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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Grover Cleveland HS Crowd Trashes ‘Turnaround’

Veteran teacher Russell Nitchman believes the moves at Cleveland and other schools are an attack on the teachers’ union

From Betsy Combier:
what's interesting here is the travel of Grover Cleveland HS Principal Denise Vittor. Is she the "turnaround principal"?
Cleveland HS Crowd Trashes ‘Turnaround’
Grover Cleveland High School Principal Denise Vittor was impressing on parents and students the importance of preparing for the upcoming Regents exams last Monday.
“It is important that you show up, and that you succeed,” she said. “Because everyone is watching.”
Back in the fall, Vittor was installed as principal at the struggling school, which was newly categorized as a “restart” school, with three years to begin turning student performance around.
Four months later the Department of Education has reclassified the school and others as “turnaround” institutions, meaning half the teachers will be reassigned or terminated and a new school or collection of smaller schools will be created for the 2012-13 year.
Rosemary Stuart, left, Charles Amundsen and Vivian Selenikas of the Department of Education before a concerned crowd at Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood. They explained the city’s rationale and regulations for forming a new school in the building.

At the meeting on Monday, in the school’s library, parents, teachers and students accused the city and DOE officials of sacrificing the school in a money grab.
They accused the Bloomberg administration of deliberately walking away from negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers in order to get the impasse needed to have Gov. Cuomo threaten to cut off more than $50 million in federal aid for failing schools.
The aid is contingent on the city and the union agreeing on a review and evaluation process to weed out poor and underperforming teachers.
DOE officials Charles Amundsen, Rosemary Stuart and Vivian Selenikas, who have worked with the school, told the crowd of more than 100 that “turnaround” is the only option for keeping the school open.
“The money isn’t available for a restart school,” Stuart said.
They said a board comprised of DOE appointees, UFT representatives and members of the school community would meet to draft guidelines for the design of a new school which may or may not retain the Grover Cleveland name.
It could be broken down into smaller schools all housed on the Himrod Street campus, or could have aspects of charter or magnet programs.
They said no students would lose their seats in a new school, and that not every teacher removed would be kicked out of the system.
“It doesn’t mean that person is a bad teacher,” Amundsen said. “It might just mean you are not a good fit for this school.”
Stuart said the 50 percent mark is set in stone, based on both federal turnaround regulations and the UFT contract.
“One says we must change at least 50 percent and the other says no more than 50 percent,” she said.
Student President Diana Rodriguez asked how a shakeup of dedicated teachers would change conditions in the school district like language barriers and poverty.
“Twenty-three percent of the students here are ESL (English as a Second Language) students,” she said. “How do you change that?”
Stuart said it would be up to the new board to take that into consideration when forming the new school.
Parent Iliza Dabkowski said the turnaround model has failed in the Chicago school system.
“Why do you want to start a system that has already failed somewhere else?” she asked.
Teacher Tony Cipolla said the teachers are not the problem, and that the staff is dedicated to the students.
“I’ve been here for nine years, and I want to stay for another 29,” he said.
Biology teacher Russell Nitchman asked where the city thinks it is going to get an influx of qualified new math and science teachers, which are in short supply in much of the country.
Nitchman considers the move a direct attack by the Bloomberg administration on the teachers’ union.
“Last year the mayor and his people and his money went up to the governor and tried to block tenure,” he said. “They want to get rid of expensive, senior teachers because they can hire two new teachers for what they pay a senior teacher.”

Queens Vocational and Technical High School

37-02 47 Avenue 
Queens NY 11101 Map
Phone: (718) 937-3010 
Website: Click here
Principal: Melissa Burg
Neighborhood: Long Island City
District: 24
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent Coordinator: Miriam Medina
PC phone: x1021

What's special:

Maintains a sense of community while preparing students to work

The downside:

Academics could be stronger


Free Lunch:
Admissions: Open to New York City residents/educational option programs
Ethnicity %:
Graduation Rate:
English Language Learners:
Special Education:
College Ready:

Insideschools review

NOVEMBER 2010 UPDATE:  The Department of Education in June 2010 announced a new strategy for eleven low-achieving schools, including Long Island City High School.  As part of this "transformation" method, Principal Denise Vittor was removed and replaced byMelissa Burg.  Queens Vocational will be receiving $1,300,508 as part of the Obama Administration’s School Improvement Grants Fund for transforming low-performing schools.
2007 REVIEW:  With a spacious new addition opened in 2005, Queens Vocational and Technical High School provides new laboratories and workshops for courses that prepare students for careers as plumbers, electricians, computer technicians, graphic artists and cosmetologists. The building is clean, calm, and safe. The shop classes are the pride of the school; academic classes, however, lack the hands-on learning that marks the technical classes.
Many of the teachers graduated from Queens Vocational and some even have children at the school, which lends a family feel to the building. Most of workshops have state-of-the-art technology. In the electrical shop, for example, each student gets his (or her) own station where they work on increasingly difficult projects throughout the year. In one class, a student showed us how he was connecting multiple light sources into a single on/off switch. In plumbing, each student is required to build a working bathroom complete with a shower, sink and toilet right in the workshop. Kids seemed engaged and eager to help one another. In a plumbing class, kids fit pipes, while in a beauty salon open to the community one day a week, students curl hair and give manicures. The student population is about 60% male, 40% female.
All 9th graders get an introduction to the trades in the "School of Exploration and Discovery" before picking a major. Options include Entrepreneurial Studies (business, cosmetology/salon management, and virtual enterprise), Computer and Electronic Engineering Technologies (electronics, computer technology, robotics and graphic arts) and Skilled Building Trades (plumbing and electrical installation). All students must have internships, and state certification is offered in all programs. In addition, many students leave high school with union affiliations.
The strong emphasis on technical education at the school may come at the price of the academics. Two students told us that they put up with their academics only because of the school's occupational offerings. The problem has been compounded by high teacher turnover in academic subjects, unlike the stable cadre of technical teachers. Principal Denise Vittor acknowledges that the school will need to do a lot of work to get all students to pass Regents exams with a 65, as stipulated by new graduation requirements.
To address the academics and to make the large school experience more intimate Vittor, principal since 2001, has organized the school into "small learning communities." Teachers in each community have common planning time which is used to help integrate the academic curriculum with the technical education. The common planning time also gives teachers a chance to talk about individual students who may need extra guidance.
The principal has also instituted an unusually successful "credit recovery program" for about 70 students who had to repeat 9th grade. Classes in this program have two teachers and 15 to 20 students. Vittor said most of the students were promoted to the 10th grade and some even entered the 11th grade after completing the program.
Students have a long day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with 10 classes, some of them taught in three to four-period blocks. This leaves little time for extracurricular activities but there are sports teams, including boy's soccer, handball and baseball and girl's softball. The school has partnerships with a variety of businesses that provide internships such as Turner Construction, the MTA, NASA, ConEd and Washington Mutual bank. Two partnerships withNon-Traditional Employment for Women (NEW), and Legal Momentum are aimed at encouraging female students to go into the building trades. Vittor tells us the number of girls in that program has jumped from 4 to 18.
The school's suspension rate is high but Vittor notes that most of her suspensions are for minor infractions. "I suspend for things that other principals don't," she said. "A student may be suspended for insubordination." Few students walk the hallways and even the cafeteria was relatively calm.
Special Education: The school offers self-contained classes for special education students as well as CTT (collaborative team teaching) and SETSS (special education teacher support services) classes. All special education students are integrated into the technical classes.
Admissions: The school accepts students from across the city. The 9th grade exploratory program is an educational option program, accepting a mix of low and high achieving students, but there are also two selective programs: Cosmetology and Computer Technology.
College admissions: Many students go to work as soon as they graduate, and some use their wages to help pay for college. About 70% go to college, many of them attending community colleges, or local schools such as Hunter, Baruch, or St. John's University. A recent class valedictorian went to Columbia University. (Leah Gogel & Pamela Wheaton, October 2007)

Fed school dunces

Last Updated:11:50 AM, August 18, 2010
Posted:3:04 AM, August 18, 2010
Five city principals with stellar reviews are set to get bounced from their high schools under a federal school-turnaround program that some critics liken to putting a bounty on principals' heads.
The rules of the new School Improvement Grants program require that principals of struggling schools be yanked -- high ratings be damned -- in order for the city to collect up to $6 million in federal funds per school.
Only the newest of the principals at 11 schools identified by the city for the first phase of the program -- which would bring in $66 million over three years for the cash-strapped school system -- are exempt from getting the boot.
But among the school leaders who have been told their days are numbered is FDR HS principal Geraldine Maione, whose Brooklyn school hasn't been rated lower than a "B" since she took over in 2005 and who "exceeded" her city-set performance targets in both 2008 and 2009.
Even as the school's population of non-native English speakers has ballooned to comprise 41 percent of the 3,500 students, its graduation rate has climbed by nearly 12 percentage points -- to roughly 60 percent -- under Maione, according to FDR staffers.
"When I heard about her removal, I was shocked because everyone loved her," said Edon Gjonbalaj, 17, a recent graduate.
Other principals rated highly by the city but facing the ax include Denise Vittor at Queens Vocational and Technical HS, William Bassell at Long Island City HS in Queens, and Carlston Gray at Brooklyn's Grady Career and Technical Education HS.
A fifth commended principal, Larry Wilson of Bread & Roses Integrated Arts HS in Manhattan, left the school for unrelated reasons in June, according to Department of Education officials.
"These are principals that have very good records -- both as leaders of buildings that have good progress reports . . . as well as good personal evaluations," said principals union vice president Peter McNally.
A city schools spokesman said: "While we recognize the tension in some cases between continuing the promising work of a principal and the federal regulations, we are actively working on a solution to meet both of those needs."
These principals may be removed if the city wants to get federal school turnaround dollars.
* Principal Geraldine Maione
School: FDR HS in Brooklyn
Performance rating 2008 and 2009 by school superintendents: Exceeds targets both years
School stats: Graduation up from 48% in 2005 to 60% this year — two B’s and an A on school report cards
* Principal Denise Vittor
School: Queens Vocational and Technical HS
Performance rating 2008 and 2009 by school superintendents: Exceeds targets both years
School stats: Graduation up from 58% in 2003 to 73% in 2009 — two B’s on latest school report cards
* Principal William Bassell
School: Long Island City HS in Queens
Performance rating 2008 and 2009 by school superintendents: Exceeds targets both years
School stats: Three B’s on school report cards



Anonymous said...

I can and will only hope for the best at Grover Cleveland High School. It is the school I graduated from and the school I first taught in. I know a number of teachers still there who are passionate and dedicated educators who through no fault of their own are but pawns in a game the corrupt mayor of the city is playing. How tragic, useless, empty and utterly insane this all is if these once great schools who have struggled NOT DUE TO THE TEACHERS but due to the obvious socioeconomic factors that we all know exist but our leaders in politics refuse or are just COWARDS to admit.

Anonymous said...

These issues, and how the UFT and the community should respond to these attacks on public education and the teaching profession will be discussed at the "State of the Union" conference (a coalition effort), next Saturday, February 4, at the Graduate Center for Worker Education, 25 Broadway, 7th Floor,
For more information and registration info, visit the event's page,
On Facebook:

Anonymous said...

Grover Cleveland HS needs a new principal Denise Vittor SUCKS! She was banned from Queens Vocational HS because it was a low performance school. Then reassigned to Grover Cleveland HS which is now a low performance school. Principals like this need to me fired.