This GothamSchools story has everything: missing classes, mixed up schedules, poor leadership, a music room turned into a dump for thousands of unused books, and high school students wielding toilet plungers. I spent a full week visiting the school and interviewing dozens of students and staffers to get the story:
Manhattan’s long-struggling High School of Graphic Communication Arts was supposed to turn a corner this year. But instead, students and staff throughout the school say a recent string of poor leadership decisions is threatening the school’s ultimate fate.
The toilet plungers that students were told to wield as hall passes last month — until the Department of Education ended the practice — are a distressing symbol of much larger problems at the school, they say.
A month into the school year, longstanding programs are in disarray, materials and personnel are languishing unused, and many students have had such inconsistent schedules that their teachers say they have learned far less than they should have by now.
“They are all so off-track right now that the first projects we have, I can’t really truly grade them as I normally would,” one teacher said about students. “I’m going to have to try to make up the knowledge somehow, but I don’t know how yet. They should be much further along than they are now.”
GothamSchools spoke with nearly a dozen newly hired and veteran staff members under the condition of anonymity, as well as other people close to the school. The staffers span the school’s grade levels, program offerings, and organizational hierarchy.
All said that the ultimate responsibility for the problems should fall on Principal Brendan Lyons, who took over at the school last year and was the department’s pick to lead it through “turnaround.” The aggressive overhaul process for 24 schools was halted this summer after an arbitrator ruled the city’s plans violated its contract with the teachers union. Read the rest here.
—Phil Weinberg, the principal of Brooklyn’s High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology.
Like many city principals, he tries to offer a summer program to incoming ninth graders to give them a jump start on the transition from middle to high school. But funding the program is always a struggle, and only about a third of his incoming class can participate.
The writer Thomas Beller knows how I feel. He splits his time between New York City, the place he calls home, and New Orleans, the place where he has a house.
I split my time between Chicago—my first love, the place of dozens of friendships, loves, memories, streets and storefronts that would embrace me if they could—and New York City, ostensibly my home because it’s where I have an apartment, a job, a hopeful future.
When I am here, I am straining to meet professional expectations and embody the lifestyle traits of other college-educated 20-something women. It’s the fabled Big City life you can see mocked and aggrandized everywhere on TV right now.
When I am there, everyone wants to know how long I’ve been there, when I’m leaving, whether I have time for coffee or lunch or something else. I never have enough time but there’s always another visit lurking two to eight weeks around the corner. One friend says he sees me more now that I’ve moved out. (Maybe that’s just because I really like his company).
Beller gets it (From the NYTimes magazine):
The question, “Are you still here?” made me feel like I was being rushed at a nice restaurant. If you divide your time between two distant points on a map, “here” is a loaded word. …
The first notable, strange thing about living in two places is that whenever you are “here,” you carry within you a “there.”…
The new Yorkers miss us at first when we leave, and greet us warmly when we return. In between, they have lives of which we are not part. Did they think of us any less than they would have if we were 20 blocks away? Maybe not, because we are still in touch by phone and email, and actually seeing someone is a rare occurrence. But maybe yes. Without really noticing the change, my wife and I had come to look at our New York friendships as hothouse flowers, lovely indulgences in need of sun and water.
Mitch Kurz is a math teacher and a college counselor, but the lessons he teaches don’t fall neatly into either subject area.
He and I spoke recently for a story I wrote for GothamSchools about the college readiness class he teaches at a small, South Bronx public school:
“On a recent winter morning, Kurz asked students in his college readiness class to describe their dreams. On the board, he wrote, “What do your dreams mean?” followed by “Sigmund Freud” and a list of vocabulary words more typical of a Psychology 101 class: id, ego, superego.
Most of Kurz’s two dozen South Bronx juniors and seniors had not heard of these concepts before. But after a semester learning a hodgepodge of lessons from Kurz meant to ease the transition to college — covering everything from the dreidel game, to basic French, to the elevator pitch — students say they come into class expecting the unfamiliar.
The class, which Kurz calls “Assimilation,” is meant to ease the transition to college for students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math, a small school with many poor students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The school emphatically urges all graduates to enroll in college, and the vast majority do — but they suffer the same academic and financial challenges that low-income, first-generation students often face. Nationally, 89 percent of those students who enter college leave without a degree within six years.”
Increasing students’ likelihood of graduating from college has emerged as a major frontier in education policy. The city’s approach is to toughen high school preparation so students have a better shot of handling the rigor of college-level work. Others, such as the KIPP network of charter schools, believe the problem lies more in students’ capacity to handle challenges and have developed programs to bolster traits such as resilience and “grit” that seem correlated with college success.
At Kurz’s school, academic standards are important, and so is character. But Kurz adds an additional approach.