Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reconsiders Approach to Bronx Vocational School

From Leonie Haimson
< After being pressed by representatives of the construction industry and either realizing the deficiencies of the NYC charter school for architecture etc. (which asks students to write essays rather than actually build houses or do wiring), or being worried about the bad press if they continued on that path, the DOE as reported yesterday in the Daily news will not put the charter school into the Al Smith building.

Yet according to the NY Times article below, rather than save these valuable programs at AE Smith and help the school improve academic outcomes, they still intend to dismantle Smith’s programs entirely and then hope to replicate them within a new public or charter school.

Question #1: what are the qualifications of Gregg B. Betheil of DOE, who just last week was defending the value of the charter school’s programs, doing in charge of vocational ed?

Also, according to Michael Duffy, head of DOE’s charter school office, the charter school was “willing to step up as a replacement option, but they had no idea and didn’t bargain for a lot of the criticism that they received ….A lot of us were surprised.”

Question #2: Why should Duffy be surprised, given the school’s attrition rate of nearly 30%, the fact that nearly all the teachers left after the first year, and that its founder is under indictment for embezzlement? What kind of vigilance is that?



See also the Indypendent’s article about Smith’s building programs here: http://www.indypendent.org/2010/02/18/the-best-teacher/


Jeffrey Smalls, who owns an electrical construction business, says he has hired students from Alfred E. Smith in the past, and knows all too well what a high school education in the building trades can do for young people in the South Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country….

Smalls, who also runs a dropout prevention program at Smith, has become entrenched in the fight to save the school’s building programs. “I can’t sit by and watch this. I’ll be at the mayor’s office every day getting arrested if I have to,” said Smalls, who was named one of Crain’s New York Businesses’ Top Entrepreneurs for 2006.

City Reconsiders Approach to Bronx Vocational School

Published: February 22, 2010


City officials said Monday that they were scrapping a controversial plan to replace some vocational programs at a Bronx high school with a troubled 18-month-old charter school.

The decision, a rare instance of the city changing course on a proposal to place a charter school in a public school, was made after a meeting last Wednesday between Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, and construction industry representatives. The construction executives expressed concern that the charter school would not be able to replicate the construction trades programs at the high school, Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School, said Gregg B. Betheil, who is in charge of the city’s vocational educational programs.

The city still plans to close Smith’s construction trade programs — in heating and ventilation, plumbing, electrical installation, carpentry and architectural engineering — because of low graduation rates. But instead of moving the charter school, the New York City Charter School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries, into the space, the Department of Education will work with industry representatives to develop an appropriate replacement school, which may be a city-run school or a charter, Mr. Betheil said.

Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, said he would sit on the advisory board of the new school, which is to open in September 2011. He said, “The buildings trade program is one that we think is important for the trades in this city.”

The decision, reported Monday by The Daily News, is not the city’s first about-face on Smith. Citing its 46 percent graduation rate, the city proposed in December to close the school completely. An outcry from alumni and companies that hire from Smith persuaded the city to save the school’s automotive program, which educates about half of Smith’s 1,100 students.

Similar complaints arose about plans to close Smith’s other shops, which include a towering room where students build model houses. Despite its name, the charter school does not provide vocational training, but rather uses construction and engineering themes in its academic curriculum.

City education officials had said the charter school would eventually grow to include the hands-on trade programs. Over the past several weeks, however, the charter school began to have second thoughts as its difficulties became publicized and Smith supporters denounced the school at a Feb. 12 public hearing.

The charter school, which is about to outgrow its current quarters, a former day care center on East 140th Street, will now find and rent private space, said Michael Duffy, the city’s executive director of charter schools.

“They were willing to step up as a replacement option, but they had no idea and didn’t bargain for a lot of the criticism that they received,” Mr. Duffy said. “A lot of us were surprised.”

The charter school has had difficulties. Its founder and former board chairman, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, is under federal indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from a nonprofit South Bronx housing corporation. The school lost 30 percent of its students after its first year, and barely any of its original staff members remain.

The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the proposal to close Smith’s buildings programs on Wednesday, but officials left open the possibility late Monday that the vote would be rescheduled.

The principal of the charter school and its board chairwoman could not be reached on Monday.

RenĂ© Cassanova, principal of Smith, said that the Department of Education had not contacted her about the new plan, but she said it appeared to be better than the charter school idea, which she called “unacceptable” at the Feb. 12 hearing.

“What we want is our industry partners at the table and the programs at Smith,” she said. If the plan works, she said, “that’s a win-win.”

A version of this article appeared in print on February 23, 2010, on page A23 of the New York edition.

No comments: