After sometimes-emotional hearings at 26 troubled city schools, the Panel for Educational Policy will vote on Thursday on whether to go ahead with a complex plan, proposed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in January, to overhaul the schools. The federal government will provide money to “turn around” the schools, but the grant money comes with strings attached. The city must first officially close the schools — that’s where the panel’s vote comes in — and reopen them immediately under a new educational plan, after replacing at least half of the teachers and possibly the principal.
Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx is one of the schools scheduled to close. One student, Ubayed Muhith, a junior, says a new principal, Rose LoBianco, was already making needed improvements to the school without getting rid of teachers. He says Principal LoBianco should be given more time.
Changes have come to Lehman High School this year. Afternoon classes are packed again, tutoring and PM School have been established every which way, the music program is revived, and the hallways are now eerily quiet while class is in session.
More importantly (in terms of data), suspension rates have gone down 50 percent from last year when almost 2,000 students were given the pink slip, and the January Regents passing rate went up by a number of points.
Turns out that all this F-rated institution of nearly 4,000 students ever needed was better funding and a new dynamic principal, who has everyone in the school community stunned by how dramatically peace and order was restored to a school known in recent years for being troubled and chaotic.
Changes made under the federal “transformation” model, which Lehman has been following, have done wonders, as the school had made great strides in terms of progress and morale this past year.
But with the proposed decision to switch to the turnaround model — a decision by the mayor to save the federal grants that had been promised to the school, which had nothing to do with the school’s real needs — all these great achievements can very well go down the drain.
It makes little sense to barge in and replace 50 percent of the staff, which essentially accuses them of failure, when the transformation approach proved that these teachers in fact were never at fault. Instead, they were struggling because they were never given the resources needed to educate jam-packed classes of 32-plus students who consist largely of English Language Learners or Special Education students.
Many unique extracurricular programs, sports teams, and AP classes stand at the risk of being erased because the veteran teachers who headed them may not be here next year, possibly leading more students to be displaced and wandering the streets.
I’m an 11th grader, and I still learn new things about this school as time goes on. It’s amazing what this school can offer in the arts, academics and sports.
But if the turnaround proposal goes through, it will be a daunting task to bring about our traditional programs again. In addition, it will leave many seniors unable to obtain recommendations from the teachers they built relationships with.
The turnaround model isn’t a far-fetched idea, but shouldn’t Lehman be given a chance for a few years under Principal LoBianco to prove everyone wrong?