Bill de Blasio Touts Early Progress at Struggling City Schools

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio today touted what he said were early indicators of success in his plans to turn around the city’s struggling schools—and announced a new superintendent to oversee the city’s lowest-performing classrooms.

Mr. de Blasio named Aimee Horowitz the city’s new executive superintendent for the School Renewal Program, the mayor’s plan to turn around 94 of the city’s worst schools. He made the announcement at Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the city’s longest-failing schools and one deemed “out of time” to improve by the state government.

“The school was constantly labeled as a school that couldn’t make it,” Mr. de Blasio said today in the school’s library, after a classroom visit. “Our belief is a school can make it if you actually give it the things it needs.”

The mayor’s highlights of small improvements at some of the city’s worst schools comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has outlined his own plan for turning them around—by taking control of them.

Today, Mr. de Blasio cited early improvements at the school since the city began to roll out new programs there, and at other city schools, over the past three months as part of his Schools Renewal Program. At Boys and Girls, the school has a new ninth period in the school day and a “Saturday Academy” to help students catch up. Twice as many of the students are now on track to graduate on time, Mr. de Blasio said, with the figure jumping from 40 students to 90 students. But even the improved figure represents a small percentage of students in the troubled high school.

The school also brought in a new principal, Michael Wiltshire, who was credited with turning around the Medgar Evers College Preparatory School. Mr. Wiltshire serves as principal of both schools.

Ms. Horowitz, meanwhile, comes to her new position after serving as superintendent for Staten Island high schools and another 14 renewal schools off the Island. Prior to serving as superintendent, she was the founding principal of the high-performing College of Staten Island High School for International Studies. She’ll now be tasked with overseeing the entire $150 million renewal program.

The mayor outlined his plans to turn around schools last year, with a focus on transforming struggling schools into community schools that offer health and social services to better help students. Though his approach is a bit of a departure from the process used by Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who sometimes upset parents and often upset the teachers’ union by closing failing schools to reopen new ones, often smaller, with new staff—Mr. de Blasio has not totally ruled out school closures.

And teachers at Boys and Girls will have to re-apply for their jobs at the end of this school year.

“The teachers who fit here, the teachers who have what it takes, will come back. Teachers who are good teachers but don’t meet the needs here can go elsewhere,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Teachers who do not belong in the profession will be moved out of the profession.”

His administration has argued that turning the schools into community schools with extra services will help students more than simply phasing out a school, changing the staff, and leaving the same students to continue struggling.

So far, 54 of the mayor’s 94 renewal schools have already have extended their school days, most with an extra period of class time during weekdays, with some adding Saturday class time like Boys and Girls. Seven of the schools have new principals, and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina has replaced 16 of 45 regional superintendents.

Charter school advocates panned Mr. de Blasio’s plan before his press conference was even complete, with Families for Excellent Schools calling it “a recipe for failure” and saying the United Federation of Teachers was blocking extra class time, something the mayor’s office argued was not accurate given the 54 schools that have already adopted it.

“The truth is that the Mayor’s Renewal Schools program is too small, too timid, and too slow to help any of the 143,000 children trapped in failing schools. Dozens of schools report no activity, the UFT is still blocking additional classroom time, and despite the Mayor’s explicit promises to the contrary, there is no accountability,” CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said in a statement. “The 143,000 students trapped in failing schools deserve better. The state must take over the city’s 91 priority schools immediately.”

Indeed, Mr. Cuomo has proposed a plan for the state government to take over failing schools or districts. But Mr. de Blasio said again today New York City’s unique system of mayoral control over public schools meant there was already accountability for school performance.

“Where there’s that kind of accountability, literally every school’s success or failure is on me, I can’t think of a clearer method for ensuring success,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer at the press conference. “And I think the notion of the state being involved additionally contradicts what’s valuable about mayoral control.”

Mr. de Blasio also reiterated his call for the state to fully fund New York City’s education system as ordered by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Mr. Cuomo’s office has repeatedly argued the state spends well above the national average on each pupil in the city as it is.

“The governor is fighting to reform a system that spends more money per student than any other state in the nation while condemning hundreds of thousands of children to failing schools over the last decade,” Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said.


Bill de Blasio Touts Early Progress at Struggling City Schools