Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frank McCourt Planning Meeting

I attended yesterday’s community planning meeting for the Frank McCourt School hosted by Gale Brewer. It was an energized and positive meeting including members of the original proposing and planning group, the founding principal for McCourt, Danielle Salzberg, the principals from the other schools in the complex, one of the founders of Beacon, a representative of Symphony Space, some familiar faces from District 3 CEC, and various other members of the community and parents.

While I did not walk away with much in terms definititive information, I was impressed with the positive intention to build a school that is exceptional not only its own right but also as part of a collaborative campus with the other schools in the complex. Danielle has a lot of experience at creating new schools and spoke eloquently about her vision for the school that includes literature, journalism, and other types of written communication with a focus on story telling in all its forms from fiction, to drama, to lyrics, to digital media and film, etc. This is in addition to rigorous academics in all of the core college-prep subjects and foreign language. Danielle definitely said it better and in more detail.

Here are some of the other things I learned:

Even though it has been “announced” by the DOE, the school isn’t official until an approving vote sometime in December, after our applications are due.

The group is aware of the timing issues with the specialized round of matches and even the main round depending on how things go. So far there is no workaround for that. It’s just the way DOE does it.

There won’t be any formal promotion until the new school fair in February. However, the planning group is going to start their own “off the record” promotions and Danielle will answer questions at

The group had hoped for a larger school but the DOE set it at 108, the typical size of a small high school, which someone explained is 27 kids per classroom x 4. Larger schools are allowed to go up to 34 per class but small schools are capped at 27. When I was on the Stuyvesant tour, the principal said pretty much every class there is at 34. There is hope that once McCourt gets started it might grow as Beacon did to a mid-sized school. Beacon started out much smaller than it is now.

The school is set right now at citywide and screened. There was discussion about what the screening criteria should be and the planning group is going to develop a recommendations document. The ideas that were discussed are very similar to Beacon: in addition to test scores, grades, and attendance, there might be additional criteria like writing sample, group activity, on-site writing assignment, etc.

There was discussion as to how true diversity can be achieved given the system of computer matching. The intent is for the school to reflect the rich diversity of our city. There will be a big push for outreach citywide to find those students who are particularly talented at or passionate about story telling no matter what middle school they attend.

The school will share the auditorium, cafeteria, library, courtyard (and I think science labs) as well as complex-wide sports teams. Some clubs are already shared between Green Careers and Global Learning and they see that happening with McCourt as well. Assemblies will be shared when appropriate. For example, if McCourt is hosting a writer or journalist guest lecturer, then GC and GL will be invited and vice versa. The auditorum is huge.

There will apparently be some way by which we can apply to McCourt when it is announced and switch from our initial matches if accepted. However, no one explained how this would work exactly.

There are some DOE meetings and public comment sessions coming up that I will need to confirm as well as a next planning meeting in early December.

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