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Grady High gets new principal - and federal funds - to turn report card around

Principal Geraldine Maione is looking to make Grady grade-A.

William E. Grady Career and Technical High School has a new leader and gobs of federal dollars at the ready to help turn around the underperforming vocational school.

“I believe in the kids and I’m extremely optimistic,” said Grady’s new principal, Geraldine Maione. Maione already used some of the money to hire three mentor teachers to oversee less experienced colleagues, and she has even more ideas for how to boost morale and students’ test scores.

Other underperforming South Brooklyn schools — like Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School — are fighting to stay open, but Grady will receive up to $2 million in annual federal funds over the next three years to make improvements. It is one of the 11 schools selected by the city to undergo the “transformational model” to raise its 52 percent graduate rate and its city-issued grade-D report card.

The city selected Maione to replace principal Carlston Gray this year, as a leadership change is the first step for all “transformational schools.”

“Maione’s leadership has already had a huge impact on the school,” said Grady English teacher Dawn Sansevero. “We need her to be the school that we want to be.”

Maione was actually ousted as the principal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, located on 20th Avenue, so that it too could receive federal turnaround money. However, city officials were impressed that the 3,500-student school received a B-grade report card for three years in a row, so they reassigned her to Grady, located on Brighton Fourth Road.

She faces an uphill battle at the vocational school. Nearly half of the kids drop out, and only 1.2 percent of students met the “proficiency” standard on last year’s math Regents.

But Grady’s staff says that Maione’s mentor teachers have already made a difference. These teachers work longer hours and are eligible for bonuses based on student performance.

“The extra professional development has been helpful,” said Halima Pspierce, a Grady special education teacher. “I recently learned some good strategies to deal with behavior problems, so it has made my class time more productive.”

Other plans for the funds include introducing additional guidance programs and class time for students who are behind on their credits, according to Tarah Montalbano, an assistant principal.

But Maione added that the money won’t fix everything. She stressed the importance of parental involvement and smaller class sizes to benefit Grady’s special education students, who comprise 19 percent of the student population. However, federal rules prohibit principals from downsizing classes with the grant money. She can use the money to expand the school’s extended day program, but Maione fears that may not be enough to get the results she desires.

“We need to have more resources during the school day to reach these kids better,” Maione said. “A lot of our students are too busy with sports teams or family commitments to stay after school.”

The transformational model also puts a greater scrutiny on teachers’ performance. If their students don’t meet certain standards, which the city has not yet determined, they will be removed from the school to go through a full semester of professional development. Some are already feeling the pressure.

“This is my last year before I can get tenure, so it worries me that I could lose out on it,” Pspierce said.

However, other teachers are eager to prove that they can help boost students’ test scores.

“I think the tracking is a good idea,” Sansevero said. “If we do our jobs, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

Principal Maione is also unconcerned, adding that the teachers at Grady have the experience and the competency to make the school a success.

“I believe in my staff,” Maione said. “They go above and beyond.”

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