What path for ‘underperforming’ schools?
Town hall meeting planned for May 4
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
May 05, 2013 | 2068 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print

At press time on May 3, some Jersey City education advocates were gearing up for a planned town hall meeting on education on Saturday, May 4. Billed as the Town Hall Meeting on Education Issues and Solutions, the community event will address a number of educational issues, including a discussion on whether underperforming schools in Jersey City might be closed.

While no one in the school district has said that schools in Jersey City, and Superintendent Marcia Lyles has not expressed support for such a move, many parents still believe the district’s most troubled schools might one day soon be closed.

As many as four schools could be affected, according to Ron Greco, president of the Jersey City Education Association, and Lorenzo Richardson, chairman of the Concerned Citizens Association. Among the four schools often cited as targets for closure are Snyder High School, the Whitney M. Young Jr. School (PS 15), and PS 41.

In recent years some cities and states have closed public schools due to under-enrollment, a trend that has also affected many parochial schools in New York and New Jersey. But elsewhere school closures have been implemented as a strategy to dismantle and rebuild troubled schools that are considered to be “failing.” Critics say this controversial strategy, which has been done in school districts from New York City to Chicago, only serves to demoralize and discourage students and teachers in the affected schools and does not lead to improved education. Proponents of this strategy, however, believe school closures allow for a “fresh start” which can give a new team of principals, teachers, and administrators an opportunity to build better curricula and programs from scratch in a new environment, with a new outlook.

Pursuing ‘advanced interventions’?

At present, there are no specific plans to close any schools in Jersey City, and Dr. Lyles believes that some parents are becoming too focused on an option she believes the Jersey City Public school district won’t have to take.

“While the closing of chronically underperforming schools is within the power of [New Jersey Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf], I know that I have never suggested school closures, and no one on the state level has spoken to me about school closures,” Lyles said. “All of the conversations, and all of the energy for my team, have been to develop strategies for the ‘underperforming’ schools to make significant progress in meeting the needs of the children.”

Elsewhere, for instance in New York City, public schools have been closed for poor student performance on standardized tests, low graduation rates, and low scores for overall student and school achievement.

Students attending schools that get closed are either transferred to a charter school, a better performing public school, or get enrolled in a new school that is started to replace the old school.
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‘I know that I have never suggested school closures, and no one on the state level has spoken to me about school closures.’ – Dr. Marcia Lyles
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Lyles has said repeatedly that the best prevention for school closures is a comprehensive plan to improve and turn around schools that don’t meet state-mandated educational benchmarks. She believes the Jersey City Public School District is on its way to such a plan, and that schools that could be in danger of being closed will not need to be shuttered.

“I realize that ‘school closures’ is a national topic, but…I am truly reluctant to speak to why some Jersey City parents and teachers are concerned about school closures,” said Lyles. “I am not clear as to the specific origins in Jersey City.”

The origins of these concerns may be based in New Jersey Department of Education language that clearly states that school closures can’t be ruled out in some instances. In a 2011 grant proposal to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the New Jersey Department of Education wrote: “It is within the context of the department’s comprehensive reform strategy that New Jersey is seeking grant funds to address the state’s persistent achievement gap by accelerating three key school turnaround initiatives.”

Among the three initiatives cited is, “Pursuing advanced interventions for persistently failing schools that require more dramatic action. Advanced interventions may include state-led school closure, establishment of an Achievement School District (similar to Recovery School Districts in other states), and the creation of an external turnaround partners program to facilitate the entrance of high-quality school operators into low performing areas.”

The May 4 Jersey City Town Hall Meeting is one of a series of similar meetings that have taken place recently across the state as parents and teachers ask more questions regarding the state’s plans for underperforming schools.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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