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Friday, June 12, 2009

Garth Harries Leaves New York City, and This is a Good Thing

With everything else that is wrong with the current New York City public school system, Garth Harries' (pictured above outside of Tweed, NYC BOE headquarters, in the Stanford Law School alumni newspaper) inappropriate approach to public school education may seem miniscule, but he wielded great power while he was at Tweed. I certainly hope that the New Haven school system can survive his appointment as Assistant Superintendent for Portfolio and Performance Management. Somebody tell the parents to call for an audit of his expense account.

I first met Mr. Harries when he came to one of my daughter's school, NEST+M at 111 Columbia Street (see picture below).

It was 2006, and Joel Klein had announced that the Ross Global Charter Academy would be taking a part of the building for their new charter school in New York City. The NEST PTA started protesting with a website.

We parents of NEST+M said, "No you are not", and we sued the New York City Board of Education and the NY State Department of Education. We won. Of course we were helped immensely by the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was with us throughout this adventure into 'creating politics with public money' that became the lawsuit against Courtney Ross, the founder of the Ross Global Academy, and Joel Klein.

Garth came to visit the school, and I was there that day. He came with a group of people who had come to measure the number of feet in the rooms they wanted in the building. As they walked the halls of NEST, we parents cornered Garth and told him that he had to come to the auditorium and answer all of the parents' questions. He protested, but in vain. He went into the auditorium. He sat on the edge of the stage (see picture above from the Denver Post - notice the map on the floor behind him) and addressed us [parents] as if we were children. He called NEST+M "the plant" and gave us a picture of our children being widgets in a factory. He told us that we were lying about the available space in the building, and the Ross Global Charter Academy would be taking half of the school as we were less than half full. He altered the occupancy of the building more than once, alienating all of the people listening to him. He seemed totally out of touch with who we were, the children, and public school principles in general. All of us were disgusted with him after the hour we grilled him with questions. He left the auditorium in great despair, as we just didnt buy his pre-paid statements about our school.

I was also at the May 24 2006 demonstration against the charter school at Cipriani:

NEST is hardly empty, parents and students protest
By Anindita Dasgupta

On May 24, Wall St. stood divided. From 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., more than 500 parents and children crowded the street facing the Cipriani Club. Parents waved signs and chanted, “Save our NEST!” while making sure their children didn’t run into the street. Children beat pots, blew whistles and shouted at cars passing by to honk in protest. A few ran along the opposite street like mascots at a sports event, eliciting excited screams from their peers. Some still wore their uniforms (collared shirts with the NEST+m logo and crumpled khaki skirts or pants), while others donned brightly colored T-shirts with “Save our NEST” stickers attached all over them. Weary businessmen and -women looked up as two or three excited children at a time raced to hand them fliers regarding their cause.

The protesters hailed from New Explorations Into Science Technologies and Math School, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school on the Lower East Side. Upset by the Department of Education’s decision to place the new Ross Global Academy Charter School into the NEST+m building on Columbia St. for two years, members of the Parents and Teachers Association, faculty and students rallied outside the Cipriani building where Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was being honored by Graham Windham, a nonprofit organization assisting underserved children.

In an April 10 letter, Garth Harries, D.O.E.’s chief executive officer of the Office of New Schools, explained that NEST’s building is designed to serve almost two times as many students it is currently serving. According to D.O.E., the school should hold 1,407 students, but only 732 students are currently enrolled at the time.

The NEST+m parents believe there are other buildings in which D.O.E. could place the new charter school. In addition, they feel that D.O.E. made an error in calculating the number of students NEST+m would be expecting in the fall. NEST+m is a growth school, where certain grades are added each year. But the NEST+m parents say D.O.E.’s figure doesn’t include the fifth-grade class — another 111 students to be added in the fall, completely filling grades K-12. The number of incoming students from the Ross Global Academy would be 160.

However, D.O.E. spokesperson Kelly Devers explained, “It’s just at a point where they [NEST+m] are the most underutilized school in the district.”

In his letter, Harries also mentions his disappointment in NEST+m parents’ behavior, as his office received letters from angry parents claiming that during a visit from department representatives to assess space, NEST+m administrators and parents wasted class time by moving students from classroom to classroom, making it seem like there were more students than there actually were.

Several NEST+m parents called Harries’s claims “bologna” and said they were there the whole time and didn’t see any such misleading behavior.

With no agreement on the numbers, members of the NEST+m P.T.A. have lawsuits against the New York State Board of Regents, the Department of Education and Ross.

Ross Institute, based in Soho, explained that if the court ruled in favor of the NEST+m parents and overturned the Ross Global Academy charter, the school would cease to exist.

Elias Rodriguez has recently enrolled two of his children in the Ross Global Academy. He’s worried that the court proceedings may delay the opening of the school.

“The fact that we’re going to court is ridiculous!” he said. Rodriguez, who went to school in the Columbia St. building when it was a junior high school, said he believes in “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” J.H.S. 22, a failing school with dwindling enrollment, was closed about five years ago and NEST + M moved in.

The three partners responsible for creating the Ross Global Academy Charter School in New York City are the Board of Regents, D.O.E., New York University and the Ross Institute. In statements, both N.Y.U. and the Ross Institute affirmed that they had no say in site selection of the charter school.

Stuart Fischer, spokesperson for the Ross School, said, “While Ross and N.YU. wanted a location on the Lower East Side, close to their facilities, the decision to site Ross Global Academy, a public charter school, at 111 Columbia St. was made solely by D.O.E. D.O.E only informed us of our location at the end of April.”

D.O.E. spokesperson Devers explained that the number of classrooms to be allocated to the Ross school is still being decided at this point. In his letter, Harries wrote, “The set-aside [of classrooms] will allow NEST+m more than enough space and flexibility to continue delivering the same high-quality education, smaller class size and diverse curriculum that has made it such an attractive and successful option.”

“We are using every inch of the building,” said Gasco. Parents worry about keeping their small class sizes and extra-curricular activities for their children.

Harries dismissed this concern in his letter, stating: “There is no reason why the school can’t continue to operate honors and A.P. classes…. The NEST+m administration is currently working with a school programmer on its schedule and curriculum for next year, and the department has offered several scheduling/programming experts to the school in order to support that design.”

Following their initial concerns over space, members of the P.T.A. contacted individuals from Ross, D.O.E. and N.Y.U. to discuss scheduling logistics. Betsy Combier, a NEST+m parent, tried to contact D.O.E. officials as well as Ross school administrators. After two months of asking questions and getting answers she feels are inadequate, she doesn’t feel D.O.E. and the Ross school are interested in discussing how to deal with the logistical issues that will undoubtedly arise from adding another school to the building.

“I have gotten nobody who wanted to talk; no response at all. Over the last two months, it’s gotten tiring,” Combier said. “We have no other way of looking at it. It looks like a hostile takeover.”

Ross spokesperson Fischer defended their level of communication with NEST+m.

“Ross Global Academy Public Charter School has held numerous public information sessions in the community which have been attended by hundreds of parents, including parents from NEST+m,” the spokesperson said. “These information sessions…were designed to answer every single question that anyone had. We feel we have been very responsive to the community.”

Gasco explained that at each of these information sessions, a member from the NEST+m P.T.A. has approached Ross’s Mark English, who ran the sessions, and offered formal invitations to discuss plans for next year.

“We’ve been inviting them since April to talk,” Gasco said.

Despite these invitations, the Ross Global Academy doesn’t feel like NEST+m is open to discussion.

“Because of the hostility towards Ross and the subsequent litigation, we did not think it would be appropriate or constructive to meet with the leaders and parents at NEST+m and their P.T.A.,” Fischer said. “Once the litigation over the location of Ross Global Academy is resolved, we look forward to meeting with them.”

NEST+m parents want to know how the two schools will split up use of the school’s one gymnasium that is already in use all nine periods of the day by NEST+m students. There is also the question of when and how parents of each school will pick up and drop off their kids without creating traffic jams on Columbia St. Parents are also concerned about how the cafeteria staff will handle two different lunch schedules. NEST+m parents feel that giving up classrooms to Ross will be a large adjustment, but then sharing spaces that are already common to the NEST+m upper, middle and lower schools will be too much of a stretch.

The Ross school will follow the education model developed at the Ross School of East Hampton, a private school founded 15 years ago by Courtney Sale Ross and her late husband, Steven J. Ross, former chairperson and C.E.O. of Time Warner. The model focuses on improving the mind and body throughout the curriculum.

Ross officials explain that there are already 375 applicants vying for 160 seats at the planned new school. About 125 students have been enrolled. However, even though students are admitted through a lottery system, all students accepted to the Ross Academy have gone through the application process. The school will start in the fall with students in grades kindergarten, one, five and six, with plans to eventually grow to include grades K-12.

NEST+m strives to give gifted and talented students a challenging learning environment. The school’s curriculum integrates aspects like Singapore math and single-sex instruction of math and science. School administrators explain that NEST+m trains its students to be strong researchers starting in kindergarten.

Sybil Graziano, a NEST+m parent, said, “Organizing and supervising the logistics to house two schools in one building will certainly take away from the energy needed for teaching…. There are so many possible situations and scenarios that will arise that will detract from learning. Who needs these headaches?”

The issue of space and placing multiple schools in one building is not an unfamiliar concept to the Lower East Side. Last fall, three schools — P.S. 134, P.S. 137 and the Shuang Wen Academy — were involved in a dispute regarding use of two school buildings, a dispute that still has not been fully resolved. Devers explains that since 2003, D.O.E. has created 47 new charter schools, with 22 of them sharing space with other educational programs.

Rodriguez, the Ross parent, believes there may need to be some “mending of fences.”

“It is unfortunate that it had to come to this,” he said. “I think we will have to foster an environment of congeniality.”

Can He Work Education Magic?
by Melissa Bailey | June 9, 2009 7:52 AM

(Updated) Though he has but one year of classroom experience teaching in a prep school, Garth Harries was welcomed as the man New Haven can count on to turn around public education.

The 36-year-old Wunderkind made his debut performance at Monday night’s full Board of Education meeting. He was roundly welcomed and officially hired as the man who’ll usher in a new era of school reform.

In a two-minute speech, Harries explained why he’s leaving a high-powered post with the NYC school system, where he oversaw an extensive school-building initiative, for New Haven.

“There is a great foundation in this district,” said Harries, “and there is also a leadership that’s setting ambitious goals.”

Harries’ official title will be the assistant superintendent for portfolio and performance management. The job was created last month to oversee plans for far-reaching school reform, including closing the achievement gap in five years. Mayor John DeStefano has made school reform a centerpiece of his reelection campaign; the school system recently revealed the broad outline of a three-tiered “Portfolio School Initiative”, which would shift accountability onto individual schools. All the reforms the school system is talking about, including merit-based pay and closing failing schools, are still proposals, and must be agreed to first by a skeptical teacher’s union.

Schools chief Reggie Mayo said now that the “bare bones,” the “broad overview” of reform have been laid out, Harries will flesh out and implement the details.

The board promptly approved Harries’ appointment with a 5-0 vote with little discussion.

“This is the first piece of meat that we’re putting on the bones,” said board member Michael Nast, continuing Mayo’s metaphor.

In his brief speech, Harries quipped that he wouldn’t take offense to being called “meat” on bones.

Harries said he was drawn to New Haven by what he called the district’s strong foundation, built on the city’s “state of the art buildings” and data-driven learning, and by the school system’s vision for reform. He said he was convinced that the New Haven Public Schools are committed to making changes, and that the broad outline of those changes coincides with the work he’s done in New York.

“The structure of that is so consistent with my first idea of what needs to happen in public schools,” he said. “That is, that the school is the unit that matters, for teachers and kids, that’s the place that people learn. What every parent wants is a good school to send their kids. That doesn’t mean every school needs to be the same; it does mean every school needs to be good.”

Harries will begin work on July 6. He’ll make a $140,000 salary; a significant cut from his last post, where he acted as a cabinet member to the New York City chancellor of schools. In his six years at the NYC education department, Harries focused on an effort to build small schools in poorer neighborhoods. He said he oversaw the creation of over 330 district public schools and over 60 charter schools.

Harries will be returning to New Haven after getting his undergraduate degree from Yale University. He later earned a law degree from Stanford Law School; worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Company; and directed economic development projects in poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia. He also did a stint in politics, coordinating a Democratic field operation in Pennsylvania during the 1996 presidential campaign.

Classroom Time

He has one year of teaching experience, as a high school history and math teacher at the Vail Mountain School in Colorado.

When the New Haven post was created, Mayo elicited some concern by saying he wouldn’t require the new school reform czar to have teaching experience.

“If the reform plan is all about accountability, how can you ask this person to evaluate teachers if he or she hasn’t done any teaching?” asked Dave Cicarella, president of the teacher’s union at that meeting. Board member M. Ann Levett agreed with him that a person would be best qualified if they had walked in a teacher’s “moccasins.”

Harries defended his skill set Monday.

“It’s absolutely right that in doing this work, you have to experience the role of teachers,” he said. He conceded he has little comparable classroom experience — his one-year teaching gig at the elite prep school was a far cry from the New York or New Haven school districts.

“I don’t compare it to the experience that urban teachers have,” he said. However, “what’s important is the degree of empathy and understanding of teachers,” he said. He said his wife is a former schoolteacher, and he’ll be surrounded by top staff on Mayo’s team who have a lot of experience teaching in city schools. The new post, he said, will rely upon an understanding of how school “systems” work, something he’s got six years of experience with.

“Frankly, an external perspective to New Haven and its schools is an opportunity for innovation,” he said.

Harries faced a similar line of questioning when he took over his most recent NYC post, tasked with reforming special education. Special education advocates fought his appointment because he didn’t have experience in special ed.

Reached Tuesday morning, Cicarella still had reservations.

“Basically, he has no teaching experience,” said Cicarella. “This seems to be kind of the trend, that they use more management-type people” in top administrative roles, people who “want to run school systems like a business.” Sometimes those people do a good job; sometimes they don’t, he said.

Cicarella said he understands that Harries won’t directly evaluate the teachers or the principals, but “there’s still some concern” that he’ll oversee those reforms “without having any knowledge of what the teachers do.”

Levett, however, said her concerns were allayed. She said while a candidate with more teaching experience would be “desirable,” “my preference is that he has the kind of experience doing what he will be doing,” which is “moving schools to a new level of accountability.”

“I feel very comfortable with that,” she said.

Harries was also welcomed by the Wilbur Cross PTO and the parent activist group Teach Our Children.

“Mr. Harries has a reputation of building strong partnerships with parents and community organizations,” said Claudia Bosch, a TOC leader, in a statement distributed Monday night. The group asked for input in creating the “map” for reform.

Harries’ first task will be to focus on boosting test scores above state averages, according to schools spokeswoman Michelle Wade. “This will require honest assessment and tough decisions about how to implement a school-based management model, achieve and maintain the highest quality of teachers, and determination how best to address the lowest performing schools, be it closing them and reopening them as local charter schools or implementing other improvements to enhance educational opportunities for its students.”

Harries said he’s up to the task.

“New Haven has a shot at being the first district [in the nation] to close the achievement gap,” he said. He plans to flesh out the details of a school reform plan and have it ready to be implemented in September, 2010.

He said he intends to stick with New Haven for the long haul.

“School reform is a long-term endeavor,” he said. “My intention is to live a career here.”

In 2008, Garth travelled to Denver to tell the good citizens there how to take over a public school for "shared spaces":

denver and the west
Denver plans shared-school campuses
Denver studies NYC model of under-used facilities giving space to new programs
By Jeremy P. Meyer, The Denver Post
Posted: 11/09/2008 12:30:00 AM MST
Updated: 11/09/2008 02:27:01 PM MST

The highest-rated middle school in New York City is a charter school of 280 students that shares the top floor of a historically struggling public school.

The two institutions of learning could not be more different in substance and style. Yet they peacefully coexist as a shining example of New York's shared-campus concept.

"We're trying to do what's best for our kids and not worry about how the school is doing down the street," said Joseph Negron, principal of KIPP Infinity Charter School in the three-story school building on Harlem's west side.

Shared-school campuses are becoming common across the country as urban districts work to provide varied programs in cities where real estate costs have soared.

It's a plan Denver Public Schools hopes to replicate on a small scale next year.

Proponents say shared campuses can increase the number of academic offerings, develop appropriate school sizes and more effectively use building space.

In New York, KIPP Infinity's students wear uniforms, walk in single file and remain in school until 5 p.m. The walls are adorned with murals of classic book covers and inspirational messages.

A doorway serves as the boundary between KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) and the rest of I.S. 195 Roberto Clemente School — a 630-student middle school.

I.S. 195's hallways have barren walls painted uniformly yellow, and its students are gone from the building by 3 p.m. Seven years ago, I.S. 195 was considered among the worst schools in the city, with some of the lowest scores in New York. Because of its poor performance, the school's programs were changed four years ago. This year, it earned a B grade on the city's progress report.

"I don't see (KIPP) as competition," said Rosarie Jean, principal of I.S. 195. "It's children first. We have the same goal to educate children and prepare them for the 21st century. How we go about it is different."

DPS still in planning stage

Despite the success of New York's shared-campus system, Denver's idea to model the plan concerns community members who worry about the effects on existing programs.

Thursday, DPS officials will recommend placing new school programs — including charter schools — in under-enrolled Denver middle and high schools.

"As with anything new, until people actually see it, it's hard to visualize what it will be like," said DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet. "It's going to be incumbent on us to execute well."

In New York, shared-school campuses have become a way of life. Of the city's 1,500 schools, about 600 are shared campuses.

"When I have buildings that are half-empty and an opportunity to place a school in there that may create different opportunities for kids in that community . . . that's what we do," said New York schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

"Sure, you get some noise," he said. "Overwhelmingly, it's working. People made the adjustments, looked for the opportunities. That's what will happen in Denver as well."

Denver school officials have examined New York's and Chicago's shared schools, hosted school administrators from those cities, and hired a former New York charter school principal to help DPS build its program.

And they've paid particular attention to New York's system of co-location, including the city's process of defining a building's footprint, separating schools and getting principals to work together.

"People in the school don't own the building," Klein said. "The people who own the building are my 1.1 million children, who are entitled to an equitable crack at a great education."

Graduation rates have improved and dropout rates have declined in New York schools. Critics question whether the moves caused improved achievement, but there is no question students are more engaged.

5 floors, 5 successful schools

A good example of a successful shared campus is at the former Morris High School, which was a large, comprehensive high school in the south Bronx with 2,000 students and a graduation rate of between 25 percent and 35 percent.

Now, the Morris Educational Campus has a school program on each of its five floors: violin and dance; English- language learners; and others that concentrate on math, science and art.

"Has it worked?" said Wade Fuller, principal of the School of Excellence on the fourth floor. "Clearly in this building the answer is this has been a resounding success."

Now, the five schools of about 300 students each graduate between 59 percent and 85 percent of their students in four years. Each school received either an A or B grade on the city's latest progress report card.

On a recent day just before 8 a.m., teenagers flocked into the 111-year-old building, passing through metal detectors and converging into the cafeteria for the only time of day when they commingle with students from other schools.

"It's a good school," said sophomore Rahmel Hunter, 15, who attends Bronx Leadership Academy II High School because of its focus on math. "There's not a lot of jerks or fighting. If there were more kids, there would be more chaos."

The five Morris Campus principals have developed a close bond, meeting on Fridays to hash over issues about space.

"It's like we have an arranged marriage, and we all bought a used house and moved in together," said Elyse Doti, principal of Bronx Leadership Academy II on the second floor.

The most fractious issue is when each school can use the cafeteria for lunch. They rotate the schedule every year so one school doesn't get stuck with the least desirable slots of 10:30 and 12:45.

"It's working," said Charles Osewalt, principal of Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies. "The key is to make sure everyone feels it's fair."

The principals also share successful instructional practices and act as counselors for one another.

"If I'm having a hard day, Elyse will be there for me," said Tanya John, principal of the High School for Violin and Dance. "Before I go to the district, I'll call my other principals."

Critiques and compliments

On a recent weekday, boys and girls basketball tryouts were in the fifth-floor gym, where flags representing each school hung from the rafters. One flag for Morris Campus hung over center court.

"For us it works academically, but not so much athletically," said Julio Lopez, who teaches at the High School for Violin and Dance and is the Morris Bulldogs girls basketball coach. "I don't think they have as much pride as if it were one school."

Owusu Gyarkye, a math teacher at the School for Excellence who is originally from Ghana, taught at the former high school and said he has seen how the new configuration is working.

"Students weren't coming to class, only 40 percent passed the math test," he said. "Now every day you see the students and know where they are. Ninety-five percent passed the math test last year. Nobody likes change. The old system wasn't helping our kids."

Sharing kids' experiences

Across the city in east Harlem, P.S. 50 has been sharing a campus for three years with a small charter school for kids severely affected by autism.

The schools have developed a collaborative relationship, with students working inside each other's classrooms.

Natalie Kaiser, 7, left, of the New York Center for Autism Charter School, joins teacher Audra Gibson-Brown's writing class at P.S. 50 in east Harlem. The schools have a collaborative relationship, with students working in one another's classes. (Hyoung Chang | The Denver Post)

Seventh-graders from P.S. 50 take a 10-week peer mentoring course with students at the New York Center for Autism Charter School.

At least two high-functioning charter school students are included in P.S. 50 classes every week.

The result is that typical kids get an understanding of autism, and kids with autism get peer modeling, said P.S. 50 principal Rebekah Marler.

"It's cool learning and being a mentor," said seventh-grader Antonio Peña, 12, who wants to become a neuro surgeon specializing in autism. "My cousin has autism. When she wants to hit something, I'd like to know how to work with that."

Three times a week, 7-year-old Natalie Kaiser and 7-year-old Jake Soper, who both have autism, leave their individualized charter school for 20 minutes of reading in Audra Gibson- Brown's second-grade classroom.

On a recent day, Natalie walked into class and was met with hugs from her classmates.

She sat down on a rug with the rest of the children to listen to Gibson- Brown read. A charter school teacher sat close by, watching Natalie's every move to quickly correct the girl if she began to lose focus.

"Our kids have developed relationships with them," Gibson-Brown said. "It's also good for my kids because they are a little different, and it's good to be exposed to that."

Under Klein, the city has closed or is in the process of phasing out more than 80 schools. Klein said to make a district thrive is to halt failing programs.

"That's a core piece of accountability," Klein said. "Which is more painful, a school with 23 percent graduation rate that is failing the kids or the transformation you have to go through to more than double that rate? It's not even a close question."

In Denver, the district last year set up a performance framework to analyze the yearly progress of schools.

If a school is failing or is perpetually under-enrolled, several steps will be employed to fix it. One of those could be shutting it down, said Superintendent Bennet.

"It becomes one of our tools," he said. "Our preferred path is to improve our schools across the district."

Last week, seven schools throughout Denver that are being eyed for shared campuses held meetings in which parents, teachers and students asked why they would have to share their buildings with other schools.

They worried about whether the new schools would harm or undercut the current program.

New York Chancellor Klein said he's heard the complaints before. The district has faced lawsuits, marches and interventions from politicians.

But those voices typically have quieted after successful programs move in and children improve.

"The way people come on board is they understand what their options are and the framework," Klein said. "They say, 'I can sit here and curse the darkness, or I can light a candle.'

"And people are lighting candles."

Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or

One of the 9 comments:

This is classic Denver Public Schools. Decisions are made prior to community input, the media coverage is fed by District officials, and existing schools with innovative programs are ignored. The International Baccalaureate programs in their first year, should be given probationary periods with District support outside of the usual lip service, to include marketing, consultation, and appropriate planning, prior to co-locating schools. Shared location may not be a bad thing for DPS, but it needs to be done with adequate planning and attention to existing high performing programs. The taxpayers fund district officials' and board members' salaries. As such, I expect both elected and appointed officials to be well-informed and listen to the concerns of area community members.
Pamela M

Well said, Pamela, and good luck New Haven!
Betsy Combier