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Friday, June 17, 2016

Bernard Gassaway Becomes the Reason Why Nothing is Going Right At the NYC DOE - After He Says NYC has No Education Plan

Bernie has been saying that the NYC DOE needs helps for years. I spoke with him after he resigned as Superintendent, and he was saying then that the NYC DOE was a mess.

Bernard Gassaway

There is just no accountability for any failures by the DOE chiefs, of which there are too many. Why do we need Tweed hiring anyone for too much money?

What a waste of public money.

Keep talking, Mr. Gassaway!

Betsy Combier

Bernard Gassaway, left, talks about his resignation with Errol Louis

Principal of Failing Brooklyn School Quits, Saying City Lacks an Education Plan

The latest indictment of the Department of Education's management of failing schools was personified last week by Bernard Gassaway, the recently self-retired principal of Boys and Girls High School.
As he stepped down after five tortured years at the helm of the storied Bed-Stuy school, Gassaway took a verbal backhand to the DOE for failing to produce a plan to turn around the chronically failing school.
Predictably, the DOE shot back that Gassaway was the problem and that the they were planning to get rid of him anyway. But the hard truth is that we as a community – from DOE policy makers, Gassaway and school leadership to the parents and surrounding community-based institutions – ultimately failed the students of Boys and Girls and have been doing so for years.
I believe that the wider community of parents, teachers and neighborhood-based institutions - not just a singular principal or a fix-all plan handed down from Mount Tweed - has the resilience to produce a thriving learning environment if it is engaged through an effective community school model.
The mayor, having promised 100 community schools, has already designated 42 of them. Boys and Girls, in a cluster with other schools in the area, should be included in the next round.
Boys and Girls offers robust services as many community schools do, and is the site of countless community events. It also has the support of local politicians. However it struggles to offer the high academic standards and broad collaboration that are essential elements of effective community schools.
Specifically, parents and the surrounding community have remained under-informed regarding the school and under-engaged in determining its fate. A community school is not just a school within a neighborhood, but an academic and socio-economic hub for the surrounding community. Is this yet another supposed solution-in-a-box? No.
A community school model doesn't suddenly address all the challenges posed by poverty, institutional racism, and DOE bureaucracy. For instance, Boys and Girls will continue to fail under any plan, under any leader, if it continues to be used as the high school of last resort. But with adequate resources, intelligently invested in a community school model, Boys and Girls can begin to address the physical and emotional needs of not just the whole child, but the whole family.
While the Children's Aid Society in New York and Community in Schools, a national network of community schools, provide evidence that community schools demonstrate higher academic achievement levels, the model ultimately rises and falls on the strength and organizing skills of the community behind it.
This is a critical moment in the transition for Boys and Girls, which just named Gassaway's replacement. We've all seen principals, who, from a single centralized command, keep parents at a distance, see community institutions simply as service providers rather than partners, and treat peer schools as competitors. With so much pressure to meet city and state standards, schools often morph into fortresses and focus their attention inward. In effective community schools, principals are not dictators, but savvy community organizers and collaborators who know how to harvest the talent of the people and organizations around them.
Neither a new principal nor a new plan by the DOE will alone "fix" Girls and Boys. But within a community school framework, they can both provide a rare opportunity to re-think how to build investment and accountability among a broader set of people deeply engaged in the success of a school.
Mark Winston Griffith is the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a community organizing group developing leadership among Central Brooklyn parents.

Principal of Failing Brooklyn School Quits, Saying City Lacks an Education Plan

The principal of a long-struggling high school in Brooklyn handed in his resignation this week —
and offered Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Education Department one of its sternest public rebukes yet.

“The problem is, there is no plan,” the principal, Bernard Gassaway of Boys and Girls High 
School, said of the city’s approach to struggling schools. “They’re making it up as they go 

Mr. de Blasio and the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, have distanced themselves 
aggressively from the approach taken by the administration of former Mayor Michael R. 
Bloomberg to the city’s worst performing schools, which rested primarily on closing them 
and replacing them with new, generally smaller ones. But Mr. Gassaway’s critique, perhaps 
the first of Ms. Fariña’s tenure to be made so loudly by an insider, comes amid growing 
questions about what the city plans to do instead.

Boys and Girls, which has existed in some form since 1878 and is Bedford-Stuyvesant’s 
main high school, has a long list of distinguished alumni, including Shirley Chisholm, Norman Mailer and Aaron Copland. But in recent years, its reputation has become checkered.

In 2005, a class-action lawsuit against the city alleged that some students at Boys and Girls 
were essentially warehoused in an auditorium for large portions of the day, segregated from 
the rest of the students and not given enough opportunity to earn the credits needed to graduate. 
The suit was settled in 2008; the city did not admit any wrongdoing.

In the last three school years of Mayor Bloomberg’s term, Boys and Girls received three F 
grades, based on student performance, college and career readiness, student progress and other metrics. In the spring, Boys and Girls, along with Automotive High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was classified by the state as being “out of time” to turn itself around and given a 
handful of options, including shutting the school down, converting it to a charter school and 
replacing its administration.

That was under Mr. Gassaway’s watch, but he said that the school received dismal results 
because the most difficult students in the system were routinely assigned there, in unusually 
large numbers.

Whatever the reason, the atmosphere at the school — where enrollment has plummeted to about 
800 students from over 2,000 in 2009, Mr. Gassaway said — could stand improvement.

“There’s enough security,” said Eli Bradley, 18, a student at Boys and Girls. “That’s about it.”

Another student at the school, a 16-year-old junior who declined to give his name for fear of 
reprisal, said on Friday that he was transferring.

“The school could be better, the teaching could be better, the resources could be a whole lot 
better,” he said, pointing to ragged, overgrown tennis courts nearby. “I’m going to transfer soon. 
They don’t give you a lot of opportunity here.”

Mr. Gassaway said the de Blasio administration did not provide a coherent vision of how it 
planned to improve Boys and Girls, and he said the approaches the city planned to use, like 
social services for the students and increased professional development for the staff, were not sufficient. (Mr. Gassaway has not been shy about criticizing the Education Department. A 
former superintendent under Mr. Bloomberg, he publicly rebuked that administration after 
leaving the post.)

His voice joins a small chorus of those questioning the city’s plans for struggling schools, 
and for struggling high schools in particular. Last week, charter school supporters held a rally 
to call attention to the city’s failing schools and to demand that the city come up with a strategy 
to address them. Mr. Bloomberg often gave charter schools the space freed up by the closing of schools.

“The D.O.E. is innovating and investing to improve achievement outcomes at all our schools, especially those that have longstanding challenges,” Devora Kaye, a department spokeswoman, 
said in an email. “We continue to focus on ensuring that we meet the whole needs of each child 
and family.”

The city must present its plan for more than 200 of its most struggling schools to the New York 
State Department of Education by Nov. 7. Plans were originally due at the end of July, but the 
state granted an extension.

Mr. Gassaway’s departure was reported Friday by The New York Post. Ms. Kaye said an interim principal would be put in place.

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.