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UFT moves quickly to build coalition with a clear target: Cuomo

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Elected officials and teachers join UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a press conference to spotlight enrollment inequities at charter schools.

The city teachers union is gearing up to fight a lobbying battle on many fronts this year.

A lobbying day is on the calendar (March 4), a social media hashtag is being heavily promoted (#invitecuomo), and messages are being crafted for teachers, parents, and other allies invested in helping the union beat back Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education agenda.

“We’re going to go have a fight,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew summarized Thursday at the union’s headquarters.

The strategy for that fight is beginning to take shape. Mulgrew spent the day urging parent advocates and community leaders to join the UFT for an all-out campaign against Cuomo, whose recent budget proposal was seen as an attack on teachers unions around the state.

Cuomo’s proposal calls for changing tenure rules, tougher teacher evaluations, more charter schools, state-managed takeovers of struggling schools, and overhauling the state’s due process law to make it easier to fire teachers who are underperforming or accused of misconduct, changes the governor said are necessary to improving the state’s education system. Mulgrew said those policies would drive teachers away from working with high-needs students, likening Cuomo’s approach to that of an old nemesis.

“I spent five years working with parents fighting against really bad polices in education with the Bloomberg administration,” Mulgrew said. “Well, we’re going to have to do what we did before.”

But the teachers union is in a newly vulnerable position as the legislative session in Albany gets underway. The state teachers union was outspent in last year’s election by charter-school backers and fell short of its effort to help Democrats win control of the state Senate. The news that Sheldon Silver will vacate his position as speaker of the Assembly, which has often served as a liberal backstop against policies the union opposes, means the UFT has also lost a uniquely powerful ally.

“They used to be in the driver’s seat in Albany and they’re no longer in the driver’s seat,” said New York City Charter School CEO James Merriman, who often clashes with the union.

Mulgrew acknowledged the perception that “the chessboards are lined against us,” but said he had no intention to cave on issues that teachers oppose.

To make that opposition more visible, the unions have created an #invitecuomo social media campaign and the UFT is asking members to take to Facebook and Twitter to urge the governor to increase school funding.

Behind the scenes, Mulgrew was working to build support among parent leaders, advocacy organizations, and clergy members on Thursday. At a morning meeting that included NAACP’s Hazel Dukes, parents from community education councils, and representatives from Class Size Matters and Alliance for Quality Education, Mulgrew was clear about what he was looking for, according to an attendee.

“He wants parent support to go after Cuomo,” the attendee said. Specific education issues were raised, but “he kept bringing it back to Cuomo.”

The union has also scheduled a lobbying day in Albany for March 4, and leaders said they are hoping for a larger turnout than in previous years. Steve Juliano, a teacher and union delegate who attended one of the union’s “emergency” meetings on Thursday, said the union will be trying to position that event as “more of a grassroots campaign.”

“A lot of parents want to get involved, so it’s a little different,” Juliano said.

Union leaders got specific about what they are looking for on one issue, charter schools, at a press conference on Thursday.

Cuomo wants to raise the state’s charter-school cap by 100 schools, but Mulgrew said that number should be frozen until charter schools show they are serving a greater share of at-risk students, as required by law.

To ensure they serve more of those students, Mulgrew said charters should be required to give preference in their admissions lotteries to new groups of at-risk students and required to give district superintendents the power to to fill empty seats that open up in charter schools. The union also began circulating an analysis of enrollment data showing charter schools in many districts serve an especially small share of students living in temporary housing and students with disabilities who require self-contained classes than the average district school.

Teachers union delegates had their own meeting on Thursday afternoon, where members received a two-sided flyer that summarized Cuomo’s proposals with a few sardonic lines on each issue.

“Are you kidding?” begins one description of Cuomo’s proposal to pay top-rated teachers a $20,000 bonus. “Teachers are motivated by seeing their students succeed, not by corporate bonus-style merit pay.”

Teachers who attended said that Mulgrew was angry but focused on how to promote a positive message pushing back against Cuomo’s suggestion that the system is filled with poor teachers who need to be removed from the classroom. Mulgrew stressed that progress was already being made under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.

“In New York City, we can feel this energy that we’re moving education forward the right way,” Mulgrew said.

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.