After the last two years of being on a state watch list, nine Syracuse city schools will learn next month whether the improvements they’ve made to help struggling students will be enough to be removed from receivership. But if the changes aren’t deemed to be adequate, these schools would have to surrender control to one of the individuals, non-profit groups, or districts already approved by New York State’s Education Department.
Last year, nine area schools made significant enough improvements to be removed from the list. But Henninger High School, Dr. King Elementary School, Danforth Middle School, Delaware Academy, Frazer K-8 School, Lincoln Middle School, West Side Academy at Blodgett, Dr. Weeks Elementary School, and the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler remain in receivership this year.
The district has taken action to improve academic performance at these schools, even before they were placed under receivership. An increased emphasis on personal learning and early literacy, as well as partnerships with community organizations (like the Redhouse Arts Center, Syracuse University, and others) and a longer school day, are among the methods used to promote higher levels of achievement.
However, improvement isn’t actually measured by improved class grades. It’s actually determined by standardized test scores, high school graduation rates, student attendance and suspensions, and school safety. That means that the teachers at these institutions are likely under a lot of pressure to make sure their students are scoring well, are in school, and graduate on time. Around 75% of employees believe today’s workers have more on-the-job stress than those working a generation ago, but these teachers may be evaluated in ways that may not necessarily reflect their level of effectiveness in the classroom. In addition, these factors don’t account for students who don’t excel in test-taking.
Still, assistant superintendent Zheadric Barbra points out that these schools are improving — though perhaps not as quickly as the district would like. He cited to Syracuse.com that the city’s high school graduation rate in 2016-2017 exceeded 60% for the first time in a decade and saw more improvement in this area than New York State’s other large school districts. Barbra also says parental engagement is up and out-of-school suspensions are down.
But only 13.1% of Syracuse students scored at a proficient level on English language arts exams and only 11% of city students scored at a proficient level on state math exams. Statewide, 39.8% of students are proficient on state language arts exams and 40.2% of students are proficient on math exams.
If the schools do not improve enough for the state Education Department’s liking, the school board will be forced to appoint an independent receiver to oversee matters at the school(s). However, these schools would be allowed to use the remainder of the school year to make this transition. The schools will have to wait until October 27 to learn their fate.