CityViews: De Blasio’s Renewal Program Put Our School on a Path to Rise

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Orchard Collegiate Academy

Orchard Collegiate Academy's graduation rate had bounced around the 40s and 50s for years, topping out at 63 percent – well below the citywide average. Its preliminary graduation rate last year was 66 percent.

After three years in the School Renewal Program, Orchard Collegiate Academy is a school on the rise.

Just a few years ago, the State Education Department had deemed us one of the lowest performing schools and said we were at risk for a takeover by an independent authority. Our enrollment was shrinking, with only about 40 ninth-graders. Our graduation rate had bounced around the 40s and 50s for years, topping out at 63 percent – well below the citywide average. But most importantly, when you walked the building, the culture and climate was not strong. We had so much more work to do to serve our students and families.

Through the School Renewal Program, we got the support we needed to do just that.

We now have a Community Schools partnership with Henry Street Settlement, which is a community-based organization, and this synergy means everything to us and our kids. Henry Street provides two social workers and four social work interns to meet our students’ socio-emotional needs. We opened a new mental health clinic in 2015, which they help manage. My Community School Director, Dayna Hamann, has built bonds with our students and families that pay off in and out of the classroom. For me, our Family Night this fall reflected how far we’ve come; the kind of parent and student turnout and energy we saw would not have been possible without the Community Schools model.

In our classrooms, there’s been the same upward trend. We’ve bolstered the instruction going on in each of our classrooms with new training and resources that we’ve gotten through the Renewal program, and added AP courses and partnerships with NYU and BMCC. With guidance almost every day from my principal mentor Sandy Kase and Superintendent Daniella Phillips, we developed a clear goal – 100 percent of our students going on to the college or career of their choice – and the instructional plan to get us there. This year, we’re focusing on intellectual exchange – our students’ ability to communicate, discuss, and defend their ideas. It’s critical to their success after they graduate.

As part of our story of renewal, we also restructured and rebranded. When I started as principal, we were “Henry Street School for International Studies,” for students in grades 6-12. But there was no strong international studies component, and trying to focus on both middle and high school grades weakened instruction. So we became Orchard Collegiate Academy – a 9-12 school whose focus on getting our students to college is now clear to anyone who hears our name. This revamp has been essential to our success.

Now, New York State has designated us a School in Good Standing. Our enrollment is growing, with 70 9th-graders this year. Our preliminary graduation rate last year was 66 percent, and I’m aiming for 90 percent this year. And this week, we were named one of New York City’s 21 “Rise Schools” – schools that have made enough gains to transition out of the Renewal program. While some things will change, I’m excited that, as a Rise School, we’ll continue to have our Community Schools model and the targeted investments and supports that have been essential to our progress.

We have developed a clear vision, clear goals, and a clear path to success for our kids and families. Orchard Collegiate Academy is clearly on the rise, and I’m looking forward to all the work that lies ahead.

Miles Doyle is the principal of Orchard Collegiate Academy, a high school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

7 thoughts on “CityViews: De Blasio’s Renewal Program Put Our School on a Path to Rise

    • It’s not even that good. Enrollment at Renewal schools has dropped 25% since 2013. So if the same number of kids graduate, it’s still a higher PERCENTAGE of graduates because of the smaller student population. Also, “graduating” a student if meaningless if they haven’t learned anything. College readiness among Renewal school graduates is dismal – like 12%.

      • But it’s a great jobs program for UFT members! This article reads like a propaganda piece, which it is. Each of these renewal schools is loaded with UFT counselors, mentors and whatever. According to the NYT this program has cost taxpayers $593 million.

        And I just love this –
        ‘…two social workers and four social work interns to meet our students’ socio-emotional needs…’

        • Just to be clear, this was an op-ed submitted to City Limits, not a news article.

          But tell me, native new yorker, what is it you love (or, if you were being sardonic, don’t actually love) about there being social workers at a school? I know you know that in schools that serve a lot of low-income kids there could be more than a few who have witnessed street or domestic violence, experienced higher than normal amounts of personal loss through the deaths of friends or relatives, dealt with the alienation and isolation of being a newcomer in this country, lived through the destabilizing events of eviction and even homelessness, and so on. Those could be barriers to learning. Do you think schools should help students navigate those?

          • Please keep in mind that the Renewal program has shown marked improvement in 21 schools. These schools have now left the program. That’s 21 more schools than Bloomberg ever saved. Bloomberg’s solution was to “close” these schools. This usually meant the kids and teachers were shuffled around a little and then the schools were reopened with no additional support. Many of them promptly fail again because their problems were never addressed. Also keep in mind that most of the extra staff in renewal schools are provided by community organizations at a much cheaper cost than adding DoE staff (they’re also not members of the UFT). They offer students desperately needed social services to combat the abject poverty many of the students in renewal programs face. Students at renewal schools are disproportionately affected by poverty with some schools having 30-40% of their student bodies living in shelters. People should think of the renewal program as offering students the extra help they really need. The constitution of New York State demands that all students get an equal education and compensating for living in a shelter is the least we can do for these kids.

          • 10% of the students in NYC are homeless. I’ve taught homeless students. I’ve had students who had spent weeks traversing mountains with little or no water to come here. I’ve had students who had to wake up at 3 AM to help their families deliver newspapers. I’ve had students who missed years of school in their native countries.

            It’s commendable that there are more social workers in any schools. For the record, the writer of this piece is a principal talking about good things he sees happening in his school. He’s not UFT, and direct praise in this piece appears directed at DOE leaders rather than UFT members.

            For the record, I’m a UFT member. I go into work every day and help children. I regret that it bothers people so much that I am compensated for that service. However, at least two of my former students, newcomers to whom I taught English, are now working as teachers in our building. I’m very happy they have this opportunity, and I’m very happy they have a shot at a middle-class lifestyle.

            I will work hard to make sure my current students have opportunities as well. Our teaching conditions are their learning conditions, and our working conditions are their future working conditions.

            While I’m glad that Mayor de Blasio’s program helped this school, I’m not as enthusiastic about the overall program as the writer. In many schools, the DOE failed to reduce class sizes, something we know gives children more of the attention they need. Had they focused more on that, as they said they would, I think the program would have been more successful.

  1. What this principal doesn’t mention here is that his school averaged only 17.8 students per class this fall, and last year had the lowest class sizes of any high school in the Renewal program.

    Only two Renewal schools capped class sizes last year at the Contract for Excellence goals and Orchard Collegiate was one of them, with their highest class sizes at 24. Unfortunately, more than 70% of Renewal schools continue to have maximum class sizes of 30 or more, and despite DOE promises to the state to focus their class size reduction efforts in these schools, about 40% didn’t lower class sizes by one iota and more than half didn’t lower class size or lowered it by less than one student per class. Wrap-around services are great, but without smaller classes it is unlikely for teachers at these schools to be able to reach all their struggling students and give them the support they deserve.

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