New York City

De Blasio’s district-charter partnerships start with a focus on school discipline

Photo by Patrick Wall

Anthony Pirro has a vision for what discipline could look like at P.S. 54, the elementary school he runs in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Students who misbehave would be pulled aside to analyze their decisions. If they had disrupted class, they would apologize to others. Suspensions would be used only as a last resort.

But so far, the push toward restorative justice hasn’t worked, Pirro explained Thursday. Less than half of his teachers are on board, and trying to rally the parent-teacher association this year has been an “epic fail.”

His latest tactic: Getting advice from The Equity Project Charter School through a new program that pairs up New York City district and charter schools. The new partnerships — which the city expects to spend $18 million to support over the next four years — are one part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Equity and Excellence” plan, a long-term agenda he outlined in September to reshape public schools.

Pirro visited The Equity Project in Washington Heights Thursday alongside a number of other city education officials for the program’s second meeting.

“It just might prod people to think a little bit more widely,” Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg said. “The original idea of why we would have charter schools was to innovate practice.”

These partnerships are also an extension of the collaborative learning approach championed by Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who has made her “Learning Partners” program a centerpiece of her plan to improve New York City’s schools. They are also designed to bring together two kinds of schools that often grab headlines for sparking tension, not sharing ideas.

So far, 20 district and charter schools are participating, with some of each designated as “mentor” schools and others as “learner” schools. Half are working to improve instruction for students learning English, while the other half tackle discipline issues.

On Thursday morning, school leaders bounced new ideas around for Pirro. Maybe he should focus his efforts on convincing teachers on the verge of supporting the new approach, one said. Another suggested his message would be more effective coming from fellow teachers.

The initiative mirrors past efforts in the city and across the country to foster charter-district conversations. The Gates Foundation gave $25 million in 2012 to seven different cities, including New York, to help charter and district schools share ideas about enrollment systems, metrics, and professional development. (Chalkbeat also receives support from the Gates Foundation.)

The city’s initiative is set to reach more partnerships over the next five years, but there is no concrete vision for what the program will look like over that time, Weinberg said. There is also no process for testing whether the conversations turn into action besides continuing the meetings.

“The best kind of supervision is self-supervision,” Weinberg said.

After the workshop, Pirro had already started compiling a list of about 10 ideas that he wants to bring to his school. Next time, he plans to have something he can report back.

This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on April 21.

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