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A School’s Closing Creates Uncertainty

RGA ClassroomLaura E. Lee An empty classroom at Ross Global Academy.

With the end of the school year just around the corner, students at Ross Global Academy are eagerly awaiting the start of summer. But some families face uncertain futures when the academy permanently closes its doors at the end of the month.

The New York City Department of Education announced the closure the charter school on East 11th Street at First Avenue in December, citing the reports of the school’s low test scores and high teacher turnover.

With the announcement, parents and staff fought to keep the school open. The school’s founder, multimillionaire Courtney Sale Ross, sent a letter to the Department of Education asserting that the Department did not follow proper procedures and requesting a renewal. Chancellor Joel Klein denied the request.

Richard Burke, executive director of the school, said that the Department has promised to place everyone by the end of the month. But some parents, still bitter about the circumstances of the closure, are angry about the reassignment process.

“We’re displaced,” said Noemi Hernandez, president of the academy’s Parent-Teacher Association. Ms. Hernandez said that although she lives in the neighborhood, she cannot register her two children at local schools without Department of Education approval.
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A New Principal for Girls Prep

Kaitlin SeaverCourtesy of Girls Prep Kaitlin Seaver.

Girl Prep Middle School has new principal.

Kaitlin Seaver, a veteran educator who’s helped nearly two dozen city schools develop academic curricula, was introduced last week as the school’s new principal. Girls Prep Middle had been without a permanent principal since February when Kimberly Morcate was dismissed amid declining test scores at the school.

Ms. Seaver joins Girls Prep Middle after serving as the Department of Education’s Lead Senior Instructional Coach where she worked with 21 city middle schools to create Common Core State Standards, which she described as a “consistent, clear, understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.”

Before joining the Department of Education, Ms. Seaver worked with Knowledge is Power Charter Schools as a sixth grade English teacher, a dean of students, and as a district middle school assistant principal.

She said that she believed a school mission is “to empower all students to become critical thinkers and strong leaders.”

“I am more than confident that we will fulfill this mission together,” said Ms. Seaver, who will begin work in July.

Ms. Seaver’s appointment comes after a two-year stretch in which the school has faced over-crowding issues, a move to a new location and a significant drop in its test scores.

Ian Rowe, one of the acting principal’s at the school, welcomed Ms. Seaver to the school.

“She will lead our Middle School to ensure our students are fully equipped to be accepted into- and thrive- in high-performing public and private high schools,” he said.

“It’s definitely a bitter sweet moment,” said Hilda Salazar, mother of a fifth grader. “We lost Ms. Morcate, but I’m excited to see what she” – Ms. Seaver – “will do.”

East Village Teachers, Admins Stay Cool

PS 19Hadas Goshen

Like a dusty chalkboard, the future of East Village teachers has been wiped over and rewritten several times in the weeks following Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts, which could lead to 4,600 teacher lay-offs across Manhattan and affect East Village schools disproportionately. As politicians debate which policies will actually take shape, the district’s education officials remain calm, and say political pandering is just another lesson in history.

“We don’t want to overreact to the mayor’s scare tactics. We’re waiting to see what position to take—we don’t want to be manipulated,” said Lisa Donlan, president of District 1’s Community Education Council.

Last week was a turbulent one for the district’s education officials. On Monday, a list revealing the city’s proposed teacher lay-offs under the long-standing “last in, first out” law showed an average of 10 percent of Lower East Side and East Village school teachers would be fired based on their recent hire status, while more senior teaching positions across districts remained safe.

But by Tuesday’s close, the State Senate had voted 32-27 to amend the legislation, concerned by the inordinate number of teacher lay-offs across New York, particularly at newer schools or those with greener staffs—like those in the East Village.

One such school, P.S. 19 Asher Levy Elementary School, would lose city funding for nine out of its 32 teachers (28 percent) under the “last in, first out” law, while similar schools with seasoned staffs would lose none. Read more…

Parents Protest Principal’s Dismissal

Current ResidenceDayna Clark Some parents at Girls Prep Middle School are upset at the abrupt dismissal of the school’s principal last month.

After the abrupt dismissal last month of the principal at Girls Prep middle school, a group of parents have begun mobilizing a campaign for her re-instatement.

The school’s board of directors voted last month to remove the principal, Kimberly Morcate, after the school’s scores on the city-wide progress report fell from the 82nd percentile to the 13th percentile.

Board members did not say that Ms. Morcate’s dismissal was linked to progress report scores.

“We will not discuss the circumstances surrounding Ms. Morcate’s termination out of respect to her,” one board member, Eric Grannis, said at an emotional board meeting Tuesday night.

Nevertheless, many parents said that they were upset about the move and the potential disruption to the school’s students because it was made in the middle of the school year. Ms. Morcate’s last day at the school was Feb. 18.

“You rocked our world and we want some answers,” one parent, Harley Sanchez, 27, told the board at Tuesday’s meeting. She has a 10-year-old daughter at Girls Prep, a charter school, which is now temporarily housed on Astor Place.

Ms. Sanchez and other parents have started to circulate an online petition on behalf of Ms. Morcate, who was very popular among parents. The petition says, “This termination came with no explanation or consideration of the negative impact that this would have on the Girls Prep family.”
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Ross Global Academy’s Fight for Life

Exterior of Ross Global Academy Charter SchoolM.J. GonzalezRoss Global Academy Charter School on 11th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A.

In 2009, teachers at the Ross Global Academy Charter School hung a blue banner across the main entrance that read, “We must become the change we want to see.” These days, the words on the banner are regarded by the school’s staff, parents, and students as more than an aspirational motto. In December, the Department of Education announced that the five-year-old school on East 11th Street near First Avenue will close at the end of the academic year. But some of the people involved with the school said that they are determined to convince the department to keep the school open.

They may have serious hurdles to overcome. When the academy was founded in 2006, it was given a five-year charter outlining academic, organizational and financial goals. Each year, the Department of Education performs a citywide evaluation to ensure that such goals are being met. This past year, the Ross Global Academy was ranked as the lowest performing charter school in the city.

Richard Burke, the executive director of a specialized enrichment and tutoring program at the school, said that the faculty is exploring every option they can think of to keep the school functioning.

“We’re doing everything possible to keep the school open,” he said. “Everything from a city to state level and a legal angle.”

While there are many at the school who share Mr. Burke’s goal, some of them said that they can’t help feeling worried about the future.

“We are dismayed,” said Stephanie Wilson, a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Association and Board of Trustees. “We’ve gone through the shock, and are now really sad and anxious.”

One of the things that Mrs. Wilson is most worried about, she said, is the possibility that the school’s successes will be overlooked. She said that the academy has had a positive effect on her two children.

Her 15-year-old son, Demetrius, graduated from R.G.A. in 2009 after completing eighth-grade, and was accepted into Brooklyn Technological High School, a highly competitive and academically rigorous specialized science high school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

And Mrs. Wilson’s younger son, Elijah, 7, began at R.G.A. two years ago as a kindergartener. Read more…

Surprise at the Report on Area Schools

Kim Davis PortraitKim Davis.

I moved to the East Village – in fact to Alphabet City, as it was then called – when my daughter was a year old. All her schooling has been here (she’s in middle school now) and as a parent I’ve been happy with every bit of it. I share the surprise expressed by some residents in The Local’s report Monday. I just don’t recognize my daughter’s school in the Department of Education’s findings.

East Village education began for her at the Emmanuel Day Care center on Sixth Street, with its smart, friendly and in some cases very long-serving staff. I was staggered by the Center’s ambition, watching them introduce pre-schoolers not only to reading and writing, but sophisticated math and science topics.

I had always assumed she would progress from there to P.S. 364, a nearby public school. Her mother had ideas about a private Catholic education. Thankfully we never had to debate it. One day, browsing among the stalls at the Loisaida street fair, we came across flyers for an all-girl charter school, not yet open. At the time I had no idea what a charter school was, although I did notice that it was free. I think we all know about charter schools now, and the debates about sharing space with city schools, about non-unionized teaching staff, and the lottery admission system – but that’s another story.

Anyway, that’s where my daughter went – Girls Prep on East Houston – and she’s been happy and successful there ever since. I read the report card with amazement. A and B for environment and student performance, a C score overall, but F for student progress. As a parent, I shrug my shoulders. (Full disclosure: her mother is employed by the school as a teaching assistant; she’s usually more critical of it than I am.)

The report card doesn’t really explain how this was measured. My daughter and her sharp, alert, articulate friends are making plenty of progress as far as I can see. It just makes me nervous for the school and the staff. Monitoring school performance is a great idea. Clarity and transparency in the reporting could be improved.

For what it’s worth, P.S. 364 got an overall D.

Kim Davis is the community editor of The Local East Village.

Tell us how you feel about the latest evaluations of neighborhood schools.

A Few More Signposts to Guide You

LoisaidaSarah Tung

We wanted to bring your attention to four features here on the site that we think can help you learn more about what’s happening in our community.

To find the first, just look up. There, on the blue bar at the top of the page, is a new heading “News River.” It opens directly onto an aggregator of links from the East Village blogosphere that was developed by Dave Winer, a visiting scholar at NYU Journalism.

We briefly mentioned a second addition earlier this week: a series of links that provide comprehensive real estate data about the East Village. You can find them if you scroll down the column along the right side of this page or by following these links.

And directly below the real estate links in the right column is a special pull-down menu that provides test score information about public elementary and high schools that serve the East Village.

Below the schools data is the final feature that we’d like to bring to your attention: our pull-down menu of East Village restaurants drawn from data at The Times.

These are just a few more of the collaborative ways that we’re bringing value to the blogosphere through the talents of Mr. Winer and our colleagues at The Times.