breaking

Partial teacher evaluation deal clears way for improvement funds

After months of negotiations, the city and teachers union announced a deal today on a set of reforms that will allow the state to claim millions of dollars promised to struggling schools.

The announcement comes a week after the state ramped up pressure on the city to finalize its plans for how to improve its lowest-performing schools. The state’s deadline to complete its application for federal School Improvement Grants is just two weeks away. New York City is eligible for up to $65 million to help 33 “persistently low-achieving” schools undergo one of four processes over the next two years.

The 33 schools will undergo one of two revamp options, “restart” and “transformation,” according to the agreement. Those models are the least aggressive and also the least objectionable for the teachers union: They do not involve removing teachers or asking them to reapply for their jobs. “Restart” assigns a new management organization, and “transformation” replaces the principal and brings in additional resources.

Decisions about which model each of the 33 schools on the list would undergo will be made “over the next week,” according to the city’s press release. Last year, 11 city schools underwent the “transformation” process, and nine schools are undergoing the restart process this fall.

The city’s press release is long on relief but short on specifics other than that the city and union have agreed to implement the state’s new teacher evaluation model — but only in the 33 struggling schools.An impasse over the evaluations had caused the months-long holdup in negotiations. A key sticking point was whether teachers would be allowed to discuss their observations with their principals: The union wanted meetings built into the agreement, but the city said the extra step would add unnecessary delay to the evaluation process. The issue is absent from the city’s press release but union officials said it had been resolved.

Supporters of the state’s toughened teacher evaluations said today’s agreement could be a blueprint for the rest of the city’s schools.

“This agreement is a good first step towards placing highly effective teachers in every classroom, but I urge both sides to institute this evaluation system across the board immediately so that every child has a chance to learn from the city’s best educators,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

The city’s press release also heralds a performance pay program for teachers at the struggling schools that was finalized more than a year ago. That performance pay program will now be aligned with the state’s teacher evaluation law, and only teachers who fall into the highest of four tiers will be able to occupy higher-paying “master teacher” and “turnaround teacher” positions.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew looked only to the future in the city’s press release. Reiterating the union’s concern that the city has inadequately invested in struggling schools in the past — a concern that fueled the union’s lawsuit to halt 22 school closures — he said the priority is to direct the new federal funds to needy schools and their students.

“This agreement helps lay the groundwork,” Mulgrew said. “Now we have to focus on providing the resources these struggling schools need to make a real difference in the lives of their students.”

AGREEMENT BETWEEN DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND TEACHERS’ UNION WILL HELP SECURE $65 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDS FOR STRUGGLING SCHOOLS

DOE-UFT agreement also includes a new, 4-category teacher evaluation system in these schools

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew today announced an important agreement that will help secure up to $65 million over the next two years in federal School Improvement Grants, a U.S. Department of Education program that provides funding to help transform our nation’s struggling schools.  The funding will go to implement either “restart” or “transformation” at 33 City schools identified by the State as persistently lowest achieving (PLA) and therefore at risk of being closed.

“With this agreement, we will be able to bring millions of dollars in federal funding to these struggling schools and recruit top quality teachers to help students succeed and mentor other staff,”  said Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “I also want to thank Michael Mulgrew for his commitment to working with us to implement a more effective and meaningful teacher evaluation system to in these schools.  I believe our collaboration on matters like this is critical to student success.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “This agreement helps lay the groundwork.  Now we have to focus on providing the resources these struggling schools need to make a real difference in the lives of their students.”

In the 33 schools, the DOE and UFT have also jointly agreed to implement a new teacher evaluation system that is aligned with the State’s new teacher evaluation law.  The evaluation system in these schools will be based on a four-category rating system of highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective, instead of the current system that simply gives teachers a rating of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Federal guidelines identify four models for school improvement—a “transformation” model, a “turnaround” model, a “restart” model, and a “closure” model—each  involving different strategies to improve low performing schools.  Last year, 11 of these 33 schools were chosen for “transformation.”

Under the “transformation” model, the principal of the school is generally replaced, and the schools will be able to hire new teachers in the categories “Master Teacher” and “Turnaround Teachers.” A Master Teacher working in a PLA school will receive 30% above their base salary and is expected to serve as a mentor for other teachers in the school, working an additional 100 hours per year.  A Turnaround Teacher working in a PLA school will receive 15% above their base salary and open their classroom up to other teachers to learn best practices, working an additional 30 hours per year.  To remain eligible for either position, teachers must maintain a rating of “highly effective.”

Under the “restart” model, schools will be teamed with a non-profit educational partner organization (EPO) that will work with the principal and school staff to make recommendations on specific interventions to raise student achievement. This model does not require leadership or staff changes, but also allows for the hiring of master and turnaround teachers.  All proposed changes from the EPO will need to conform to collective bargaining agreements.

The City will work with the schools over the next week to determine which model suits the 33 schools best.  The following is the full list of schools:

02M460           WASHINGTON IRVING HIGH SCHOOL
02M500           UNITY CENTER FOR URBAN TECHNOLOGIES
02M615           CHELSEA CAREER AND TECH ED HS
05M685           BREAD & ROSES INTEGRATED ARTS HIGH SCHOOL
08X405           HERBERT H LEHMAN HIGH SCHOOL
08X530           BANANA KELLY HIGH SCHOOL
09X022           JHS 22 JORDAN L MOTT
09X339           IS 339
09X412           BRONX HIGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
10X080           JHS 80 MOSHOLU PARKWAY
10X391           MS 391
10X660           GRACE H DODGE CAREER AND TECH HS
14K126           JOHN ERICSSON MIDDLE SCHOOL 126
14K610           AUTOMOTIVE HIGH SCHOOL
15K136           IS 136 CHARLES O DEWEY
15K429           SCHOOL FOR GLOBAL STUDIES
15K519           COBBLE HILL SCHOOL OF AMERICAN STUDIES
16K455           BOYS & GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL
19K166           JHS 166 GEORGE GERSHWIN
20K505           FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT HIGH SCHOOL
21K540           JOHN DEWEY HIGH SCHOOL
21K620           WILLIAM E GRADY VOCATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL
22K495           SHEEPSHEAD BAY HIGH SCHOOL
32K564           BUSHWICK COMM HIGH SCHOOL
24Q455           NEWTOWN HIGH SCHOOL
24Q485           GROVER CLEVELAND HIGH SCHOOL
24Q600           QUEENS VOCATIONAL & TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOL
25Q460           FLUSHING HIGH SCHOOL
27Q400           AUGUST MARTIN HIGH SCHOOL
27Q475           RICHMOND HILL HIGH SCHOOL
27Q480           JOHN ADAMS HIGH SCHOOL
30Q445           WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT HIGH SCHOOL
30Q450           LONG ISLAND CITY HIGH SCHOOL

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.”