prep school

Truman HS principal turns to local college for readiness boost

Truman High School Principal Sana Nasser introduces a program to boost college readiness.

Harry S. Truman High School Principal Sana Nasser started making college preparation a priority long before the city began sounding the alarm about poor college readiness rates. She has encouraged students at her large Bronx school to take college level courses at the nearby Mercy College campus, and invited alumni enrolled in college to meet with current students.

But when the city assessed her efforts in its first release of data measuring how schools are preparing students for college academics, Truman fell short of the city’s already dismally low averages in all three college readiness categories. Just ten percent of Truman’s students scored high enough on advanced standardized tests to be considered “college prepared,” according to the city’s rubric.

So Nasser is trying a different approach. She has joined with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and administrators from Mercy College to create a college readiness initiative that target all students and offer the strongest ones a chance to earn a two-year associates degree by the time they graduate from high school.

“I believe some of you can do high school in two years and take college courses,” she told an assembly of honors students in grades nine through twelve seated in the school’s spiffy, first-floor IMAX theater.

Diaz and Mercy College President Kimberly Cline introduced the initiative at an event this morning, where they lamented some of the challenges facing students who are preparing for college, particularly the financial burdens. The idea, they said, was born from the education summit Diaz held in the Bronx last fall, where educators from around the city discussed the need for more robust college preparations.

The initiative would cut down on college costs for students who earn credits — as many as two years’ worth — while still in high school. It would also partner Mercy and Truman to develop tutoring programs and seminars for parents.

The city has made a push in recent years to open more high schools that partner with city colleges—among them Pathways in Technology Early College High School and the Academy of Software Engineering—to offer college courses and extra certifications, in what is sometimes called a “9-14” pathway.

By 2025 Mercy plans to expand the program at Truman to at least 40 other Bronx schools that graduate less than 70 percent of students from high school in four years—but to do so would require an endowment of $100 million.

Seniors in the auditorium told me they were satisfied with the level of college preparations they received at Truman, though there is plenty of room to do more.

At Truman, where just 62.5 percent of students are graduating in four years, and just 6 percent are “college ready,” according to city data, it’s unlikely that very many students would be able to complete an associates degree in just two years. That option would be in reach Truman’s highest-achieving students, but Nasser said the efforts could also engage the vast majority of middle-of-the-pack students who are not currently taking advantage of the college-level courses on offer at the school and off-campus.

“My mission for this school has been for the past 10 years—and I don’t have any flowery words—that I want to graduate students in four years, without them needing remedial work in college,” she said.

“I think this sounds good. the school does need this,” said Aisha Diallo, a senior who is planning to attend La Guardia Community College this fall and major in biology. “I think it’s going to motivate more kids to come to school more and push more, knowing that they could finish part of college in two years.”

Diallo and other student have taken a college-level psychology class from a Mercy teacher who came to Truman, and students regularly meet with college advisers.

“We’ve met with counselors, we met with students from other colleges, and a lot of people from Mercy College,” Cordell Humbric said. “They went into our classrooms and taught us about FAFSA, how to apply [for financial aid].”

Nasser said the initiative would also take a burden off of parents who may be unfamiliar with the college application process or unable to fully fund a student’s education.

“Going to college is not going to be a mystery—we’re going to show you how to have financial aid, we’re going to take you through the steps with your child,” she said. “I want [parents] to know, ‘my kids are going to get to experience what it’s like to be a college student while they’re still with me.'”

 

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

Future of Work

Trump’s education department merger plan echoes Indiana priorities under Pence, Holcomb

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Then-Gov. Mike Pence speaks at a school choice rally at the Indiana statehouse in 2016.

President Trump’s proposal to merge the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Labor might sound familiar to Hoosiers.

The education and workforce development rhetoric hearkens back to some of Vice President Mike Pence’s education priorities as Indiana’s chief executive, as well as those of his predecessor and successor.

“This sounds very Indiana,” said Betsy Wiley, executive director of the Institute for Quality Education, a group that advocates for school choice. “This sounds very Gov. (Mitch) Daniels, Gov. Pence, Gov. (Eric) Holcomb-like, in terms of the last 12 to 15 years here in our state.”

It’s not really surprising that Indiana and the federal government again share education policy goals — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has repeatedly pointed to Indiana’s charter school and private school voucher systems as models for the nation.

Across the country, connections between workforce and K-12 education have been increasingly emphasized, and Indiana has been legislating in this vein for years. As governor, Pence expanded the state’s career and technical education programs, an accomplishment he still touts. It also bears similarities to the efforts of Indiana’s current Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has followed in previous governors’ footsteps by prioritizing workforce development and how it connects to education in his 2018 legislative agenda.

And though some local education advocates cheer the federal push to link K-12 education and workforce, to others, it’s troubling.

When she saw the news of the merger proposal, Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, felt a rush of deja vu: “Oh here we go — and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

When Pence ran for governor in 2012, he said the state was too focused on getting students to college — there was too little effort on getting them up to speed for heading directly into the workforce. There were plenty of jobs, he said, that paid well and didn’t need a four-year degree.

As soon as he got into office, Pence successfully pushed through two bills creating regional works councils and a state career council that would help the state better understand job needs and develop relationships between schools and local employers.

And the career-focused influence has continued even after Pence left office in 2016. The state’s new graduation pathways system, passed last year, redirects the Core 40 diploma’s more academic focus toward one that more equally weighs job-related post-secondary plans.

Wiley said Indiana, under Holcomb, has made even more progress in this arena by consolidating efforts into a workforce cabinet and pushing for an appointed state schools chief. While the state still has a ways to go, she said, it serves as an example, and she applauds the Trump administration for making the proposal.

“What is trying to be done, again, is to figure out how to be more efficient and effective as the federal government, and better serve the customer, be it either the K-12 level student or the adult in terms of workforce training or development,” she said. “Those are admirable goals.”

Meredith, though, said the efforts to make schools a pipeline for the workplace seem short-sighted.

“What is the purpose of K-12 education? Is it to prepare individuals to go into a job that exists right now, or is it to teach them about a love of learning and give them the skills to be able to adapt?” she said. “I would argue that’s what we ought to be doing — giving them creative thinking skills, giving them basic life skills, teaching them how to navigate the world.”

As Chalkbeat has reported, the merger itself likely faces an uphill battle to congressional approval — if it even stands a chance at. So far, efforts to scale back or get rid of the federal education department have failed.