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A teacher says proposed credit rules over-empower principals

The state’s online survey about proposed credit recovery rules will only accept comments of 400 words or less, according to a Bronx math teacher who had a lot more to say. So he sent me his response. Here’s part of his answer:

A dangerous discrepancy exists between the statement “the committee much consider each student’s needs and course completion deficiencies” and “the student must also demonstrate mastery of the initial deficiency areas. What is the state definition of mastery? A principal could, by these regulations, decide that a student that is not going to college does not need to know how to solve a one variable equation, and therefore assign a project that superficially demonstrates “mastery” without the student actually addressing his/her deficiencies. There MUST be some provision to make it very clear to school administrators what this means, otherwise there will be inconsistency across the state in the area of credit accumulation. 

Send your comments about the proposed regulations to tips@gothamschools.org. The teacher’s complete response is below:

A. Do the proposed provisions provide sufficient opportunity for students to receive credit for making up incomplete or failed course work?

If implemented according to these provisions, students will have opportunity to make up course work, but more work needs to be done at the state level to define what is appropriate. A dangerous discrepancy exists between the statement “the committee much consider each student’s needs and course completion deficiencies” and “the student must also demonstrate mastery of the initial deficiency areas. What is the state definition of mastery? A principal could, by these regulations, decide that a student that is not going to college does not need to know how to solve a one variable equation, and therefore assign a project that superficially demonstrates “mastery” without the student actually addressing his/her deficiencies. There MUST be some provision to make it very clear to school administrators what this means, otherwise there will be inconsistency across the state in the area of credit accumulation. 

B. Can the proposed provisions be implemented?

Not until the state can ensure (and measure) the same quality and rigor of education provided through both pathways towards course credit. It will reflect negatively on the state education program if two schools with equal levels of credit accumulation have drastically different results on the AYP report at the end of the year. The state will have a LOT of work to avoid the creation of ‘diploma mills’ after implementation.
C. Are there any significant challenges for implementing the proposed provisions?

It seems this process is happening after the fact – many principals in the NYC system are already doing this, and robbing students of the education they need for success outside of high school. The state must describe what mastery means, how alignment with the Regents learning standards will be monitored, and what accountability tools will describe how students in a particular school are earning credits in this alternate way. This is the only way such a program could be implemented fairly.

D. Do the proposed provisions meet the appropriate unique needs of students who did not complete a course or failed to master competencies necessary for success?

The vague title of ‘appropriate unique needs’ is going to be renamed lowering standards or watering down the state curriculum for students in this category. Considering that many students that already are benefiting from these programs in the NYC system go to low-income schools, or are members of a minority group, formalizing this program without ensuring equal levels of rigor or expectations is clear racism. It is crucial that we not sacrifice the education of any student. The standards are there for a reason, and abandoning them for the purposes of getting students out of our schools is extremely inappropriate. This is why it is necessary to measure and monitor how
students subsequently make up the competencies they lacked during the failed course.

Other comments or suggestions may be entered here:
Principals now are giving away credits because students pass Regents exams with absurdly low scores. The state lets this happen because it sets the minimum standard for passing on these exams. To now allow principals the freedom to pressure other administrators and teachers to award credit in a way sanctioned by the state is dangerous, and disrespects the true potential of students, as well as the professionalism of teachers that assigned a grade in the first place.

It is true that situations do arise that require teachers and administrators to be flexible in addressing the needs of a student – in this age of accountability, however, principals need guidelines for doing so in a manner that is closely monitored and maintains a high standard for students graduating from the New York State school system.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”