rod Carew, and Manny Ramirez (quick, who doesn’t belong on this list? answer below), was broken into four schools (1999?) And then Morris. And then two Bronx SURR schools, Taft and Roosevelt, were targeted.
All this time remember, we have no success to point to, but we keep rolling along.
So for the Roosevelt and Taft phase ins (4 smalls in, 1 big phased out), they cap the school enrollment. Nice? Not if you are in another Bronx school. They intentionally targetted one after the other after the other Bronx high school, each time sending huge numbers of the most troubled, weakest, most disruptive students. The receiving schools were not only intentionally overcrowded, but the deans and discipline systems were systematically overtaxed, resource room and special ed were strained, and freshmen repeater classes dominated the tone of the buildings. (nb, the receiving schools were the victims, but so were these weakest students, used as pawns to disrupt another school, and sent to a building far from home).
Here Nadelstern returns, with some Gates money, and the idea that all of the Bronx will be converted into mini-schools. Why? Because of the great success they were having with top-down imposed small schools so far, of course.
Well, no. There was no success to point to. I think that they were looking to further damage public education in NYC, to help set the stage for vouchers, charters, privatization. And I think they were looking to damage the teachers union. (They’ve since backed down on the complete destruction of all of the large schools in the Bronx. But Walton, Stevenson, South Bronx, Evander, Morris, Monroe, Taft, TR, all will be gone. And several others are squeezed with mini-schools sharing their building.)
The stuff that makes carefully planned mini-schools work is totally absent in the centrally imposed, mass-produced Nadelstern-failure schools. There is no staff buy-in. Staff is pulled together last minute. “Themes” have become mostly gimmicks. And space is squeezed. These schools are not allowed to control their size (the intimacy has been lost at several that the DoE has made, incrementally, larger. ) Through the rapid closure of big schools, teachers who really wanted to stay at big schools are forced to apply. Students are placed – many, if not most, do not choose the school they end up in as their first choice. Since many students did not apply, the themes can become meaningless.
And oh, yeah. Leadership? There are some wonderful small school principals. But the DoE has more often annointed disasters from the Leadership Academy and other fast-track all-management no-school-skills programs. And when there is only 2 – 3 administrators in a building, one jerk can make the whole place stink, if it didn’t already.
There are exceptions. Some mini-schools have done quite well. They must be accidents. Or there are special circumstances.
I probably got all sorts of little details wrong, but I stand by the main ideas. Please share corrections with me.
And the trivia question: which one of these George Washington alumni doesn’t belong: Henry Kissinger, Rod Carew, Manny Ramirez?
Carew, of course, he’s the one without power.