NYC Appoints New Principals for Two Renewal Schools

(Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

(Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

The New York City Education Department has appointed principals to two of the city's lowest-performing high schools in an effort to get the school turnaround effort back on track.

Boys and Girls High School and Automotive High School, which are both in Brooklyn, will be seeing new leaders amid a reinvigorated turnaround effort. Kate Taylor reports for The New York Times that Grecian Harrison, an assistant principal at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, will be interim acting principal at Boys and Girls.

She will take the place of Michael Wiltshire, head from October 2014 through July 1, 2016, who was named a master principal and continued to lead his previous school, Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, as well. The arrangement created controversy and Dr. Wiltshire eventually returned to full-time service at Medgar Evers.

Some alumni, parents, and teachers would have preferred to have Allison M. Farrington, principal of Research and Service High School, a transfer school located in the same building. The fact that they did not get their choice of administrators has caused more than a little angst. The Education Department said officials would continue to talk with everyone involved.

The department is assigning Kevin Bryant as master principal of Boys and Girls. He is principal of Frances Perkins Academy, a small school that shares space with Automotive. He will replace Caterina Lafergola, who resigned over union conflicts.

Bryant will also continue being principal at Frances Perkins and will be paid an extra $25,000 in addition to his current salary of $145,748. For now, the arrangement is for just one year, but it is possible that it will be renewed.

Ms. Harrison spent 13 years as assistant principal of Alfred E. Smith and will earn $143,664 at Boys and Girls.

Experts in school turnarounds say strong, stable leaders are critical for fixing broken schools, but some say it is preferable to close struggling schools and start over again.

A symbol of Mayor Bill de Blasio's turnaround efforts has been Boys and Girls, and, according to the Department of Education, it has made gains. Graduation rates rose to 50% in the school year 2014-15 from 42% in 2013-14.

Its enrollment dropped from almost 3,700 eight years ago to a projected 269 in the fall, reports Leslie Brody for The Wall Street Journal.

Both schools are part of de Blasio's plans to improve 94 "renewal" schools through the use of teacher training, longer school days, and social services. The mayor has said that he will spend $200 million annually on this effort over and above the schools' regular budget.

Wiltshire, according to Selim Algar of the New York Post, left Boys and Girls surrounded by accusations of bumbling a school sexual harassment case. He did, however, cut suspensions and raise graduation rates while at the renewal school.

The Department of Education was depending on Boys and Girls to be the star of its Renewal School reform project. The departure of Wiltshire was a blow to the initiative, but the positioning of the new administrators may set in motion continued improvement.

"These are the right principals to continue the hard work of turning a school around," Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. "I know they'll be strong instructional leaders and support students, teachers, and families."

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