Questions Linger As City Moves Forward With School Turnaround Plan

A rally to save Sheepshead Bay High School when it faced closure in 2010.

The Department of Education is proposing to reform Sheepshead Bay High School, William E. Grady High School, John Dewey High School and Franklin D. Roosevelt High School using the “turnaround” model, which includes renaming the school and replacing the principal and 50 percent of its teachers. But the city’s justification for the proposal remains in question, and community members continued to express doubt at a Brooklyn “turnaround” forum where DOE officials offered little to address their concerns.

Those from the Sheepshead Bay High School community addressed the panel, expressing agreement with the need to reform the school – but not using the turnaround model.

Gotham Schools reports on some of the statements made, as well as gives Sheepshead Bay High School’s recent backstory:

“We’ve got to have some discrimination here, because we’re closing down 33 schools because we don’t like something that happened between our union rep and the mayor,” said Bruce Sherman, a guidance counselor at Sheesphead Bay, referring to the deadlocked city-union negotiations over teacher evaluations that the city has blamed for the turnaround plan. “The staff is not the problem.”
Sheesphead Bay High School was named a federal “restart” school in 2011, meaning it would receive millions of school improvement dollars and be run by an Educational Partnership Organization. But a legal dispute with the city and the nonprofit EPOs stalled reforms at Sheesphead and other restart schools. In December, Principal Reesa Levy unexpectedly announced her retirement—a move that worried staff and students who knew the leadership change would hold up school improvements even more.  Sherman said the new interim principal, John O’Mahoney, “has his act together,” and has kept teacher morale from dropping further since he arrived at the school earlier this year.
“We believe that restart should still go into effect,” said Thaddeus Russell Jr. a father of three Sheepshead alumni and one current student. “The reason I disagree with turnaround is because the model says only 50 percent of the staff can be re-hired. I don’t believe that’s to the benefit of any students. How can the current freshmen, sophomores, juniors, how can we continue with the academies that have been instituted, if half the staff is not there next year?”

Parents, students and administrators from Brooklyn schools lined up to ask a series of questions to bring transparency and community participation into the process including, as Gotham Schools reports, the following:

Will parents be placed on any turnaround school personnel committees? What will happen to the “magnet” grants that some schools are already receiving? Can a new school choose not to keep on its EPO? How will students be able to ask former teachers for college and job references? Several teachers from different schools also noted that parents and teachers had been given conflicting information about their public hearing date—and asked how the problem could be fixed.

The answers from the DOE? We’ll have to get back to you on that.

There will be a public hearing on this proposal on March 28 at 6:00 p.m. at the school (3000 Avenue X). Written comments can be submitted via e-mail to, and oral comments can be left at 212-374-0208.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposal on April 26.


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