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City unveils algorithm that will assign ATR’s to new weekly spots

The Department of Education is preparing for the high volume of new assignments it will have to make starting Tuesday, as Absent Teacher Reserve  teachers are shifted to a new school every single week.

Starting next week, the nearly 1,300 teachers in the ATR pool will report to a fresh school every Monday, an arrangement set in a deal between the city and teachers union to avert teacher layoffs. Teachers enter the pool when their positions are eliminated, usually because of budget cuts or school closures. While some teachers quickly find new positions in the city schools, others do not, and some stay in the pool for years without finding a new position.

A computer algorithm and multiple DOE staffers are tasked with making matches between ATR members to their weekly school placements, DOE officials told reporters today in a telephone briefing. The officials said the process is a work in progress, acknowledging that it may require more time and energy from central office staff and principals than the previous ATR arrangement. Previously, ATR teachers held long-term assignments. The relatively comfortable stability was seen by some as a reason why longstanding members of the pool failed to find new positions.

Union officials explained to skeptical teachers in the ATR pool earlier this week that the arrangement is meant to help them land permanent positions.

DOE officials echoed that explanation. The placements should be seen as a tryout that could easily result in a full-time position, according to Larry Becker, the chief executive officer of the DOE’s human resources division. 

But a month into the school year, there are fewer open positions than there are ATR members, and the department does not expect that the pool will be cleared, only reduced, Becker said. He said that there are about 550 open positions in the core academic subjects, the ones where hiring is most likely to be taking place right now.

Each week, a computer algorithm will assign teachers a new placement. The algorithm will take into account teachers’ license areas, the district where they last held a permanent position, and schools’ needs. A team of four or five DOE staffers will monitor the placements, Becker said. Becker signaled that more staff members might be brought on to the project if the city’s hiring freeze is lifted.

The computer programming was a one-time cost and the salaries amount to just a fraction of the $40 million in projected savings in substitute costs, officials said.

Becker said guidance counselors and teachers already filling in as long-term substitutes would not be reassigned weekly because doing do would harm students, Becker said. But he said most students wouldn’t experience any upheavals from the ATR deal because they would likely have had different teachers substituting in their classes each week anyway.

One unanswered question is who will evaluate teachers in the pool if they do not have a single direct supervisor over the course of the year. DOE officials are still considering the issue, but it is likely that principals, district officials, and department officials would jointly issue the ratings, Becker said.

At meetings for ATR teachers held by the teachers union this week, United Federation of Teachers representative Amy Arundell assured teachers that they would not be evaluated based solely on one week of work at a school. But several teachers who were assigned to temporary positions outside of their speciality voiced concerns that they could be evaluated while teaching classes or student populations that they are not licensed to teach.