By Paula Katinas
Sunset Park — The word “turnaround” normally has a positive connotation, signifying a change for the better. But to some Sunset Park community leaders and educators, it’s a loaded word.
Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez and Community Board Seven members are joining forces with education officials to get the New York City Department of Education to take Charles O. Dewey Middle School off a list of “turnaround” schools.
“Turnaround” schools are failing educational institutions that the city plans to close, revamp and then reopen under new leadership with a new faculty. Under the “turnaround” model, 50 percent of a troubled school’s faculty would be replaced.
The school would close and then reopen the next day.
Sunset Park leaders, however, are questioning why Charles O. Dewey Middle School, at 4004 Fourth Ave., is even on the dreaded list.
There are 33 schools in New York City on the “turnaround” list.
Michael Schweinsburg, a spokesman for Gonzalez, said the councilwoman plans to meet with City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to make the case for the school.
“The councilwoman is working to keep Dewey from closing,” he said.
Charles O. Dewey Middle School has made great strides over the past year under the leadership of Principal Eric Sackler, according to Schweinsburg, who said the gains have come against long odds.
“Ninety-one percent of the kids get free lunch, meaning that there is a high poverty rate. Forty percent of the kids are ESL students,” he said, referring to English as a Second Language classes for students who are not proficient in English. “And yet, the school has a 92 percent attendance rate. They must be doing something right.”
In May, the school was placed on a “restart” schools list, which made it eligible for more than $1 million in state aid for teacher training and other improvement projects. The funds were not allocated until September, however, and the Department of Education put the school on the “turnaround” list shortly after that.
Gonzalez thinks that’s unfair, Schweinsburg said.
“Why set them up to fail?” he asked.
Community Board Seven voted at its meeting on Feb. 15 to support the effort to have the school removed from the “turnaround” list.
In his State of the City Address last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the “turnaround” program. While Bloomberg did not directly refer to Charles O. Dewey Middle School, he hinted that the program will help bring in better teachers.
“Under a school ‘turnaround’ program already authorized by federal and state law and consistent with a provision of the existing union contract, the city can form school-based committees to evaluate teachers on merit and replace up to 50 percent of the faculty,” Bloomberg said. “Under this process, the best teachers stay; the least effective go. And now, that is exactly what will happen.”
“We plan to move forward with this approach for the 33 schools that should’ve gotten state grants. We believe that when we take this action, we will have fulfilled the state’s requirements and the schools will be eligible for the $58 million in funding,” the mayor said. “But this is about much more than the money. The students in those 33 schools deserve effective teachers.”