Fariña Says School Renewals Making a Difference in New York City


New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña touted the city’s efforts to overhaul struggling schools this week at a hearing of the City Council Education Committee at City Hall. In November of 2014, the city earmarked $150 million for extra resources such as more teachers and extended school days at 94 troubled schools.

Ben Chapman writes for the New York Daily News that Fariña said money has been the catalyst for better academic outcomes at many of the schools. The chancellor said there was renewal taking place in the city. She added that the goal was to see some improvement at all schools in some way or another.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the plan for fixing NYC’s distressed schools in a policy speech a year ago. The program he unveiled affects every borough’s schools except Staten Island. The city budget funds the program.

The mayor’s outline for renewal includes making school days an hour longer, providing extra tutoring for students in need, adding new support services such as health care and social workers, and providing professional development for classroom teachers and administration.

Although some of the plans are already in place at some at-risk schools, this is the first time they will be rolled out on a large scale. Schools targeted, said Fariña, are already exhibiting higher attendance rates, fewer disciplinary issues, and higher test scores.

Critics of the renewal say it offers too little, too late for students in the 94 struggling schools. Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of the pro-charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, said in a statement about Fariña’s testimony:

“Today, the chancellor was clearly unable to prove any academic progress in failing schools, more than a year after Mayor de Blasio first announced the Renewal Schools program.”

Fariña said chronic absenteeism in the 94 targeted schools is down by three percentage points. She continued by stating that many of the schools sent staff members door to door in their districts’ neighborhoods to encourage families’ involvement in their children’s education, writes Beth Fertig of WNYC Public Radio.

Some of the schools also have English as a Second Language courses for adults in the children’s families, along with GED classes, yoga, and Zumba. And Department of Education workers continue to visit the schools to assess if effective leaders and teachers are available to the students.

Renewal schools are likely to have a higher number of English Language Learners, special needs students, and students in temporary housing. Each school has access to a director who provides support for instruction.

Fariña said again that she was not averse to shaking up leadership in these schools if a school does not meet academic ratings throughout the three-year Renewal program process. Fariña said her staff is always monitoring student performance.

The Renewal program approach is sharply different from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s idea to close struggling schools and replace them with smaller new schools and charters.

The New York Post’s Rich Calder writes that Fariña said she is not willing to wait three years before closing a low-performing school that is not showing improvement. One year is crucial to see if the proper leadership is in place and the best teachers are in the classrooms. She noted that the system could not afford to have a child in a school where he or she is not getting what is needed for over two years.

Before the three-year program comes to an end, it is expected to cost almost $400 million, reports Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York.

Class Size Matters, an advocacy group, published an analysis that found that 60% of the Renewal schools had some classes with 30 or more students. The contractual limit for grades one to six is 32. Fariña said one solution is to place extra staff in classrooms that require lower student-teacher ratios.