2008 Grant Application Provides Unvarnished View of State of New Rochelle and Its Schools - Less Than Half of Isaac Students Prepared for High School

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IsaacYoungNEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Talk of the Sound recently obtained through a Freedom of Information request several reports and other documents related to School Safety and Security in the New Rochelle school system from the period 2005 to 2009.

One of them is a 2008 filing with New York State by the New Rochelle Board of Education, an application for a grant award in which proposed to address various issues with "New Rochelle RISE" or "Reach for Individual Success and Empowerment".

Although filed 5 years ago, about the time Talk of the Sound was launched in 2008, the unvarnished description of the State of the City and State of New Rochelle Schools mirrors the reporting done by Talk of the Sound and confirms much of what the New Rochelle Board of Education and Mayor Bramson have sought to hide from public view and block from public discussion ever since.

The report highlight what it calls "a nearly invisible but disturbing trend in academic performance" which found that "less than half of the students from Isaac E. Young go to high school well prepared to succeed in high school." Isaac is described as violent, gang-ridden and out of control with 29% of students serving either in-school or out-of-school suspensions and large numbers of juvenile felony arrests and juvenile misdemeanor arrests.

"There is a rise in juvenile offenses related to gangs," notes the report. "The Youth Officer responsible for gang intelligence reports that the identified members are 'Just the tip of the iceberg." School staff and police officers both believe that the students involved are from Isaac E. Young."

RISE is described as a collaboration of the District, three of its elementary schools and one middle school, Future Stars, Iona College, Manhattanville College, Monroe College, the New Rochelle YMCA, Westchester Jewish Community Services and Wingspan Arts. The mission of RlSE was to "help students create a strong academic foundation for success in middle school, then in high school and in their future lives and careers"

The targeted student participants were 175 students at Columbus, Jefferson and Trinity Elementary Schools and 175 students at Isaac E. Young Middle School, for a total of 700 students. The targeted family participants include are 600 of the families of the students who participate in the program.

The application form asked for a description of the the community that the target population of students and their families live.

Portrait of New Rochelle: New Rochelle is the 6th largest city in New York State (outside New York City), with a population of 72,985 according to the 2004 Census Update. New Rochelle is located in southeastern Westchester County, less than one mile from the Bronx in New York City. Despite an image of affluence, Westchester is 'complex demographically and socioeconomically. The City of New Rochelle reflects that complexity. New Rochelle is diverse racially and ethnically, with 68% White, 19% Black and 20% Hispanic (counted in both White and Black). The Hispanic population in the city increased 100% between 1990 and 2000 (2000 Census) and continues to increase in this decade. On the north side of New Rochelle are affluent neighborhoods of middle and upper middle class professional families. In the west and south side of the city are densely populated poor and working class neighborhoods with severe pockets of poverty and concentrated numbers of African American and Hispanic families. The density, poverty, high crime and marginally economic families are located in the same areas as those of high minority racial and ethnic concentration. In these neighborhoods is where our target population of students and families live. It is the emerging urban features in New Rochelle that bound the lives of the RISE students. They are poor in a city that historically has been very affluent and continues to have neighborhoods and people that are affluent and successful. They confront and experience urban ills each day. They are part of the growing "achievement gap" in the District. They are "at risk" in similar ways to their peers that live in large, central cities.

Portrait of the School District: The City School District mirrors the diversity in the City, and is actually more diverse than the city itself, indicating that families with young children are increasingly families of color with lower incomes than the white population. The District uses a neighborhood school structure, with 4 elementary schools on the north side and 3 elementary schools on the south side; one middle school on the north side and one middle school on the south side. The 3 south and west side elementary schools that feed into Isaac E. Young Middle School have 30-50% more low income students, with minority populations of 80-85% than the elementary schools on the north side.

• Describe the target population of students and their needs. Include the basic demographic information about the target population and information about the full range of their needs: academic, social, emotional, cultural and physical. Also include the needs of the families or the target population or students.

RISE is a continuation of the District's Round 2 21 51 Century CLC program and will continue at the three elementary schools that feed into a comprehensive middle school on the south and west side of New Rochelle. Their demographic profile is, according to Fall 2007 District data:

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Over the past five years in these schools, there are a disturbing number of trends that place students at risk of academic failure and that frame the needs to be addressed. These trends are:

1) A Changing Demographic Profile: increasing numbers of poor students, as evidenced by substantial increases in the numbers of students receiving free/reduced lunch; and large increases in the numbers of Hispanic students and, corresponding large increases in the numbers of English Language Learners (ELL). The numbers of high risk students grows, and the pressures on the schools grows to address their multiple learning needs.

2) A Growing Achievement Gap: These schools show evidence of achievement gaps as measured on the NYS performance assessments in grades 3 through 8; and gaps that grow as students grow: achievement gaps of 15-25% between Black, White and Hispanic students and between economically disadvantaged and those who are not economically disadvantaged and between general education students and students with disabilities.

3) A Steady Decline in Achievement from Elementary to Middle School: There is a decline of 10% on ELA scores from Grade 5 to 8 and a decline of 21% from Grade 5 to 8 in Math.

4) A nearly invisible but disturbing trend in academic performance: To prepare this proposal we have analyzed student performance on NYS assessments: we have found that when "low Level 3's" are added to those who do not meet state standards, Levels I and Level 2, the number of students who need academic support rises dramatically, in some grades at some schools more than 30%. And by 8th grade, adding the marginally performing students means that less than half of the students from Isaac E. Young go to high school well prepared to succeed in high school.

School Violence: Violence among students is a growing concern for families and students at the four secondary schools, with an emphasis on Isaac E. Young Middle School. In 2005-2006, as reported in the Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports to the NYSED, there were 901 students in the secondary schools, out of 5629 students (16%), involved in incidents ranging from weapons possession, larceny, minor altercations and "other disruptive incidents." The District also reported that in 2005-2006 there had been 486 students (9%) suspended from school; the suspensions were for fighting and other disruptive acts. In the Spring 2007 survey, 52% of the middle school students think that "there are too many fights in my school" and 24% of high school students also indicated that they agreed with this statement. (The numbers are disproportionately large for Isaac E. Young).

Perspectives on intolerance, disrespect and bullying: In the Spring 2007 District surveys of secondary students and families, 74% of the parents surveyed agreed that: "families in my community are concerned that their children are bullied or disrespected by other children," 66% of the high school students had seen students bullied or disrespected; and 78% of the middle school students had seen students bullied or disrespected by other students. In focus groups conducted this Spring with 10 school based teams of school psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, attendance teachers and special education specialists, varying degrees of unease about student behavior toward each other and toward staff were voiced. All expressed concern that too many students are intolerant of differences and are disrespectful to their peers and to adults. Stories about cyberspace behavior also surfaced, with concerns about bullying, threats of violence and much intolerance communicated among students.

Youth Behavior in School and in the Community: In 2006-2007, at Isaac E. Young there were 118 in school suspensions and 189 out of school suspensions, or 29% of the students. The Police Department has reported that there was a 155% increase in juvenile arrests felonies from 2003 to 2004. From 2004 to 2005, the number of juvenile arrests for misdemeanors almost tripled. When individual juvenile cases are analyzed, there is a rise in juvenile offenses related to gangs. The Youth Officer responsible for gang intelligence reports that the identified members are 'Just the tip of the iceberg." School staff and police officers both believe that the students involved are from Isaac E. Young.

Risky Behavior among middle and high school youth: The New Rochelle FOCUS Coalition conducted the Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) survey in the fall of 2006 for students in grades 7-12. The PNA provides data on the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use among youth as well as the presence of a variety of risk and protective factors that are correlated with a number of adolescent behaviors, including substance use. The PNA Survey identified several problems for New Rochelle secondary students. These problems are unacceptably high levels of substance use especially binge drinking, students negatively affected by parent and sibling substance use, parent and student altitudes favorable to anti-social behavior and substance use, and parents who are not setting healthy limits for teen behavior. Approximately "39% of New Rochelle students are considered to be at high risk." Again District staff believe that the Isaac students are disproportionately represented.

Family Needs: Barriers to Participation and Involvement: Our analysis of family needs is based on our experience during the last four years with these 21 s1 Century after school programs. We have had increases in family participation and involvement among families whose children regularly attend the after school program. Parents tell us that they are now more comfortable coming to school, talking to their child's teacher and they have a greater understanding of the school's expectations. Because so many families at these four schools are foreign born, learning a new culture, learning a new language and learning new educational expectations has been difficult. It is these barriers that we propose to address in RISE.

The objectives of RISE were:

1. To improve the academic performance and positive development of 70% of the participating students at the Isaac E. Young Middle School. As a special component: to enable 8th graders to make a smooth transition to high school with strengthened basic academic skills and increased knowledge of colleges and college expectations.

2. To enable at least 100 families of middle school students to gain the knowledge necessary to support the academic success of their children and to enable families to increase their knowledge of the college search, financial aid and admissions process.

3. To improve the academic performance, social skills and behavior of 70% of the participating elementary students. As a special component: to enable fifth graders to be better prepared academically, socially and behaviorally for middle school.

4. To enable at least 300 families of participating elementary students to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to support the academic success of their children.

The services and activities in the full-time comprehensive programs to be provided include: 1) Academic support, homework help, tutoring, interdisciplinary theme-based academic enrichment projects in literacy, math and technology. 2) Arts enrichment activities including music, drama and visual arts. 3) For middle school students, positive youth development activities including community service projects and career exploration activities. 4) Recreation and fitness activities including non-competitive games, fitness and conditioning, and skills-based clinics in basketball, soccer and softball. 5) Family Learning Academies including bilingual parent education workshops and workshops related to supporting student success in the future.

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