En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Staten Island Advance
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Toughest Students Get Help

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — New York City’s middle school students, who face emotional and physical challenges that make them tougher to educate than their older and younger peers, will be getting extra attention this year under a citywide reform that includes a $5 million fund for the 50 most "high-need" schools.

The list of 50 schools will be determined based on standardized test scores, and it is unclear whether any on Staten Island would be included.

The date the list would be made was also unavailable yesterday.

The reforms include mentoring programs for novice supervisors, citywide Regents level courses and a professional development catalog to link low-performing middle schools with specific services they need and allow them to select curriculum-building services.

The city also hired a middle school initiatives director last week to design professional development programs and implement the report’s recommendations.

The 84-page report released yesterday was the product of citywide hearings earlier this year on problems plaguing middle schools — an initiative pushed by the mayor and City Council.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in unveiling the improvements at JHS 44 in Manhattan yesterday, said middle schools are "where many students begin to lose their footing.

"For very young kids in elementary school you can pretty much tell a young kid what to do," Bloomberg said. "It’s in those middle years where they transition from one to another where they’re going through lots of changes in their lives that’s a great challenge in education."

Recent statistics show less than half the city’s middle school students met or exceeded the English standard and roughly 45 percent of eighth graders met or exceeded the math standard this year.

On the Island, the middle school issue also persists in the form of discipline problems, said Jackie Bennett, a teacher on leave from the Michael J. Petrides School in Sunnyside and the only Islander on the task force that worked on the report.

"The big issue on Staten Island has been the discipline. What the report has in it, one of the things the report has for the first time is some language on discipline. Now how much of an effect that’ll have is a different thing," Ms. Bennett said.

"School yard bullying (and) persistent incivility" must be addressed, she added.

The report recommends proactive steps schools should take toward reducing discipline, such as "clear guidelines for unacceptable behavior and consequences," but the reforms do not go far enough to address discipline issues, City Councilman Michael McMahon said, pointing to several problematic schools in his North Shore district.

"While I think it’s positive the mayor is adopting the recommendations of the Council’s task force, I think the steps announced today are very small steps in the right direction," McMahon said. "I think we need much more dramatic action. … They really need a Marshall Plan approach on [safety and discipline]."

The success of the reforms will be measured through progress reports each school would receive, with letter grades on performance, progress and school environment.

"Under these new middle school proposals, low performing middle schools will receive additional help, but will still be held accountable as any other school. High-scoring schools will be rewarded," said mayoral spokeswoman Dawn Walker.

Sally Goldenberg covers City Hall for the Advance. She may be reached at goldenberg@siadvance.com.

© 2007 Staten Island Advance

Note: Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), of which Make the Road by Walking is a founding member, is alliance of parent organizations representing 220,000 students pushing for improvements to middle schools. In January, the CEJ released a report on middle schools that highlighted experiences in their schools and called for specific changes to turn things around.