longer-term solution (updated)

City-union deal restores ATRs to long-term substitute positions

Teachers without positions who have been cycling through different schools each week will be assigned to more stable positions again, according to a deal that the city and UFT struck a month ago.

Under the terms of a different deal struck to avert teacher layoffs in 2011, the city last year sent members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, teachers whose positions had been eliminated, to different schools each week. The purpose of the rotation system, city and union officials said at the time, was to reduce spending on substitute teachers and increase the chances of ATRs landing a permanent job.

But the union found that some principals were filling their long-term absences with regular substitutes instead of allowing ATRs to cycle into them, according to union officials, in less extreme examples of improprieties alleged at Fort Hamilton High School. The practice let principals maintain control over their staff and allowed them to avoid hiring ATRs, whom former Chancellor Joel Klein characterized as “teachers who either don’t care to, or can’t, find a job.”

So the union filed a grievance against the city over the rotation system. The city agreed to negotiate policy changes rather than contest the grievance and risk having changes imposed by an arbitrator.

The main change, city officials say, is that any absence of longer than 29 days will be filled automatically, at least at first, by a member of the ATR pool. Previously, ATRs were supposed to fill “long-term absences,” but that term wasn’t defined, so it often did not happen.

So starting next week, ATRs will be assigned to fill absences of 30 days or more when the vacancy is in their geographic and license areas. Only if there is no appropriate long-term placement will the teachers continue to work as itinerant substitutes.

Had the arrangement been in effect last year, few of the 800 ATRs at the time would have had to rotate schools, UFT President Michael Mulgrew told GothamSchools last week. The pool has expanded since then because schools cut some positions over the summer and at the start of the year, when enrollment declines became apparent.

But Department of Education officials say the rule tweak would have had little impact last year and are telling principals that the changes are minimal.

“Although the [changes] provide schools with greater clarity and flexibility around the use of ATRs, it is important to remember that the core intent of the agreement has not changed,” Deputy Chancellor David Weiner wrote in a letter to principals this week. “The ATR rotation process is intended to avoid layoffs and generate cost savings, while also providing greater exposure for ATRs to schools and helping facilitate their search for a school-level position (whether regular appointed or provisional).”

The agreement does curtail principals’ discretion to choose who fills in for teachers on leave, in a departure for the city, which has famously considered principals to be the “CEOs of their buildings” for years.

But principals retain veto power over the department’s placements. They can elect to send back an ATR sent to their schools at any point and can use a regular substitute until another ATR is cycled in.

Teachers in the ATR pool criticized the rotation system for unfairly stigmatizing them and preventing them from making use of their expertise as educators. But union officials said the system had to some degree accomplished its goals: Over the course of the year, hundreds of teachers exited the pool for permanent positions.

This story has been updated to reflect the Department of Education’s characterization of the policy change and to clarify that the change affects absences of 29 days or longer only.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.