a closer look

Restaffing plan for two troubled schools faces scrutiny

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch (left) and city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

A restaffing plan for two of the city’s lowest-performing schools is facing scrutiny by state officials who want to see drastic changes at the schools and from critics who worry that the plan could trip up other schools by sending them teachers who are displaced by the reshuffling.

Hashed out by the city and the teachers and principals unions this month, the plan will force the roughly 130 teachers and administrators at the long-struggling Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Automotive High School in Williamsburg to reapply for their jobs next year. Joint city-union hiring committees at each school will screen the applicants.

During a radio interview Sunday, State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch commended the city and unions for creating the plan, which followed state orders to replace “ineffective” staffers at each school. But she also suggested that the state will not be satisfied unless it leads to a significant shakeup at the schools.

“If at the end of the day, all we get from this is two teachers who were going to retire anyhow retiring, we’re not going to have much change in that school building,” she said on a radio program hosted by John Catsimatidis. “If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, on their ability to retool their workforce by the spring, we will move to close them,” she added.

The 12-member hiring committees — which will include six representatives or appointees of the teachers union, four from the principals union, and two from the city — can rehire or reject as many of the schools’ current teachers as they choose. City education officials insist that the plan has the potential to transform the two schools and could become a model for other troubled schools.

They note that the two schools have more hiring flexibility under the new plan than they would have if the city had decided to close and replace them. The teachers contract stipulates that when schools are closed, the replacement schools must hire qualified senior teachers from the shuttered schools to fill at least half of their teaching positions. The new arrangement, however, does not force the two schools to rehire any teachers or to consider seniority, which officials say will empower the hiring committees.

“The strong agreement reached with the state to drastically change the staffing at Boys and Girls and Automotive is a vital step to deliver the strong public schools each neighborhood deserves,” said department spokeswoman Devora Kaye.

In response to Tisch’s comments, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew questioned why the state did not insist on major changes at the schools sooner.

“It’s a shame the state Board of Regents or its Chancellor didn’t demand action during all the years the Bloomberg administration was running these schools into the ground,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

As officials debate whether the rehiring plan will do enough to help the two troubled high schools, some critics have questioned how the plan will affect other schools.

Boys and Girls and Automotive teachers who are not rehired and don’t find new jobs will be assigned to other Brooklyn high schools with openings, where they will remain for one year unless the city and union jointly agree to remove them. The teachers will go through that placement process annually until 2021, unless they find a permanent position before then. The city will also find new placements for administrators who are not rehired.

Typically, teachers who lose their positions because of declining enrollments or school closures and cannot find new jobs enter the Absent Teacher Reserve, where the city pays their salaries and finds them temporary placements. Under the new teachers contract that was ratified this June, the city sends those educators to schools with job openings, but principals are allowed to send them back.

But the reassignment plan for teachers from the two troubled schools does not give principals that option. Instead, if principals want to remove teachers they are sent, a superintendent and a teachers union official must first agree to the removal and to a new placement.

Critics say that process resembles the so-called “forced placement” policy of a decade ago, where the city assigned displaced teachers to schools that had openings without the input of the teachers or principals.

“Our real concern is that if you force a person on a school, it makes it more difficult for a principal to build the culture they want in their schools,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the teacher advocacy group, Educators 4 Excellence-New York. He added that low-performing schools are more likely to have job openings, so they may end up with the bulk of teachers who leave the two troubled high schools.

Education department officials say the arrangement is different from forced placement, which officially ended in 2005 and Fariña has vowed not to reinstate. Under that policy, the assignments were indefinite and schools had to pay the teachers’ salaries. Under the new plan, the assignments last for one year and the city funds the salaries. And while the teachers will be sent to schools that have openings in the subjects they teach, principals can choose whether to assign them to those spots or use them for other purposes, such as substitutes or small-group instructors.

“We have been assured that there will be no forced placement,” principals union spokeswoman Anne Silverstein said in a statement.

Michael Shadrick, principal of Williamsburg Preparatory School, which is located near Automotive High School, said he doubted that other principals would be “chomping at the bit” to receive teachers who were not rehired at one of the two bottom-ranked schools. While some of those teachers might be skilled educators, principals “would much rather hire people they want and know,” he added.

Still, Shadrick said he would keep an open mind.

“If they send the teachers here, we’ll give them a fair shot,” he said. “But hopefully it won’t come to that.”

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

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.”