closing argument

With enrollment likely to plummet, city moves to close Bronx school where student was fatally stabbed

PHOTO: YouTube/NYC Mayor's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed reporters after the stabbing at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx in September.

The Bronx school where a student fatally stabbed one classmate and seriously wounded another in September is among the 14 schools the New York City education department is seeking to shutter, officials announced Monday.

An 18-year-old student was charged with stabbing the two boys in the middle of a class at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation using a switchblade knife — the first time a student was accused of killing another inside a city school in over two decades. Soon after, reports emerged that about disorder and chronic bullying at the school, including one incident that reportedly led one student to attempt to commit suicide.

It’s a remarkably rapid implosion for a school that isn’t among the city’s very worst performers academically and still serves nearly 500 students, unlike many of the small and long-struggling schools facing closure. (Find the full list of proposed changes here.) A chaotic school culture and ineffective leadership in the wake of the stabbing, officials said, in addition to concerns about future enrollment, led to a determination that it could not be saved.

In the wake of the stabbing, just five students applied to attend the high school next year as their first choice, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday.

“When you start looking at things like that, the message is written for you,” she said.

City officials announced they will shutter the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation along with 13 other schools. Nine of the schools are in the city’s “Renewal” program, a turnaround initiative that aims to flood struggling schools with additional resources. Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation is one of five schools outside of the program that will be closed.

Last school year, just 13 percent of Wildlife Conservation’s middle-school students met the state’s proficiency bar on English tests and 5 percent did on math — compared to 41 percent and 33 percent citywide, respectively. The high school fared better, with 75 percent of students graduating in four years, one percentage point above the city average.

Soon after the fatal stabbing of the 15-year-old student, Matthew McCree, a grim picture emerged of a school in crisis. On surveys, only 55 percent of students said they felt safe in the school’s hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms, or cafeteria.

Abel Cedeno, the student charged with the stabbing, said in interviews and through family spokespeople that other students at the school had taunted him with racial and homophobic slurs. He pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in November.

City officials said Monday that they had tried to revamp the school — which serves grades 6 to 12 and shares a building with an elementary school — by adding safety agents, increasing training for staff members, and installing a new principal. However, students sought to leave in droves: As of last Friday, roughly 45 students had transferred out of the school since the stabbing, officials said.

The Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that helps run 21 mainly career-focused schools across the city, is committed to helping students transition into new schools, said its CEO Kristin Kearns Jordan. Network officials will help students transfer to a different Urban Assembly school if they choose, she said.

Kearns Jordan, however, declined to comment on the school’s current safety. That is “really a DOE responsibility,” she said.

“We are obviously saddened by this closure. It’s heartbreaking for students, for families,” said Kearns Jordan. “We are going to do everything we can to support them through the rest of the year.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story said that just five students applied to attend the high school next year. In fact, only five students applied to the school as their first choice. 

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.

new year

Here are the Memphis schools opening and closing this school year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Alcy Elementary Schools is being demolished this summer to make way for a new building on the same property that will also house students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.

Six schools will open and six will close as the new school year begins next month.

This year’s closures are composed mostly of charter schools. That’s a shift from recent years — about two dozen district-run schools have shuttered since 2012. All of the schools opening are charter schools, bringing the district’s total to 57, which is more than half of the charter schools statewide.

Below is a list of closures and openings Chalkbeat has compiled from Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools Opening

  • Believe Memphis Academy is a new college preparatory charter school that will focus on literacy while serving students in fourth and fifth grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade.
  • Crosstown High School will focus on creating student projects that solve problems of local businesses and organizations. The school will start with 150 ninth-graders and will be housed in a building shared with businesses and apartments in Crosstown Concourse, a renovated Sears warehouse.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy will open its fifth school starting with middle schoolers. It will eventually expand to create the Memphis network’s second high school in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.
  • Memphis Business Academy will open an elementary school and a middle school in Hickory Hill. The schools were originally slated to open in 2017, but were delayed to finalize property and financing, CEO Anthony Anderson said.
  • Perea Elementary School will focus on emotional health and community supports for families living in poverty. District leaders initially rejected its application, but school board members approved it. They liked the organization’s academic and community work with preschoolers in the same building.

Schools Closing

  • Alcy Elementary School will be demolished this summer to make room for a new building. It is expected to open in 2020 with students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.
  • Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy will close. The charter network’s founder, Willie Herenton, a former Memphis school superintendent, said in April the schools are closing because of a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
  • GRAD Academy, part of the Achievement School District, announced in January the high school would close because the Houston-based charter organization could not sustain it. It was the third school in the district to close since the state-run district started in 2012.
  • Legacy Leadership Academy is closing after its first year because the charter organization lost its federal nonprofit status, and enrollment was low.
  • Manor Lake Elementary is closing to merge with nearby Geeter Middle School because low enrollment made for extra room in their buildings. The new Geeter K-8 will join eight others in the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a neighborhood school improvement program started by Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School.

School Closings

Memphis charter school signs lease within district boundaries, allowing it to stay open

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones
The Bartlett storefront Gateway University High School used for the 2017-18 school year.

A Memphis charter school on the brink of closure over the location of its building has signed a lease within Shelby County Schools’ boundaries.

Gateway University High School will move into Holy Nation Church of Memphis on Brownsville Road near Craigmont High School after being in a Memphis suburb since opening in August 2017, according to a spokeswoman for the charter school.

In response, Shelby County Schools will pull its recommendation to revoke the school’s charter, according to the school board’s agenda. The district had called for the school’s closure because of a new state law that prohibits charter schools operating outside of the authorizing district’s limits.

The Tennessee Department of Education gave school leaders until July 1 to comply with an attorney general’s opinion issued in September and to comply with the school’s contract that stated it would operate “within the local school district of Shelby County, Tennessee.” Their previous building was a storefront in Bartlett.

The board was set to vote on the matter Tuesday — five days before the state’s deadline.