accountability accountability

Chief DOE deputy to parents and teachers: Check our work

The city is putting in new measures to help the schools that it is closing, the Department of Education’s top deputy said yesterday.

Those measures, which include formalizing the city’s plans to support the schools and developing best practice guidelines for closing schools, come in response to criticism from the Panel For Educational Policy and others, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told GothamSchools.

But parents and teachers should still monitor the city’s progress and hold the department accountable, he told people attending a public meeting in Brooklyn last night organized by City Councilman Brad Lander.

The exchange took up just a few minutes of a two-hour meeting that focused on the effect of testing on city classrooms and on Polakow-Suransky’s hopes for new tests based on national standards.

At the meeting, Ann-Marie Henry-Stephens, an assistant principal and English teacher at Paul Robeson High School, one of the schools that the city plans to phase out, asked Polakow-Suransky how the city planned to better support teachers.

“The teachers who are at my school or at any school really don’t feel supported by the DOE — when is the DOE going to treat us as equals and treat us with some professional courtesy?” Stephens asked, prompting applause from the audience of teachers and parents. She continued:

Right now, we have a new evaluation system, we are hearing about layoffs, the Teacher Data Initiative. A lot of what you are doing and saying to teachers is punitive, and we want support because it’s really hard, there’s so much to learn, so much to do…. So really, when are we going to get the support especially in schools that are struggling?…Schools are struggling and they’re crying out for help, but we don’t get the help, we get evaluated.

Polakow-Suransky responded:

I think you’re right that there’s not been consistent set of supports for the schools that are phasing out as part of the process of creating new schools. There’s an obligation to the kids and to the adults in those schools to provide thoughtful consistent support and communications, so that people know what to expect and know what is going to happen from year to year as the school changes and gets smaller, and to actually create opportunities for those that want to stay and be part of moving the kids that remain to graduation — or to the end of that level of schooling if it’s not a high school — for them to actually have have really strong leadership and real resources to do that.

I think it’s happened in some places.  I know that in the building where I was a principal, there was a phase out school, which was Morris High School, and as that school got smaller it became much more successful and many more kids graduated from that old school that was being phased out than ever before. I mean, it was a school that used to take 700 kids into the ninth grade every year and graduate 70 four years later. And as it was phased out, in the second year of the phase out it graduated 120 kids – this is separate from the new schools, just the old school as it was getting smaller. In the third year it graduated over 200 and in its last year it graduated 300. And I remember standing next to one of the asst principals, who had been there since 1966 who had been fighting against the decision to close Morris and to phase out the school, and he had tears in his eyes. And I asked him what he was thinking and he said he’d never seen so many kids graduate from this school.

And so there is the possibility to do this well. And I think that’s our obligation and that’s something that you and others need to hold us accountable because we do know what it takes to do it well and we can.

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.”

D.C.

What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said