all over but the shouting?

Union makes plans to approve an evaluations deal, if one comes

The teachers union has planned a series of meetings to sign off on a teacher evaluation system in the event that union and city officials agree on one by next week.

The union’s negotiating committee on evaluations, a team of about 150 teachers, is meeting this afternoon with union officials. It’s the committee’s second meeting of the school year.

The union has also moved up a meeting of its Delegate Assembly from Jan. 22 to Jan. 17, the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set for districts to adopt new evaluations or lose state funding. The Delegate Assembly is a large group of chapter leaders and union officials that must approve changes to work rules.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced the date change in an email to union members this afternoon. The email stressed that union officials planned to participate in negotiations through the weekend and that there is still a chance that a deal might not come.

“If no agreement is reached with the city, the [Delegate Assembly] will serve as a planning and operational meeting to push back against the mayor as we have so many times before,” Mulgrew wrote.

But insiders say they suspect that a deal is imminent — or perhaps even complete except for the final touches to make it official.

It’s a theory that jives with state education officials’ repeated warnings that the state needs a significant amount of time to review plans to make sure they comply with state law and education department regulations. “If we get an application on January fifteenth, it’s going to be hard to say yes to it by January seventeenth,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in November.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who set the deadline last year, signaled earlier this week that the two sides still had plenty of time. “Ten days can be a lifetime in this business, as you know,” Cuomo said.

State education officials said they would not offer preliminary approval for parts of plans, which could speed the approval process. “In order for us to review a plan, it has to be signed by all parties,” SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said today.

It is possible that more informal conversations have taken place to ensure that a plan that is submitted at the last minute is approvable. That’s the only way that an evaluation system approved by the union’s Delegate Assembly late in the day on Jan. 17 could get approval that night, allowing the district to comply with state law.

“It’s all scripted. It doesn’t make any sense if it wasn’t,” said Norm Scott, a union activist who is critical of the union’s leadership. “Every little duck is lined up.”

If, in fact, the particulars of an evaluation system are pretty much set, this weekend’s talks might focus on something different — what the city might have to offer to get the union to sign off on a system that Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants to use to fire more teachers.

Bloomberg did not sound concerned today when he took to the air for his weekly radio appearance, which he has used in the past to attack the union over the evaluations talks. “Six more days, and they’re working on it, right?” host John Gambling asked.

“I think that’s fair to say,” Bloomberg said.

Responding to concerns that the city’s schools could lose $250 million if evaluation talks fell through, Tisch said earlier this week that she was not worried.

“Calm down. Everybody needs to calm down. They’re going to get a deal done,” Tisch told GothamSchools. “The city has led reform for a decade now and it’s really significant for them to continue to lead on reforms of evaluations. And I’m really confident that they’re going to continue to lead with a deal.”

Even if a deal is approved and adopted by Jan. 17, the city could run into a serious implementation issue. Approved plans are supposed to go into effect for this school year, but many city schools are unprepared to produce some required components of teachers’ ratings. Schools have practiced with new observation models, for example, but they have not learned how to measure student growth for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. And the union has charged that the department has rolled out even portions of the plan that seem mutually agreeable in inappropriate ways.

Micah Lasher, Bloomberg’s former top legislative aide who is now lobbying for new evaluations as the head of StudentsFirstNY, said he thought state officials would be willing to work with the city on its implementation timeline, “if it’s in the spirit of the law.”

The city and teachers unon have had eleventh-hour meltdowns before over teacher evaluations, and one is certainly possible now. But a deal next week would cap off a two-year showdown between the city and union on the issue.

The UFT has at least one more demonstration on its agenda: Mulgrew’s letter invites members to hand out flyers at schools and subway stations on Monday “to engage parents and the community and put pressure on the mayor to get to a fair deal.”

New York City is one of seven districts, out of nearly 700, not to have submitted even a first-draft of its evaluation plan. About 50 districts must submit a revised plan to meet the state’s funding deadline.

Mulgrew’s complete letter to UFT members is below:

Dear colleagues,

Next Thursday is Governor Cuomo’s deadline for New York City and other school districts around the state to submit their plans for a new teacher evaluation system. The governor has said that districts that do not submit plans by Thursday, Jan. 17, will forfeit state school aid. In New York City’s case, we stand to lose upward of $250 million.

The UFT’s position remains unchanged: The current evaluation system is inadequate. Teachers need a new evaluation system — one in which the Department of Education is responsible for supporting the schools, and administrators in the schools are responsible for supporting the work that we do in the classroom.

In the aftermath of the fight you have seen play out in the press, the DOE has come back to the negotiating table. We expect meetings to take place throughout the weekend and into next week, but the outcome of these negotiations is still very uncertain. I am writing to you today so that you and your colleagues can begin preparing for one of two possible scenarios.

If an agreement is reached, we will need to do a lot of work very quickly to stop the spread of myths and misinformation. Communication and collaboration between colleagues will be key. Every school will also need to have a clear understanding about how to proceed.

If no agreement can be reached, it will be because the mayor cannot be brought to accept our position of what a teacher evaluation system needs to be, and he will once again try to blame teachers. If that happens, our work will then center on getting out into our communities to make sure that parents and others know that we, as always, are fighting to make the school system better for the kids we serve.

With all the uncertainty over the negotiations, a lot could happen in the coming days. Earlier today I sent a message to UFT delegates that we have changed the date of our next Delegate Assembly to Thursday, Jan. 17, to align with the governor’s deadline.

If a tentative agreement is reached, it will be up to the DA, the highest decision-making body of the UFT, to decide if we will accept it as a union. If no agreement is reached with the city, the DA will serve as a planning and operational meeting to push back against the mayor as we have so many times before.

We have fought very hard for three years in Albany so that New York City teachers can have an evaluation system that respects and supports the work that we do. An agreement would mean a complete paradigm shift for the country’s largest school system, where every administrator will need to understand that their job is, first and foremost, to help and support teachers.

A great deal of work is being done to make sure our vision is realized, but it will not be easy. We will not come to any agreement unless that vision can become a reality for every school.

We will keep you updated. In the meantime, we will be leafleting outside schools and at major transportation hubs throughout the city on Monday to engage parents and the community and put pressure on the mayor to get to a fair deal. Please talk to your chapter leader to see how you can help.

Sincerely,

Michael Mulgrew

Educator diversity

Aurora Public Schools’ principals more racially diverse this year, but district still lagging behind

File photo of kindergarten students at Laredo Elementary in Aurora.

In the most diverse city in Colorado, school district officials have struggled to hire and retain principals of color.

The issue isn’t unique to Aurora Public Schools. But one change made three years ago to how Aurora hires principals is now slowly increasing diversity among school leaders, officials say.

The revamped hiring process wasn’t aimed at increasing diversity, but rather at increasing quality and minimizing biased or preferential hiring decisions, officials say.

“Systems that are more likely to have bias are less likely to have diversity,” said John Youngquist, Aurora’s chief academic officer. “Systems that are engaging these kinds of processes that allow people to demonstrate behaviors they’ve practiced over time, are ones that allow those high quality candidates to get to the top. I know is this is a practice that increases the level of diversity.”

This fall, 10 percent of Aurora principals are black, and 14 percent are Hispanic, up from 9 percent that were black and 7 percent that were Hispanic last year.

It’s an improvement, but the numbers still represent a gap with the diversity in the district and in the city. Eighteen percent of Aurora Public Schools students are black and more than 50 percent are Hispanic. The city of Aurora has similar demographics, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates.

State data tracking both principals and assistant principals by race showed the Aurora district had lower percentages of school leaders who were black or Hispanic in 2016 than in 2013. Numbers for the current school year are not yet available.

This year, the numbers of teachers who are not white are smaller and farther from representing the student or community demographics than they are for principals.

Research has shown that students of color benefit from having teachers of color. Having diverse and highly qualified principals helps leaders in turn attract and hire high quality and diverse teachers, Youngquist said.

Aurora superintendent Rico Munn said that increasing diversity is a priority but said he isn’t sure how many educators of color Aurora schools should aspire to have.

“For our workforce to mirror the community, I don’t know that there’s enough educators in the state,” Munn said.

Elizabeth Meyer, associate professor of education and associate dean for undergraduate and teacher education at CU Boulder, said all districts should be striving to see an upward trend in the numbers, not necessarily trying to reach a certain percentage as a goal.

She said that issues in diversifying teachers and principal pools are similar, but that teachers of color who are supported can be the ones who can then go on and become principals.

“We’re already limited because teaching demographics are overwhelmingly white women,” Meyer said. “We do need to find ways to make teaching a more desirable profession, especially for people of color.”

Meyer said that while there are nationwide and statewide issues to be addressed, districts need to incentivize teachers by paying higher wages, create environments that are inclusive for teachers already in the district and have visible leaders of color.

“It’s not enough to just want to recruit people in,” Meyer said. “Retention is the other part of the problem.”

When Youngquist’s office led the change in how the Aurora district hires principals, the focus was to increase the quality of school leaders and remove bias that could allow a person to be invited into the process “just with a tap on the shoulder,” he said.

The new process requires a team of district leaders and other principals to observe candidates as they are asked to model practices through scenarios and demonstrations of situations they’re likely to confront as principals.

Yolanda Greer, principal of Aurora’s Vista Peak Exploratory was one of the first to go through that new hiring process three years ago.

Yolanda Greer, principal of Vista Peak Exploratory in Aurora.

“I will tell you at the end of it I certainly felt like I had been through a triathalon of some sorts,” Greer said. “But I do recall saying at every point, ‘I’m so impressed. I’m so appreciative that APS is taking the thoughtfulness that went behind creating this process to make sure we have leaders that are prepared.’ It made me want to be here even more.”

Speaking at a community meeting last month, Munn said the neighboring districts of Denver and Cherry Creek can offer more money, so Aurora must focus on other appeals to hire and retain diverse educators.

“We have to think about what’s the right atmosphere or what’s the right way that we can recruit or retain people in a way that makes them want to be part of what we’re doing here in APS,” Munn said. “Our ultimate winning advantage there is that we have a strong connection to the community. We also demonstrate to potential staff members that we are a district that has momentum. We are a district where there is opportunity. We are a district that can truly impact the community that we serve.”

Greer said she felt that draw to Aurora long before she applied for the principal position.

“I think because there was a public perception that Aurora was an underdog,” Greer said. “It’s a great opportunity to not only impact the school but the district and community.”

Though Aurora district officials are happy with how the principal process is playing out, they started working with a Virginia-based consultant last year to look at all hiring practices in the district. Munn said part of that work will include looking at whether the district is doing enough to increase diversity.

Like most school districts, Aurora has sent officials to recruit new educators from Historically Black Colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

One thing that Greer said is in a district’s control is allowing a culture where issues of inequity can be discussed. In Aurora, she said she feels comfortable raising issues of student equity if she sees them.

For her, seeing other people of color in leadership positions in the district, including the superintendent, also made her feel welcome.

“In Aurora when I walk into leadership meetings, there’s a lot of people that look like me, so there’s that connectivity,” Greer said. “There’s open conversations and people listen.”

Earlier this year, Greer was reminded of the impact that leaders of color can have when her elementary students were asked to dress up for the job they hoped to have when they grew up.

Several of the students came to school dressed as their principal, Greer said.

“I want to make sure students of color can see someone that looks like them,” she said. “When they can see me in the specific role in education and they can say, ‘Wow, that can be something admirable and I want to aspire to that,’ it’s a big deal.”

deep cuts

New York City teachers don’t get paid maternity leave. Their paychecks prove it.

PHOTO: Emily James/Courtesy photo
Brooklyn high school teacher Emily James with her children.

Susan Hibdon opened her front door and saw nothing but white.

It was a day that would go down in tabloid headline history after schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña declared it “absolutely a beautiful day,” despite a forecast calling for 10 inches of snow. For Hibdon, a Brooklyn high school teacher, it was memorable for a different reason. It was exactly six weeks after she had given birth, which meant it was time to go back to the classroom.

She kissed her infant goodbye and headed into the wet February weather.

“If you want to pay your rent, you have to go right back to work,” she said. “That’s not just bad for the mother who just gave birth. That’s bad for everybody.”

New York City teachers have no paid maternity or family leave, a policy that takes a toll on teachers’ paychecks and creates deep gender inequity in an education workforce that is about 77 percent women.

Hibdon and fellow teacher and mother Emily James recently launched an online petition calling on the United Federation of Teachers to negotiate for paid leave, which is not included in any of the city’s contracts with unionized workers. Almost 78,000 people have signed on, and the women will present their request at the union’s executive board meeting on Monday.

“I think the irony of it sticks out to many people: These are women who are paid to raise children and they aren’t paid to raise their own children,” Hibdon said.

As it stands now, teachers who want to take paid time off after having a baby must use their sick days. The policy only applies to birth mothers, putting a strain on those who become parents through adoption or surrogacy, and fathers who want to take a leading role in the earliest moments of parenthood.

“We talk so much about parents being active in their child’s education,” said Rosie Frascella, a teacher who has also pushed for paid leave policies. “Well, let’s let teachers be active in their child’s education.”

For teachers, the policy packs a financial blow on multiple levels.

If a mother wants paid time off after giving birth, the only option is to use sick days. Women are limited to six weeks of sick time after a vaginal birth, and eight weeks after a C-section.

Teachers earn one sick day per school month. In order to save up for an eight-week leave, a teacher would have to work about four years without using any sick days.

Many women haven’t accrued that many days, so they can “borrow” sick days they haven’t yet earned. Teachers run into problems, though, if they actually get sick — or their children do — since they can only borrow up to 20 sick days. Once they hit that number, any additional time off is unpaid. And if a teacher leaves the education department, she must repay any sick days she borrowed.

Hidbon learned that the hard way. She has three children — and precious few sick days in the bank. Hidbon remembers a time that she completely lost her voice, but still had to go to work.

“No one could hear me. I had to conduct my entire class writing notes on the board,” she said. “I’m supposed to be teaching and I can’t do my job because of the way the system is set up — and my students are getting the short end of the stick.”

The crunch for sick time could lead to a financial blow later in a woman’s career. Teachers are allowed to accrue up to 200 sick days, and receive a payout for unused time when they retire. The city could not provide numbers for how many sick days men versus women retire with. But it makes sense that men would rack up far more since women with children are more likely to get stuck with a negative balance.

James, a Brookyln high school teacher and co-starter of the online petition, still has a negative balance of 16 sick days — almost three years after giving birth. The problem is compounded by the fact that women are more likely to take time off when a child is sick or there are other family obligations, a pattern that is seen in professions across the board.

“There were many times when I was so sick at work the kids were like, ‘Why are you here? Miss, go home,’” she said. “But it costs a lot of money to stay home.”

Even when women don’t have to borrow sick days, they can still lose financially. The city only allows women to use up to eight weeks of their banked time. Any additional days off are entirely unpaid.

Amy Arundell, a former director of personnel for the UFT, said many mothers stay home longer because of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides job protections for 12 weeks of leave.

“The people who don’t take 12 [weeks] obviously have real financial commitments” that make taking unpaid time off impossible, she said.

Women who take that time get hit with a double-punch to their salaries. Because of the way summer pay is calculated, unpaid time off results in a smaller summer paycheck, too. Arundell said the hit is usually equivalent to one paycheck.

Same sex-couples and those who become parents through surrogacy or adoption face many of the same financial setbacks, since only birth mothers are allowed to use sick time after having a baby.

After years on a waiting list, Seth Rader and his wife had only weeks’ notice that their adoptive baby was on the way. Since his wife was in grad school, the couple decided Rader would stay home with their new son — even though Rader, a Manhattan high school teacher, is the primary breadwinner at home.

“In a lot of ways, I’m much more bonded with him as a father, and him to me,” Rader said. “Are we really in a place where we want to discourage fathers from taking that role?”

At the time, the couple were saving for a down payment to buy a place of their own. After the expense of Rader taking off from work, they still are.

“I think all of this has to be affecting the sustainability of teaching,” he said. “If we create a system where people can’t imagine being teachers and parents at the same time, then that’s a loss.”

When it comes to the push for family leave, teachers have been left behind even as strides are made elsewhere. New York State recently passed a mandatory paid leave policy that will cover private employees. Last winter, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a paid leave act for city employees.

But that benefit isn’t extended to workers with unions, like the United Federation of Teachers. Currently, no union in New York City has paid maternity leave, according to a city spokeswoman.

Teachers across the city are fighting to change that. The petition started by Hibdon and James calls on UFT President Michael Mulgrew to “fight for our teaching mothers.”

“They’re supposed to really care about what teachers are struggling with and they’re our voice,” James said. “I just wish that they would take this seriously.”

Both the city and the United Federation of Teachers say they have held talks to extend similar benefits to teachers. In an emailed statement, Mulgrew called family leave “an important issue for the UFT and its members.”

“In our talks so far, the city has failed to come up with a meaningful proposal,” he said.

In an article published in the UFT journal, which ran shortly after the city passed its parental leave policy, the union pointed out that gaining that benefit came at the cost of a scheduled raise for managers and fewer leave days for veteran employees.

According to the article, Mulgrew said he “looked forward to negotiations with the de Blasio administration for an appropriate way to expand parental benefits for UFT members.”