As part of Governor Cuomo’s 2015 state budget package, a number of schools throughout New York State are being put into ‘receivership’ in an attempt to ‘turnaround’ the schools. NYS Commissioner of Education Elia declared her commitment to these take-overs in the Buffalo area within days of beginning her new job.
We don’t have to go all the way to Buffalo to see what the impact of receivership might be however. Poughkeepsie Middle School and Poughkeepsie High School, just across the river, are in receivership right now.
From the Poughkeepsie school district website:
The new law appoints a “receiver,” initially, the superintendent, to oversee the turnaround of the identified schools, and sets a deadline by which the schools have to make demonstrable improvement. Receivers are authorized implement changes, including lengthening the school day or school year, making curriculum modifications and, replacing staff.
Poughkeepsie High School and Poughkeepsie Middle School have two years to show “demonstrable improvement” within the guidelines of the Receiver. The state will set demonstrable improvement targets for each school. If a school does not meet those goals during that time, the state will require the Board of Education to appoint a state-approved outside receiver, removing the district’s ability to control future decisions about the school.
This process is baffling to me. The initial ‘receiver’ (the person who is in charge and can make drastic changes) is the district superintendent per the new New York State law. Not quite sure how this makes sense. If the superintendent couldn’t make things work in the district before receivership, then how does one expect that he/she is going to have new ideas or plans to make things better when the district is in the receivership state? Receivership seems to assume that the ‘education failure’ is either the fault of the school teachers/staff whom the superintendent receiver can fire or make reapply for their jobs or the school board of education whose decisions (budget/curriculum/any other decisions) can be overridden by the superintendent. Apparently the superintendent is above fault but I suppose that makes sense or else the school board should have already fired/replaced him/her before the district went into receivership? This doesn’t sound like a process likely to bring about positive change to me.
Here is discussion of the superintendent receiver from the perspective of the superintendents themselves as reported by NYSSBA (New York State School Boards Association). Some Kingston parents are not going to agree with the superintendents regarding extended school day and community schools**.
“There is nothing in here that is a surprise,” said Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, superintendent of the Albany school district. “All the things in the receivership law are things we know we need to do. We need to extend the school day. We have to differentiate learning better so that we can concentrate on a variety of needs for students. We know that the community school model is effective for providing medical and mental health services. We have bits and pieces of those things already in place.”
But the title of receiver communicates a sense of urgency, superintendents told On Board.
“I see receivership as a key lever, right now, to galvanize our community,” said Nicole Williams, superintendent of schools in Poughkeepsie. She said her new title of receiver of two schools communicates the need for teachers, community members and district leaders to redouble their efforts.
The NYSSBA article points out that superintendent receivers who are receiving money from New York State to help with the turn-around seem a little more hopeful about being successful as superintendent receivers. Poughkeepsie is not receiving any extra money to help with the turnaround. Superintendent receivers also have different thoughts about what plans they will implement including the wisdom of replacing large numbers of school staff. Refer to the article for details.
In Poughkeepsie, which has a struggling high school and struggling middle school, Superintendent Nicole Williams noted that school improvement is far from a new priority. She points with pride to an intensive focus on literacy that earned Poughkeepsie a spot on the program at this summer’s Model Schools Conference in Atlanta. She reeled off other initiatives including peer tutoring, participation in the state’s P-TECH early college high school program and student internship opportunities through a new partnership with the Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce.
… “We are on the right trajectory,” Williams said, and “we can ratchet up those practices under receivership, certainly.” She added that she “would welcome additional resources” to help support the district’s ambitious plans.
Spring, the Schenectady superintendent-receiver, questioned what assumptions legislators and the governor held when they created the receivership law.
“The state is expecting these schools to make things dramatically different in a short period of time when all the state is threatening them with is a bigger stick,” he said. “That supposes that people in these schools have not been sufficiently scared to do what they need to do. I just don’t think that’s true.”
Is the receivership stick going to be successful at ‘scaring’ the stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators and school board members) at Poughkeepsie Middle School and High School into ensuring that the students get better test scores and more students graduate this year and next year so they can get out of receivership or will this be another case where the schools will continue to ‘fail’ (as so many students are ‘failing’ the New York State tests) and control will be passed off to an outside receiver even more removed from the situation making things worse and worse? Only time will tell.
**Note that one of the decisions the superintendent receiver can make is to convert the school into a ‘community school’. Some local parents have concerns regarding ‘community schools’ due to the ever-increasing government influence and potential decreasing parental ability to make decisions regarding student services such as health care. The superintendent receiver is not required to convert a school into a community school but is allowed to do so if he/she wishes. If the process moves to an independent/outside receiver (the superintendent can’t fix the problem in the allotted one or two years), then the school MUST be converted to a community school.
Definition of Community School
A school that partners with one or more state, local or other agencies to:
- Address social service, health and mental health needs of students in the school and their families in order to help students arrive and remain at school ready to learn;
- Provide access to child welfare services and, as appropriate, services in the school community to promote a safe and secure learning environment;
- Offer access to career and technical education and workforce development services to students in the school and their families in order to provide students and families with meaningful employment skills and opportunities;
- Offer mentoring and other youth development programs.