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City's Renewal Schools Program Shows Early Signs of Success in East Harlem

By Gustavo Solis | November 5, 2015 11:44am
 The school is on pace to have a 95 percent attendance rate this school year. It was previously at 88 percent, school officials said.
The school is on pace to have a 95 percent attendance rate this school year. It was previously at 88 percent, school officials said.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

EAST HARLEM — Renaissance School of the Arts is going through a rebirth.

A year ago this week, the middle school on East 117th Street was one of 94 placed in the city’s “School Renewal Program” meant to help the lowest-performing schools throughout the five boroughs.

“A big issue that we had was that we had a very low number of students meeting proficiency standards when I arrived," said principal Brian Bradley. "We also had a terrible attendance rate and a very high chronically absent rate. We desperately needed resources because we are a very small school.

Only four percent of their students met the state’s math standards and eight percent met the English standards. The school also had a below-average 88 percent attendance rate, according to the DOE.

One of the most dramatic changes was bringing two social workers to the school to work with both students and their families. They engaged the entire community and turned the school into a one-stop-shop for services, Bradley said.

Recently students had eye screenings and they teamed up with an eyeglass store to provide free glasses for students who needed them, he added.

After one year of being in the renewal program, eight percent are math proficient and 13 percent are English proficient. This year, the school is on track to have a 95 percent attendance rate.

The $150 million program — which is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week — pumps resources into underperforming schools. They partner up with organizations that provide services like after-school programs, health and mental services, and even continuing education for adults.

"The reason of why it’s being successful is the families are finding value in what we can provide," Bradley said.

The schools also got more than 100 experienced teachers who have been given a pay bump to mentor less experienced teachers at renewal schools.

Renaissance School of the Arts is one of three renewal schools in East Harlem.

City-wide other renewal schools have seen increases in test scores and attendance and decreases in crime, according to the DOE.

The biggest statistical change is a 31 percent reduction in dangerous incidents at renewal schools. When it comes to attendance, the schools saw a 1.3 percent jump in their first year. The number seems low but represents 587 more children in class, according to the DOE.

"Fixing schools that have been problematic on this type of grand scale really hasn’t been done before," Bradley said. "It is a massive undertaking."