Taking it Slowly

PROSE schools limited in changes they can make, documents show

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
City and teachers union officials announced the schools that were selected to join a school-experimentation program.

Schools picked to participate in a new experimentation program could alter the way teachers are evaluated and students are assessed, though when or even if they will be able to carry out those experiments is still unsettled, newly released documents show.

City and teachers union officials announced the names of 62 schools in the new program on Monday, but only provided details about three sets of plans. The union on Thursday released the schools’ full applications and the portions that had been approved, which show that most schools received only part of what they asked for and many have permission only to start planning. (Officials also said on Thursday that another school was part of the program.)

Fewer than half of the 63 total schools in the program have tentative approval to begin carrying out their plans in September, which call for teachers to be rated partly on portfolios of their work and for principals to get feedback on their performance from teachers, according to the documents. And even those schools must wait for a joint city-teachers union panel to iron out the teacher-evaluation changes and submit them to the state before they can get started.

The other schools, which are hoping to adopt new teacher-evaluation rubrics, revamp their grading systems, reconfigure their school years, and make other changes, only received approval for “potential implementation” of their plans. Those schools might be able to carry out their plans “at a future date,” pending even more approvals, according to the panel-approved ballots that those schools voted on.

Different schools had hoped to try innovative enrollment practices, such as setting aside seats for students with incarcerated parents, or unusual promotion policies, such as ceasing to hold back students who fail their classes. But those parts of their applications did not make it onto the final ballots.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said that all 63 schools will make some changes next year, with some potentially carrying out more parts of their plans as the year goes on. She noted that new methods of teaching and evaluating take longer than one summer to put into place.

Tina Collins, an official from the teachers union who is on the city-union panel, agreed that schools had been left with very little time to plan for next year’s changes, since the program only officially launched last month after the new teachers contract was ratified. She pointed out that almost all the schools had made some schedule changes for next year, though many of them did that through a process that is open to any school.

Collins also made clear that some of the schools, which have been accepted into the program for five years, may not enact parts of their plans until later years. Other changes that some hope to make, such as replacing Regents exams with student projects, would require the approval of state policymakers.

“We encouraged schools to be creative,” said Collins, “with the understanding that this was the first step in an ongoing conversation.”

Find your school's PROSE proposal.

The experimentation program, known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, or PROSE, was negotiated into the new teachers contract. It gives schools with a history of teacher-administrator collaboration freedom from certain contract rules and education department regulations so they can try new approaches. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the program would allow schools to “reinvent themselves,” while United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said it would “move education forward not just in New York, but around the country.”

Most of the schools that are tentatively allowed to start carrying out their plans this year are part of the Performance Standards Consortium, where some students complete projects instead of taking certain Regents exams. Collins said leaders of that group approached the union and pitched their plan as soon as word of the program got out.

Pending final approval from the panel and the state, the schools will be able to tweak the portion of the new evaluation system that rates teachers on their instructional skills. The teachers will be scored by evaluators fewer times, but will create portfolios that showcase their abilities in a particular area of teaching.

Under a separate part of the schools’ plans, the teachers will evaluate how well their administrators supported them, though those evaluations will not affect principals’ job ratings.

The other schools in PROSE are members of a few other groups: New Visions for Public Schools, a school-support organization; the Internationals Network for Public Schools, which serve recent immigrants; and two other coalitions of like-minded schools.

Those schools have been cleared to plan to make various changes, mostly around teacher evaluations and student assessments.

The evaluation changes involve using new rubrics, observations by fellow teachers, or student projects to rate teachers. The assessment shift would allow schools to move to “mastery-based” systems, where students earn credits by completing projects that show they understand a topic, rather than simply by attending class.

But some of the schools’ more innovative proposals were not approved by the panel. For instance, Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan was granted permission to plan for some teacher-evaluation changes.

On their application, however, school leaders outlined plans for a teacher apprenticeship, a mentoring opportunity for high school students as an alternative to suspension, and an enrollment policy that would reserve some seats for children with family members in prison. The proposal author also asked for an “office/business manager” for the school, then explained why.

“Rationale—my head’s going to pop off if I don’t get more clerical/administrative support,” the application says.

Reporting contributed by Sarah Darville.

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.