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Union opposition won't stop school changes, city officials vow

“Everything you ever do, there’s going to be days where it just doesn’t work,” Mayor Bloomberg told a group of high school students today. “There’s going to be days where somebody says something you don’t like or something goes the wrong way.”

Bloomberg’s message to an 11th-grade English class was meant to inspire students for the future. But it could have just as easily been a self-esteem booster as he slogs through a battle over teacher quality that he started waging when he became mayor 10 years ago.

“Successful people,” Bloomberg told the students about adversity, “recover from that and they learn how to deal with that.”

The visit to the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science was the mayor’s latest stop on a publicity tour to promote a strategy to retain effective teachers and fire the least effective ones. It began in the Bronx last week, at the Morris High School Campus with his State of the City Speech, and continued into this week with a speech on Martin Luther King Day.

In the process, he has picked up substantial support from state officials. Yesterday, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Education Commissioner John King demanded that the state teachers union, NYSUT, drop a lawsuit challenging the state’s teacher evaluation law. King also backed Bloomberg’s plan to win back suspended federal funds by removing teachers at 33 low-performing schools through a process called “turnaround.”

Implementing these plans will require overcoming the opposition of the United Federation of Teachers, which has criticized both the turnaround plan and the city’s preferences for its teacher evaluation system.

Today, both Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott reiterated their intention to plow ahead, whether they have union support or not. Bloomberg made it clear that he had the political will to get it done, too.

“Now you have the President of the United States, who has made education one of his signature issues, you have the governor and you have the mayor all working together,” Bloomberg said.

Walcott provided some preliminary details about the Department of Education’s plans to handle the turnaround school improvement process. He said a “cross-functional management team” was in place to prepare required descriptions of how the schools would be affected and notified communities in time to meet legal deadlines.

“This process will continue and move forward,” Walcott said. “We can’t just stop because these children need to have high-quality schools and high-quality teachers, plain and simple.”

The union has threatened to sue over the plans because they say that the city is misinterpreting a contract provision, known as 18-D, that governs rehiring at schools that have been closed. Bloomberg said today he hoped the union and its leader would come around.

“We are committed to working with the UFT, which I’ve said before is ably led by the head of the union, Michael Mulgrew,” he said.

Inside the Bathgate Educational Campus, a colorful and gleaming school building in the Claremont section of the Bronx, Bloomberg and Walcott toured two classes led by teachers that the mayor said were particularly effective. In a physics class taught by Allen Hubbard, a third-year teacher who entered the profession through the city’s Teaching Fellows program, students were building a generator made from magnets, copper spring coils, and a hair tie.

“Ever seen generators at a power plant? It’s the same thing,” said Bloomberg, who told the students he was most interested in the sciences when he attended public school in Boston.

Hubbard, a Texan in his mid-twenties who is already in his second career, said he was intrigued by Bloomberg’s proposal of $20,o00 raises for teachers who get top scores on new evaluations. But he said he didn’t need the extra money to stay in the field.

“I worked in consulting before this and made more money but I didn’t enjoy it,” Hubbard said. “And now I enjoy this. It’s absolutely worth the move.”

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