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Amid contract strife, principals chief says he’s made a deal to reduce observations

The principals union still hasn’t won its fight for retroactive pay, but President Ernest Logan has some good news for school leaders hoping for a lighter workload this year.

Logan told principals in an email on Thursday that he had “forged an agreement” with Chancellor Carmen Fariña to reduce the number of classroom observations that principals and assistant principals have to conduct this year. A spokeswoman for the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators said the deal would go beyond one effort to reduce observations already established by the new teachers-union contract, but declined to provide additional details.

Under the city’s new evaluation system, principals and assistant principals have had to spend a lot more time in classrooms. Last year, they had to observe each teacher between four and six times, depending on which type of plan the teacher picked (state law requires a minimum of two).

The observations are meant to compel teachers and administrators to spend more time talking about improving classroom instruction. But the process was bogged down by a rigid set of rules, including when the visits could take place, how much notice teachers needed, and what types of feedback principals were required to provide after each observation. Many principals said the frequent observations took an inordinate amount of time to complete.

Logan called principals’ workload the “most prominent issue” that his members wanted him to address this year.

Officials have already made some changes to simplify the process. Most significantly, the city and the UFT agreed to reduce the number of skills that principals have to assess from 22 to seven. The teachers contract also includes an option for highly-effective teachers to be observed just three times over the course of the year.

Despite Logan’s announcement to principals, the United Federation of Teachers still must approve the deal. Officials with the UFT the Department of Education declined to provide details about the status of negotiations.

Some teachers who are on the other end of the observations said they don’t see the reduction as a good thing. Nick Lawrence, a high school history teacher, said he would prefer to be observed more often, and said policymakers should be more worried about improving how teachers and administrators communicate about instruction than settling on a precise number of required observations.

“This flies in the face of the idea of an ongoing, professional conversation between teachers and administrators,” Lawrence said.

Still, any changes to the observation process would likely be a silver lining on what has been a rough couple of weeks for the CSA. The principals union is among the municipal labor unions still without a new contract with the city, nearly four months after the UFT ratified its own deal.

Logan was absent from the ceremonial school visits that Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio went on during the first day of school. He told members he was still enmeshed in “significant disagreements” over the city’s position to withhold retroactive pay from nearly 2,000 school administrators who were promoted after 2009. CSA officials said that dispute will also affect teachers who want to become principals between now and 2020.

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