A secretive new program by Chancellor Richard Carranza to boost underperforming schools stumbled badly out of the gate and squandered millions, educators say.
In September, the city Department of Education quietly launched the “Academic Response Team,” a group of 69 six-figure staffers with a $10 million budget, The Post has learned. Officials say it is one of several programs to follow Mayor Bill de Blasio’s three-year, $773 million “Renewal Program” for struggling schools, which was deemed a failure.
The ART is led by senior director Clarence Williams Jr., who makes $161,364 a year, the DOE said.
Williams has two deputies, called “leads” — and a third to be hired — working under him at DOE headquarters. One of them is Ben Sherman, the ex-principal of Forest Hills High School, who left the school in June 2019 after his faculty complained the building reeked of pot and voted “no confidence” in him. He now makes $173,693 a year.
Those top officials oversee nine ART directors in borough or citywide offices.
The directors supervise 56 ART “specialists” dispatched to schools to coach teachers in subjects where test scores are lagging or have dropped.
The program came to a crashing halt for nearly the first three months of the school year after the principals’ union complained it was dumped on them without warning, insiders said.
The specialists sat in offices with nothing to do for nearly three months while the DOE worked out a deal with the principals’ union.
One principal called the program a waste of money that should be spent directly on kids’ classroom educators.
“All these new initiatives are completely ludicrous and absurd. That money could be better spent on kids,” the principal said. “I have five children that require a one-on-one paraprofessional in their IEP (special-education plan). They have not given me the funding for those paras.”
Principals were also taken aback by the lack of coordination and cooperation.
“They couldn’t just show up like a SWAT team,” a union source said.
“I’m not going to have somebody come into my building, put me under a microscope and tell me what to do,” a Brooklyn principal told The Post.
One colleague told a specialist who couldn’t explain the purpose of the visit to leave, the principal said.
The DOE finally agreed to schedule the ART visits, and send just one or two instead of a group.
Even now, with the program finally off the ground, Carranza’s vision remains fuzzy, staffers say.
“They hired all these people and they haven’t been able to map out a school improvement strategy,” a specialist told The Post. “We’re all very confused. There are no directives.”
The specialists visit each school two to three days a week for six to eight weeks, and come up with an assistance plan with the principal.
“Some schools are in such disarray. What can we do in six weeks?” the specialist asked. “It’s not what we signed up for.”
Linda Chen, Carranza’s chief academic officer, came from Boston Public Schools, where an Academic Response Team sends veteran educators into low-performing schools for two-month periods to coach teachers.
Some staffers think the program was first meant to be run by Abram Jimenez, Carranza’s friend he recruited from California, who joined the DOE in September 2018. Jimenez was named “senior executive director for continuous school improvement” with a $205,416 salary and a staff of 40.
But Jimenez abruptly quit in July 2019 following reports in The Post about his disciplinary history and a financial stake in a vendor doing millions in business with the DOE.
A DOE spokeswoman said ART was a different program, but did not explain what happened to Jimenez’s 40 staffers.
In February 2019, Carranza announced the DOE had ended the Renewal Program. but would launch a new approach called “Comprehensive School Support,” Chalkbeat reported. A DOE spokeswoman did not explain that happened to that concept.
Williams and other ART staffers did not return requests to discuss the program.
DOE officials denied the program is top-heavy or wasteful.
“When schools need to improve their instruction, we send support. This is a common-sense strategy that schools and districts use across the country,” said spokeswoman Danielle Filson.
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