Re-Hiring Process

In city-union deal, leaders and faculty at two troubled schools will reapply for their jobs

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, along with principals union leaders, agreed on a plan Thursday to overhaul two struggling schools.

The principals and staffs at two of the city’s lowest-performing schools must reapply for their jobs as part of a state-ordered overhaul of the troubled schools.

Any of the roughly 130 people who work at two Brooklyn high schools — Boys and Girls and Automotive — who want to keep their jobs next school year will face newly formed hiring committees made up of superintendents, teachers and principals union representatives, city appointees, and parents, according to a city-union agreement made Thursday. Teachers who choose not to reapply or who are not rehired will be placed in other Brooklyn high schools, according to the teachers union.

The state had ordered the city to put a plan in place at both schools to reevaluate their administrators and staffers and replace any who were “unwilling or ineffective,” according to a letter sent to the city Friday by State Education Commissioner John King, who conditionally approved the agreement. Earlier this year, the state designated the chronically low-achieving schools as “out of time” and required the city to make major changes. Final plans for the schools were due Friday, but the state gave the city an extension until Dec. 19 to file them.

In addition to the rehiring process, the schools will also add extra learning time for students and a mandatory week of summer training for teachers. In an effort to stabilize the schools, the city will not send them new students mid-year for the next two years, as Chalkbeat previously reported.

The long-struggling schools might also enact a host of other interventions, according to the preliminary plan the city submitted Friday. The city could audit teachers’ lessons and assessments, require personal graduation plans for each student, put extra student-support services in the school, shrink class sizes, and reduce teachers’ course loads, the proposal said. A joint city-union committee at each school will choose which changes to carry out.

The Bloomberg administration forced teachers at two-dozen struggling schools to reapply for their jobs in 2012 as part of a school-restructuring plan, which the United Federation of Teachers opposed and an arbitrator eventually stopped. Unlike the Bloomberg-era plan, the latest deal does not limit the number of teachers who can be rehired or require the principal to be replaced.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña attributed the union’s willingness to go along with the new plan to the “real partnership” between this administration and educators, a point that Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed.

“The agreement we’re announcing today is something we could only achieve because of the trust we’ve built with educators,” he said in a statement, “and our shared commitment to a city where every neighborhood has the strong public schools it deserves.”

The agreement follows the city’s announcement this week of a $150 million plan to rescue more than 90 low-performing schools by flooding them with supports for students and educators. The staffs at those schools do not have to reapply for their positions.

In his letter, King said the city’ final plans for the two out-of-time schools must include goals for each school around attendance, school culture, student credit-earning and course-taking, and “academic progress,” though it was unclear how academic progress will be measured.

The city still must submit improvement plans for nearly 250 other low-performing schools. Those were originally due in July, but the city received an extension through Friday. However, the city asked for more time, and King agreed to accept those final plans next month as well.

In a separate letter to Fariña, King said those plans must include targets similar to those expected for the two out-of-time schools and added that any struggling schools that do not improve must face “increased accountability.” He said the rehiring process and other changes at Boys and Girls and Automotive could provide a “blueprint for turnaround efforts” at other schools that need intensive interventions.

Fariña also agreed to provide a “detailed explanation” of the unusual arrangement she made with the new Boys and Girls principal, Michael Wiltshire, who she installed last month to replace the principal who abruptly left. Wiltshire not only received a $25,000 bonus to take on the tough assignment, but he also was given the option to leave after one year and to continue to oversee the successful school that he has led for a decade, Chalkbeat revealed last month. In a letter sent to King on Thursday, Fariña also promised to submit a sample weekly schedule for Wiltshire and a description of his duties after this school year.

In her letter, Fariña also said that the parent associations and leadership teams — which include administrators, faculty, parents, and students — at both schools have been “either lacking or non-existent.” The city helped reform them and will now start meeting with the “reconstituted” groups monthly, Fariña said. Chalkbeat previously reported that the city went around the leadership team at Boys and Girls, which had been aligned with the outspoken principal who resigned, when it appointed the new principal.

Finally, Fariña assured King that the schools’ admissions policies would not change. While the schools may not have changed how they admit students, Boys and Girls has adjusted its enrollment by advising struggling students to transfer out, Chalkbeat reported on Friday. Roughly 30 students have left the school since Wiltshire took over last month, sources there said.

Read the full agreements between the UFT and the city, the principals union and the city, and the UFT, principals union, and the city.

Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led leaders to widen school improvement strategies. They also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede