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Klein celebrates no layoffs, hits the bar with young teachers

Question: If you’re Chancellor Joel Klein, how do you celebrate not having to lay off your newest 4,400 public school teachers?

Answer: By partying with a few dozen of those rookie teachers, of course.

By “partying” I mean sipping what looked to be Coke while addressing a small crowd of young teachers at a Hell’s Kitchen bar. The teachers were a sympathetic crowd: Brought together by Educators 4 Excellence — a group created by teachers who hope to influence the public debate over seniority and teacher evaluations — the teachers gathered Wednesday evening to hear Klein speak.

While some of the teachers in attendance hailed from the Bronx’s P.S. 86, where E4E’s co-founders teach, others came from schools all over the city. Many were in Teach for America and in their first few years of working in the city’s public schools.

Educators 4 Excellence’s founders, Evan Stone and Syndey Morris, see their organization as a way for these teachers to be heard outside of the city’s teachers union, which does not share many of their views. Newly incorporated as a non-profit, they’re beginning to look for funders while also trying to keep their independence from all of the education reform groups already in existence. Stone said this will likely mean having a board of directors composed of current and former teachers and a separate group of funders that doesn’t control the organization.

I’d tell you about the chancellor’s remarks, but Klein’s staff and the event’s hosts decided his comments should be off the record, so this photo of the chancellor bathed in the light of a Jack Daniels sign will have to suffice.

When it came time to ask Klein questions, several teachers raised their hands and said they were concerned about administrative incompetence and the mistreatment of students at their schools, but said they didn’t know where to report the problems. Others wondered what would be done to prevent seniority-based layoffs from happening next year, when the federal stimulus funds that have been cushioning the city’s budget expire.

After taking their questions, Klein walked through the bar shaking hands and accepting thanks from gratefully employed teachers.

A point of clarification: A story I wrote earlier this year described Educators 4 Excellence as “entirely unfunded.” In fact, the development costs for the group’s website were paid for by Education Reform Now, an advocacy group that recently waged a campaign for more charter schools and an end to seniority-based layoffs. Stone and Morris pay for the website’s upkeep on their own.

Stone told me today that he and Morris have only begun to look for outside funding for the group. He wrote in an email:

We will be looking for funding very soon as we currently don’t have any money. Even the event last night was paid for out of my teaching salary. Hopefully any gotham school readers and or reporters who share our views will help us to continue to build an authentic voice for teachers by donating to our organization.

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