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 thsc@schools.nyc.gov 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

Walk it out

NYC mayor encourages school walkouts in wake of Florida shooting: ‘If I was a high school student today, I’d be walking out’

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio

In the wake of a school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said students won’t face serious disciplinary action if they choose to participate in a national school walkout planned for next month to protest gun violence.

“If I was a high school student today, I’d be walking out,” de Blasio said Thursday. “This is too important a moment in history to try to hold back the desire of our young people to see fundamental change and to protect themselves.”

Students across the country are planning to walk out of class at 10 a.m. on March 14 “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods,” according to a Facebook description of the event.  The protest is scheduled to last 17 minutes, one for each person who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

And unlike one Texas school district, which threatened to slap students with suspensions if they walked out, de Blasio said students would not face serious discipline. “There’s no negative, lasting impact if they do this,” the mayor said.

De Blasio’s tacit endorsement of the walkout comes just days after he announced that schools across the city would deploy more “rapid-response lesson plans” about current events. On Friday, de Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that the protests are a “teachable moment.”

We are going to do lesson plans around this issue leading up to that day,” de Blasio said. “We are going to make sure that there’s a real educational impact.”

The city also announced this week that every New York City school will hold a lockdown drill by March 15, and every middle and high school will be subject to at least one random screening with metal detectors this year.

Here’s more on what de Blasio told Lehrer this morning:

For high school students – we are going to be very clear, we want parents to weigh in, to let us know if they are comfortable with a young person walking out. It is supposed to be for 17 minutes. We expect the school day before and after to proceed. For younger folks – middle school, elementary school — the model I’m interested in, we are still working on this, is to have it be within the context of the building, you know to gather in the building for the memorial to the 17 young people lost, 17 people lost I should say. And again that may be silent, that may be with young people speaking, that’s all being worked through.

Speaking Out

Students at Denver’s George Washington High say their voices were unheard in principal selection

PHOTO: Denver Post file

When Shahad Mohieldin learned that students, parents, and teachers at George Washington High School in Denver would have a say in who was named the next principal, the high school senior spent days recruiting representatives from all three groups to participate.

Mohieldin, a member of the school’s advisory board, said she and others worked hard to ensure the group vetting the principal candidates would be diverse. It was important to include students of color and white students, parents who speak English and those who don’t, and teachers of both International Baccalaureate and traditional classes, she said, especially since the high school has been working to heal years-long racial and academic divides.

The students particularly liked one candidate who they said seemed to understand the school’s struggles. He would have also been a leader of color at a school where 70 percent are students of color. Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg ultimately chose a different candidate, a more experienced principal with whom he’d worked closely before.

It was a whirlwind process that took just seven weeks from when the current principal announced his retirement. In the end, Mohieldin and other students said they were left feeling like their voices were ignored.

“We were often told that, ‘Hey, your voice really matters in this. Please, we want your input,’” Mohieldin said. “It really hurts. Now we don’t trust the district as much, which is really sad.”

District leaders said the process was quick but thorough. Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova said that while it was clear the students preferred one candidate, the input collected from parents, teachers, and community members was more mixed. The slate of three finalists was unusually strong, she said, and it was not an easy decision.

Kristin Waters, the candidate who was hired, is a former district administrator with years of experience leading a comprehensive Denver high school similar in size to George Washington. The students’ top choice was an assistant principal at East High School named Jason Maclin.

Cordova said she wants to assure students that although district leaders didn’t choose students’ favored candidate, they did consider their opinions.

“It is important to use your voice,” Cordova said. “Sometimes your voice isn’t the only piece of information we look at, but in no way does that mean to stop speaking out.”

Not listening to community feedback is a perennial criticism of Denver Public Schools, and one district leaders are continually trying to address. Recently, several major decisions have been based on recommendations from committees of parents and community members. While the process hasn’t always gone smoothly, the district has followed the community’s advice.

In the case of the George Washington principal selection, the process worked like this: Current principal Scott Lessard announced in mid-December that he’d be retiring at the end of the school year. Lessard has helmed the school for two years, and students and teachers credit him with fostering a sense of unity and a culture of openness to new ideas.

But he said the daily challenges of being a school principal led to his decision.

“I was going to retire at some point,” he said. “It may not have been at the end of this year, but it was going to be soon. The school in such a good place, I thought it was a unique opportunity now to find somebody who would be a good principal.”

The district has a pool of pre-screened principal candidates who are invited to apply for openings as they come up, Cordova said. With every vacancy, the district convenes a committee of parents, teachers, and community members to interview the candidates. In the case of high school principal jobs, the district also asks students to participate.

For George Washington, the district assembled the committee and three separate focus groups, which Mohieldin helped organize: one of parents, one of teachers, and one of students. The groups and the committee interviewed five candidates selected by the district, and based partly on their feedback, district leaders whittled the field to three finalists, Cordova said.

The three finalists then participated in a community forum. Forum attendees were asked to submit written comments on candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, and Cordova said she personally read every single one. She said district leaders also read emails students sent afterward urging the district to pick Maclin. Students said they never received responses to those emails – one reason they felt unheard.

A week after the forum, on Feb. 6, the district announced its decision to hire Waters.

Cordova said she has every confidence that Waters will be “an amazing school leader.” Waters has been principal of three Denver schools: Morey Middle School; Bruce Randolph School, which serves grades six through 12; and South High School, whose demographics are similar to George Washington. More than 300 of the 1,239 students at George Washington are black and more than 400 are Hispanic.

“She has a strong track record working in similar communities,” Cordova said.

Students had some concerns about Waters’ approachability and her seemingly close ties with district leadership; Boasberg was listed as the first reference on her resumé. They said they liked Maclin’s presence, and that he seemed knowledgeable about the school’s past struggles and had concrete ideas for its future. Maclin submitted a proposed plan for his first 100 days as principal that included conducting a listening tour of the school community.

But students said their main complaint is not the outcome but the way the process unfolded.

“The district goes through this whole act of putting on these focus groups and interviews at the school and it’s like, ‘What really came out of that?’” said sophomore Andrew Schwartz. “At this point, it seems like the answer to that question is very little. I think that’s upsetting.”

Schwartz was part of the student focus group that interviewed all five candidates. So was junior Henry Waldstreicher, who noted that students missed an entire day of school to participate.

Waldstreicher said he was also left feeling disillusioned. “Why should we even try to talk to the district if they’re not going to listen to what we’re going to say?” he said.

The perception that the selection process was top-down wasn’t just among the students. Some teachers and community members said they felt the same way.

“We were given the opportunity to give our feedback and then it went into a black box and a decision was made,” said Vincent Bowen, a community member who participates in a student mentoring program at George Washington and was on the selection committee.

Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver teachers union, shared those concerns, adding that what happened at George Washington has happened at other schools, too: Candidates, she said, “go through this process, this rigamarole, but the district already knows who they’re going to pick.”

Parent Elizabeth Sopher said she feels district leaders weren’t as transparent as they could have been about what they wanted in a new principal, which she suspects contributed to the disconnect between the students’ top pick and the district’s ultimate decision.

“When you say to a group, ‘You tell us what the most important thing about this new principal is to you,’” she said, but then don’t make a decision based on that, “that’s a mistake.”

For her part, Waters said she’s excited to step into her new role at George Washington. She’s slated to start March 1 and finish out the school year alongside Lessard, a transition plan Cordova said was important to the district and the school community.

Waters said she wants to build a strong relationship with students. To that end, she has already met with a group of them to talk about their concerns.

“Once I get on board, they will see me out and about and hopefully feel comfortable coming up to me and letting me know what they’re thinking,” Waters said. “I want their input.”

Junior Cora Galpern said rebuilding that trust will be crucial. In the future, Galpern said the district should give students and others more of a say in principal selection by seeking a consensus on a candidate rather than simply soliciting feedback.

“Because at the end of the day,” she said, “our next principal has a huge effect on our day-to-day lives.”