There are so many improvement designations for New York State schools that even I get confused when discussing the differences and ramifications of each.  And since my primary job is to know the difference and suggest policy for each of them, it is a lot to track. Below if you will, are some of my cliff notes for the different designations and what they mean for school and district communities.

First for simple definitions:

  • NYSED Priority Schools: When the Priority School list was created, schools were among the lowest performing 5% in English language arts and mathematics combined and were not showing improvement or had graduation rates for high schools below 60 percent for three consecutive years and have not subsequently met the criteria for removal.
  • NYSED Focus Schools: Those schools in Focus Districts that have either the largest percentage or largest number of students who are not proficient for the  sub-groups of students (mainly English language learners, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged, etc) for which the district was identified as Focus.  Initially 10% of the schools in the state were identified as Focus. 
  • NYSED Persistently Struggling Schools:  Schools that have been identified as Priority Schools for the last 3 years and prior to that were identified as restructuring schools or equivalent designation since the 2006-07 school year.
  • NYSED Struggling Schools:  Schools that are identified as Priority as of 2012-2013.
  •  NYCDOE Renewal Schools:  New York City Department of Education schools that were identified by the Chancellor Farina as the lowest performing schools.  These schools are almost all NYSED Priority and Focus identified schools, demonstrated low academic achievement for each of the three prior years (2012-2014), and scored “Proficient” or below on their most recent quality review.

What does it mean?

New York State Receivership:

Simply put, since Governor Cuomo is not the official head of education in New York State, he decided to insert his influence into the matter, by attaching an Education Bill to the New York State budget.                                                                                                                    

The attachment offered $75,000,000 for schools and districts with Persistently Failing (now Struggling) School status as of the 2006-2007 school year.  The Bill was passed with the budget and it is now Education Law 211-f.  The law requires changes to the ways in which Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) is calculated and changes to the governance of schools performing at the lowest 5% of the NYS rankings (via Receivership).

What Now?

The New York State Education Department Board of Regents voted to move forward with emergency action to allow for School Receivership to occur beginning July 1, 2015.  When the new regulations are released in a couple of weeks, they will provide current superintendents of Priority Schools the authority of becoming the Receiver of those schools.  The funds allotted by Governor Cuomo and the state legislature are specifically designated for schools identified as Persistently Struggling Schools.  District superintendents have one year to show demonstrable improvement with their Persistently Struggling Schools (Identified consistently since 2006-2007) and two years to show demonstrable improvement in Struggling Schools (Priority since 2012-2013).  You can read the NYSED P-12 memorandum focused on the proposed regulation by clicking this link:

New York City Renewal Schools:

Upon appointment to New York City Department of Education, Chancellor Carmen Farina identified schools that required additional, more intense support, due to their students’ struggling achievement.  A list of over 90 schools was released and the schools were directed to create a plan to address their status and were given two years to show improvement.

What Now?

The Renewal Schools must increase student achievement by addressing culture and climate.  Community and High School Superintendents were given a support person to specifically assist with this work. These schools have also been promised additional funding to address their plan.

New York State Priority and Focus Schools:

These schools are required to participate in annual school reviews, either conducted by the New York State Integrated Intervention Team, a district team, or school review with district oversight.  These schools are expected to make improvement and meet the adequate yearly progress targets for all areas identified for two consecutive years before they are removed from the improvement list.

What Now?

Most of these identified schools receive funding to exercise practices and strategies that will address the school’s issues.  District and school leaders are expected to review their school reports and plan improvement strategies for Tenets with ratings of Developing and Ineffective and implement strategies to sustain practices that received a rating of Highly Effective and Effective.   

So, there you have it!  These identifications are the very reason REACH©, LLC was created.  We want to assist schools and districts to be successful and ensure that students’ needs are met.  As successful school turnaround administrators, we are ready, willing, and able to step-up and work side-by-side with districts to help school leaders meet the goals needed for educational excellence.  Contact us to discuss how we can be of assistance to you.

The Problem with the Current Socio-Emotional Developmental Needs Approach

Too often, I visit schools that have adopted a socio-emotional program to address the needs of students, but the programs have no more than a couple of posters and a chart that can be found in a couple of classrooms because all of the school’s energies are being funneled into academics. Or, the schools have remnants of one or two programs, but no one in the schools can really articulate the core theme or to what extent the programs are intended to align to the academic achievement.  This is not an indictment of schools that are solely focused on academic achievement.  With the growing accountability, it is evident that academic success is paramount for educators to keeping their jobs. Here’s the Shakespearean rub, when the students are not socio-emotionally healthy, all efforts not aligned to curing what ills them will be futile. It certainly is not that school communities aren’t acutely aware of this connection; it appears to be a matter of the availability of programs that can truly address the school’s needs.  Similar to any academic program, school staff members need these programs to be comprehensive and coupled with intense professional development until the principles of the socio-emotional approach become ingrained in the school’s culture.   This revelation presents two major issues: (1) can a school community with lots of competing priorities truly focus on the socio-emotional development of students with the necessary fidelity without the explicit support and prioritization of the district office? and (2) where can schools find a comprehensive socio-emotional developmental need (SEDN) program that comes with intensive professional development and teaches teachers how to align these efforts to academic goals, thus creating a system of support?

 My Professional Experience Influences the Birth of A System

Here’s my story for this blog. After my first year leading my school of 1800 students and 81 classes, 18 cluster teachers with 42 paraprofessionals and 27 school aides and countless other adults, I hurriedly recruited a group of teachers to research and recommend a SEDN program that could assist our efforts of supporting student needs.  The teachers diligently looked into several programs and finally presented their recommendation to a group of 40 staff members during a two-day retreat. We settled on a program and for many years I’ve publicly announced how pleased I was with the program.  I still have very fond memories of the program, but not so long ago, I found myself explaining how much work went into turning the program into a thriving system.  I soon realized that I loved the system that was created from the skeletal program.  I also realized while visiting schools that had I not created a comprehensive system to wrap around the program, my futile attempts to support our students would have been similar to what I was witnessing. 

Like any responsible educator on a quest to assist schools improve, I set out to address the gap, as I know it. There was a need for a systemic and comprehensive approach to address students’ SEDN and sense I successfully created that system in my school, why not do the same for others.  The criteria for creating a systems approach?  We had to address ten elements: (1) provide the school with enough branding of the program that there leaves little doubt of what program grounds the principles socio-emotional support, (2) connect the program to a daily pledge or affirmation, (3) create books of the month with inner-city characters experiencing real issues that today’s students can relate to, (4) provide teachers with a teacher’s guide of lessons to align to the book of the month,  (5) provide students with a handbook that can be used to do quick follow-up assignments aligned to the books of the month, (6) provide a home-school connection of newsletters and letters informing families of activities within the program kit, (7) create a separate guide for guidance counselors and social workers so that small group intensives can be conducted, (8) provide at least 10 professional development sessions during the first year to ensure the program is being implemented with fidelity and supports school communities needing to build capacity in this area, (9) provide staff members the opportunity to recognize students who excel in the program, and (10) ensure that the goals of achieving the principles align to academic goals established for students.

These ten add-ons represented what I created for the program my school adopted.  It’s the combination of this type of service that creates a system of support.  A picture of this demonstrates how the services wrap-around the program in diagram 1.

The Power in District Approach to SEDN

Now that we understand that type of resources and focus it takes to establish a socio-emotional developmental needs system, let’s talk about how to get it done.  The district approach to establishing an effective SEDN system is best for several reasons.  Not only does this approach establish a firm stronghold that SEDN is important, it also ensures that accountability to provide proper supports and implementation is shared by the district.  Other benefits to a district approach to implementing a SEDN system is

  • Staff members across the district will establish a common language for articulating and understanding student needs, which helps to ensure that everyone understands the goals of the district;

  • All schools will strive towards accomplishing common student values, which may lead to an easier transition from one level to another;

  • Families and the community will enjoy a stable approach, which prevents having to acclimate to different approaches throughout their child’s K-12 education experience;

  • The district and schools can benefit from district-level data aligned to impact, which will allow the district to identify hot spots and aspects for intense district-wide professional development;

  • The district and school should enjoy a discount on the consumable materials necessary for implementing the program; and

  • The goal of building capacity aligned to the approach for addressing students’ SEDNs should be expedited due to the laser-like focus on the implementation.

The launch of these programs can also be instrumental in fostering cross-school relationships, if the launch of professional development is organized as a district-wide event or a platform for dynamic conversations, comments, and problem solving.  A benefit to families with multiple children attending school in the district is the potential of district-wide events, which encourages a type of one-stop celebrations across the district.   I strongly encourage districts to consider this approach or to have individual schools work together to select a program that is common across the district.  Naturally, REACH© has a program for K-8 schools and will release the high school component of the program during the 2016-2017 school year.  The REACH Character Building Program™ addresses all of the components discussed in this blog, but the above tips can assist any school with creating their own system for student support.