In letter, Fariña asks schools to model ‘positive relationships with law enforcement’

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Much as she advised in the wake of a grand jury decision about Eric Garner’s death earlier this month, Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants schools to find a way to use the tragic deaths of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday as learning opportunities.

Rafael Ramos, one of the officers killed, was a school safety officer on Staten Island — at the Rocco Laurie School, named for a policeman murdered in a similar incident in 1972 — until 2012.

In a letter to staff Monday, Fariña shared a recollection from that school’s principal, Peter Macellari, and thanked school safety officers for their role in keeping schools safe. She also said Saturday’s tragedy should bring about a dialogue in school communities about “what positive relationships with law enforcement look like.”

Advocates have long argued that safety agents too often strike an unnecessarily combative tone when it comes to school discipline, and some have pushed to involve communities in training the agents. Fariña has promised to revamp the city’s discipline policies, although she has not yet made any changes.

The full letter is below:

Dear Colleagues,

The tragic shooting deaths of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu over the weekend have shaken the City and are having an impact on our school communities as well. As you may have read, Officer Ramos served as a school safety agent at the Rocco Laurie School on Staten Island for three years until becoming a police officer in 2012.

As educators, it is our job to educate and build community; school safety agents are integral to both of these missions. I want us to take these officers’ senseless deaths as an opportunity to foster dialogue and engage in conversations with community members, including our local precinct officers. Let us model what positive relationships with law enforcement look like.

Peter Macellari, the principal of Rocco Laurie, knows the good safety agents do in our schools and keenly feels Officer Ramos’ loss. “He will always be remembered by my staff as being a gentleman,” Principal Macellari said this morning. “He was a quiet man who came to work each day with a smile on his face. The students adored him because he always treated them with respect and never over-reacted to anything. He always talked about his sons and his dream of becoming a member of the NYPD. Needless to say, in his time as a member of the Rocco Laurie family, he touched all of our lives.”

Principal Macellari and his staff held a moment of silence this morning for both officers killed in the line of duty. Let us all take a moment to reflect on these officers’ sacrifice and embrace the season’s message of peace and good will to all people.

Thank you for ensuring that our students learn in safe, secure classrooms—and for fostering positive relationships between our students and the public servants who put their lives on the line for our children, and all of us.



early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”


What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said