official notice

More than 3,500 "turnaround" school staffers getting pink slips

Thousands of teachers, administrators, and school aides in the city’s 24 “turnaround” schools are getting official notification today that they aren’t assured a position next year.

The total number of workers at the schools who are being “excessed” — or having their positions eliminated — is 3,671, making this year’s citywide tally of displaced teachers larger than in any recent year. The Department of Education released the figures this afternoon but did not share data about excessing taking place at the city’s 1,600 other schools.

Schools learned that the excessing letters would be distributed today on Friday, and at some schools teachers received the notices while interviewing to retain their jobs. The workers who received the notification include 2,995 people represented by the United Federation of Teachers, mostly classroom teachers; 497 people represented by DC-37, the union that includes school aides and parent coordinators; and 179 members of the principals and administrators union.

Typically, schools excess teachers because of budget cuts, enrollment drops, and changes to program offerings that render the positions impossible to fund. But this year, every single person who works at the 24 schools undergoing a federally prescribed turnaround process is being excessed — and virtually every single person is being replaced, either by himself or by another person, during restaffing processes that are already underway.

The expansive game of musical chairs is intended to shake up the staffs of struggling schools and make them eligible for a pot of federal funds known as School Improvement Grants.

“We think it is an exciting opportunity and moment to infuse new talent into these new schools and produce gains for students,” said Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor supervising the turnaround process.

Already, department officials say, more than 7,000 applicants have cast more than 26,000 applications for the 2,995 teaching positions at the schools, for an average of more than eight applications for each open position.

Some of the schools have had difficulty filling open positions in the past: More than half of them started this school year with at least three vacancies, according to the department. One principal, Linda Rosenbury at M.S. 22 in the Bronx, told department officials that she had received more than a thousand applicants for 50 positions, compared to fewer than 50 applications last year for seven vacancies.

Department recruiters have helped pull in applicants, but the number of applications has been “way more than we could ever take credit for,” Sternberg said. “It’s a unique opportunity [for teachers] to apply an entrepreneurial spirit to the challenge of creating a new school.”

About 2,600 of the applicants are currently working in the 24 schools, meaning that more than 85 percent of teachers are reapplying for their own job or other jobs in turnaround schools. The rest of the applicants are working at other schools in the city or are trying to break into the city school system, which has had stringent hiring restrictions in place since 2009. The city is bringing on 900 new Teaching Fellows this year, twice as many as it hired in 2011, to fill vacancies across the system.

Hiring committees consisting of a principal, department appointees, and teachers union appointees are in place at each turnaround school. The committees must interview any current teacher who wishes to stay on after his school is revamped and must, in accordance with a clause in the city’s contract with the teachers union, extend offers to at least half of qualified applicants from within the schools. But what constitutes qualification leaves room for discretion and has some teachers concerned that they will be shut out unfairly.

Some committees have begun offering positions to applicants. But the city and union are locked in arbitration over collective bargaining rules at the schools. If the arbitrator rules in the union’s favor, hiring decisions would be reversed.

The city’s letter to school workers who are being excessed included that information in a bold-faced “important note” in the second paragraph. And a UFT spokesman emphasized the up-in-the-air reality for the turnaround schools’ rehiring in a statement responding to the excessing letters.

“No final personnel decisions involving these schools can be made until the arbitrator rules on the UFT’s contention that these are ‘sham closings,’” said the spokesman. “We expect that decision before the end of the school year.”

Teachers who are not rehired at their school or any other enter the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of teachers without permanent positions who rotate through vacant positions on a weekly basis. They continue to draw their full salary in an arrangement that the city and union agreed upon in 2005 but now has Department of Education officials calling for a time limit on how long teachers can remain in the ATR pool.

School aides who are not rehired do not have the same protection; last year, hundreds of DC-37 members whose positions were eliminated were fired after several months in limbo.

The city’s letter to schools workers at turnaround schools is below.

Dear Colleague:

As a result of the closing of our school and in compliance with contractual mandates, you have been placed in excess from our school for next year. You are being given a temporary assignment until such time as you find a full-time position at a new school.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Please be mindful that there is currently a grievance arbitration pending regarding school closures and all personnel decisions are subject to change based on the outcome in that matter.  We expect a decision from an arbitrator by the end of June.  I will keep you informed of any updates.

I want to sincerely thank you for your service to our students.  Your support of their education and growth is greatly appreciated.

This letter outlines guidance for finding a new position, as well as your next steps when the 2012-13 school year begins in September.

I. Finding a new regular assignment prior to September 4:         

Beginning now, please make every effort to use the available tools and resources to apply for and attempt to secure a new, regular assignment as soon as possible. A description of specific supports, including the Open Market system, and resources can be found below.  Keep in mind that by starting the job search process earlier you will have access to a broader range of opportunities.

Using the Open Market/Excessed Staff Selection Systems, a key tool in your job search:

  • The Open Market (OM) system allows you to search for schools and vacancies and allows schools to consider you for possible selection. To access the system, go to https://www.nycenet.edu/offices/dhr/transferplane/. Use this website to search for schools and vacancies, enter your applicant statements and résumé, and submit applications to vacancies at schools of interest to you.
  • The Open Market transfer period is open until August 7. Following August 7, the system converts to the Excessed Staff Selection System (ESSS) which is available through the same link exclusively to employees in excess.
  • Vacancies continue to occur throughout the summer and even after the opening of school so you should continue to check OM or ESSS for updates.

You should also verify that your contact information is up to date in the registration section of the Open Market system.  This information, in conjunction with your DOE email, will be used to contact you for recruitment and interview opportunities as well as to advise you of assignments should you remain in excess when the school year begins. If you do not already have access to your NYC DOE email account or need assistance on its use, please contact the DOE Helpdesk at (718) 935-5100, or visit the following link: http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/EnterpriseOperations/DIIT/default.htm

Using the Teacher Hiring Support Center services:

The NYC DOE has resources available to assist you in your search for a new assignment through the Teacher Hiring Support Center (THSC), managed by the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality.  Resources available to all excessed UFT-covered school-based staff include job search webinars, resume and cover letter templates, and sample interview questions. Access to these services and updates on recruitment events can be found on the Teacher Hiring Support Portal at http://thscnyc.org. For more information on these services, please email [email protected] or call HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

II. If you are NOT selected for a new regular assignment before school opening:

If you are not selected for a regular assignment before school opening you will be in excess/ATR status until you find a new, regular position.

As long as you remain in excess/ATR status, your school assignment may change on a weekly basis within your seniority district. Your initial ATR assignment – where to report on September 4th – will be viewable on Open Market/ESSS in late August.  (Note that you will NOT be assigned to the same school where you worked this year and should not report to that location in September.)  You will receive more instructions, via your NYC DOE email, on how to access ATR assignment information in Open Market/ESSS later in the summer.

Finally, keep in mind that even if you are still in excess once school starts, you are still expected to be proactive in seeking a new, regular assignment outside of the ATR.

Once again, I value your professional commitment to our students, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for a new, regular assignment.

If you have any immediate questions regarding excessing or related issues, please contact HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

Sincerely,
Principal

cc:           Network HR Director
Network Budget Officer

Overhaul Efforts

The entire staffs at two troubled New York City high schools must reapply for their jobs

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in 2015 with Automotive High School Principal Caterina Lafergola, who later left the school. Automotive is one of eight schools where teachers have had to reapply for their jobs in recent years.Now, teachers at two more schools will have to do the same. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

In a bid to jumpstart stalled turnaround efforts, the entire staffs at two troubled high schools will have to reapply for their jobs — an aggressive intervention that in the past has resulted in major staff shake-ups.

The teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals at Flushing High School in Queens and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx will have to re-interview for their positions beginning next spring, education department officials said Thursday, the same day that staffers learned of the plan. Meanwhile, Flushing Principal Tyee Chin, who has clashed bitterly with teachers there, has been ousted; his replacement will take over Friday, officials said. (DeWitt Clinton’s principal will stay on.)

Both schools are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature “Renewal” program for low-performing schools, but have struggled to hit their improvement targets. They are also under state pressure to make significant gains or face consequences, leading to speculation that the rehiring is meant partly to buy the city more time before the state intervenes. (Last year, Flushing was the only school out of two-dozen on a state list of low-achieving city schools not to meet its turnaround goals.)

“Having a strong leader and the right team of teachers is essential to a successful school,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, “and this re-staffing process is the necessary next step in the work to turnaround these schools.”

The staffing change stems from an agreement between the de Blasio administration and the city teachers union, who have agreed to the same process for eight other schools since 2014. Among the six schools that went through the process last year, nearly half of the staff members left — either because they were not rehired or they chose not to reapply.

As part of the deal, hiring decisions will be made by committees at each school comprised of the principals and an equal number of union and city appointees. Unlike when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to overhaul bottom-ranked schools by replacing their principals and at least half of their teachers, these committees can choose to hire as many or as few of the current teachers as they choose.

In the past, the city has placed teachers who were not retained through the rehiring process in other schools — a move that drew criticism for overriding principals’ authority to choose their own staffs. City officials would not provide details about the arrangement for Flushing or Clinton other than to say that the education department would help teachers who left the schools find new placements.

The education department “will work with each teacher to ensure they have a year-long position at a school next year,” spokesman Michael Aciman said in an email.

Both high schools have already endured a destabilizing amount of turnover: Since 2013, more than half the teachers at both schools have left, according to the teachers union. And Flushing’s incoming principal, Ignazio Accardi, an official in the department’s Renewal office, is the sixth in six years.

The school’s outgoing principal, Tyee Chin, had a brief and troubled tenure.

Last year — his first on the job — he wrote a letter to his staff describing a toxic environment that he called “the Hunger Games for principals,” where he said some teachers keep up a “war cry” for a new leader. Meanwhile, the teachers union lodged a discrimination complaint against Chin with a state board, alleging that he threatened to press “racism and harassment” charges against the school’s union representative simply for carrying out her duties, said United Federation of Teachers Vice President of High Schools Janella Hinds.

“Principal Chin came in with an attitude that wasn’t collaborative or supportive,” Hinds said. “We’re dealing with a school community that has had a long list of principals who were not collaborative.”

In an email, Chin disputed the union representative’s allegations and said many staffers did not want him to leave.

“Only a small number of teachers were unhappy with my leadership because they were held to a higher expectations [sic] and or were investigated for inappropriate actions,” he said. “I have received many emails from staff telling me they are very sorry and that it was a pleasure having me as their principal.”

Chin’s departure comes after DeWitt Clinton’s previous principal, Santiago Taveras, who also sparred with teachers, was removed last year after city investigators found he had changed student grades. He was replaced by Pierre Orbe, who will remain in his position.

The education department will host recruitment events during the spring and summer to bring in teacher applicants, who will be screened by the schools’ staffing committees, officials said.

However, it may be difficult to find seasoned teachers willing to take on such tough assignments.

When the teachers at Brooklyn’s long-struggling Automotive High School were forced to reapply for their jobs in 2015, the majority left. Many of their replacements were rookies, said then-principal Caterina Lafergola.

“Many of the schools that are going through the rehiring have a stigma attached to them,” she said last year. “It’s very hard to recruit strong candidates.”

Not long after, Lafergola left the school, too.

Update: This story has been updated to include a response from the outgoing principal of Flushing High School, Tyee Chin.

Future of Schools

For Indianapolis principals hoping to improve, one program says practice makes perfect

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
A kindergarten student reaches for crayons during a lesson at Global Prep Academy.

Mariama Carson has spent 20 years as an educator, first as a teacher and now as principal of Global Prep Academy. But in all that time, she never found training that prepared her as well as what she learned over two weeks last summer.

Carson, along with 23 other Indianapolis school leaders, was chosen to be a fellow in a principal training program through the Relay Graduate School of Education. Almost immediately, she noticed a big difference from previous coaching she’d had: They practiced everything.

How do you teach kids the right way to walk in the hallway? They practiced it. How do you let a teacher know she’s struggling? They practiced it. What are the precise words to use in an evaluation? More practice.

“The commitment to practice is what has been so different,” Carson said. “Whatever we learn in Relay … it’s not just something someone has told you about. You’ve practiced it. You’ve lived it.”

Relay, a six-year-old New York-based organization, was founded by a cadre of leaders from high-performing charter school networks. Practice, role-playing and applied learning are at the center of their work with educators, which for five years has included a year-long principal fellowship.

In the 2016-17 school year, Relay trained about 400 school leaders in the United States. Fellows from Indianapolis were chosen and sponsored by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit. Joe White, who directs The Mind Trust’s school support initiatives, said he was happy with the response during the last round of applications. The next cohort, whose members will be announced this month, will be larger and contain more Indianapolis Public School educators, as well as charter school principals, he said.

The Mind Trust wants to make the training “available to as many new operators as possible to continue expanding this work across the city,” White said. “We think that this is the way that we create sustainable schools that will provide high-quality results and outcomes for kids for a very long time.”

Two principals in the midst of the program told Chalkbeat that the fellowship is already changing the culture and efficiency of their schools. The principals spent the fellowship’s two-week summer training session in Denver learning how to best collect and analyze student data, give feedback to teachers and create a school building that runs smoothly.

“The practice and critical feedback we got was unlike anything I’d ever experienced,” said Mariama Carson, a principal at Global Prep Academy, which is housed in the IPS Riverside 44 building. “Usually as a principal, you don’t get that kind of feedback.”

But Relay, which also has teacher training programs, has its share of critics. Kenneth Zeichner, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington, analyzed non-university-affiliated teacher training programs, including Relay’s. Although he hasn’t looked into the principal program specifically, he said he is troubled that the teacher training curriculum emphasizes using test scores to gauge results at the expense of a more well-rounded assessment of students, who many times are coming from families living in poverty.

He also worries Relay as a whole is too focused on fast growth, rather than on proving its methods work. There have been no independent studies done on whether Relay produces better teachers than other alternative or university programs, Zeichner said, although one is underway.

“My concern about Relay is not that they exist,” Zeichner said. “If you’re going to measure the quality of a teacher education program — of any program — the independent vetting, or review, of claims about evidence (is) a baseline minimum condition.”

Chalkbeat spoke with Carson and Bakari Posey, principal at IPS School 43. The two just completed their second of several training sessions, which will continue through the rest of the school year.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What made you want to be part of the fellowship?

Carson: The job of a principal is so lonely. To have the opportunity to work with high-quality, hard-working principals across the country is always inviting.

Posey: I wanted to make sure that I was able to appropriately and efficiently and effectively develop the people on our team. That’s what really drew me in. It’s shaped my thinking and sharpened my lens as a leader and what I’m looking for in classrooms.

What have you learned so far that you’re implementing in your school?

Carson: It’s been transformative in how our building is run just on the cultural side. Relay has really helped us understand that especially with adult learners, you have to start with the “why.” And then we model, and the teachers (in my school) play the position as students. We go into full acting mode, and then the teachers execute that practice. For two weeks before the kids even showed up, that’s what our teachers were doing. Normally, I’d hand my teachers a packet of procedures and expectations, but we never practiced.

Posey: We’ve started to implement already … around coaching teachers — how we give that feedback and give teachers bite-sized action steps to work on instead of making a list of 12 things to do at once. If you do one thing better every single day, then you get better overall. Something else that’s big for me is student work exemplars — actually having an example of excellence for student work that the teacher creates and uses to guide feedback. Overall it’s just kind of helped to organize my thinking as a school leader and really kind of give you a little bit of a road map towards student growth and overall school success. It’s the best professional development I’ve ever been a part of.

How have teachers back in your schools responded to the changes you have introduced, including suggestions on improving instruction, evaluations, etc.?

Carson: Teachers have been responding well, and they’re getting used to this culture, a culture of practice. Even in our feedback sessions where we’re coaching teachers, it’s “OK, execute the lesson — I’ll be the student, you be the teacher.”

Posey: They’ve been receptive. It’s not coming from a place of “gotcha” or I’m trying to make you look really bad. It’s really coming from a place of really getting better for our students to really give them the best, which is what they deserve.