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Job interviews—and protests—continue at 'turnaround' schools

With the 24 turnaround schools deep into the hiring process, a small handful of teachers gathered in front of Tweed this afternoon to show their opposition despite the rain.

Protesters from John Dewey High School Lehman High School grimly described their uncertain futures. But they did not renew any pleas to Department of Education officials to stop the turnaround. They were joined by several teachers from Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, which the city placed on its original list of turnaround schools but later removed.

Marian Swerdlow, the FDR union chapter leader-elect, said she and several colleagues turned out this afternoon to show their support and register opposition to all school closures. She stood stone-faced in front of the DOE headquarters in a United Federation of Teachers rain poncho, holding a crumpled sign that read, “the turnaround model is all wet.”

The city cannot make any final hiring decisions at the 24 schools, which are closing this summer and immediately re-opening under the reform model known as ‘turnaround.’ But hiring committees made up of city and teachers union officials, school administrators and parents in each of the schools have been busily conducting back-to-back interviews with teachers hoping to keep their jobs.

The process is off to a rough start in some schools. Last week, on the first day of scheduled interviews at John Dewey High School, no one was interviewed because there was a disagreement over how the questions would be scored.

At some schools, at least 20 percent of the teachers have opted out of the process entirely, either because they already found new positions or because they think it is unlikely they will be rehired.

Kevin Kearns, the Lehman teacher who organized the rally, said the hiring committee at Lehman interviewed arts and business teachers today, and will interview social studies teachers on Thursday or Friday. He said they are aiming to interview about 15 teachers a day, and have given staff members an interview time about 24 hours in advance.

Each committee asks each teacher five to 7 questions, according to teachers at several turnaround schools. Questions range from, “How do you differentiate instruction for special education students or English Language Learners,” to, “How have you implemented the Common Core in class?” Kearns said.

Ann Looser, the chapter leader at Lehman, said she has been preparing for the worst.

“I’m giving out my email a lot more, and getting way more requests for references. The kids keep asking us, ‘are you going to be here?’ I’m looking at other jobs right now,” she said, shrugging. “Everything’s getting phased out, phased in, or co-located.”

Martin Haber, a teacher from Dewey, told me he decided he would not interview for his position after he received a letter from the school’s new principal, Kathleen Elvin, saying he would likely receive an unsatisfactory rating this year because he had too many absences. Dewey’s longtime principal, Barry Fried, was ousted mid-year.

“I know I’m going to be out of there, because of my age and because of my salary,” he told the assembled protesters. “It’s a disgusting, demoralizing process.”

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