lesson leaders

City doubles Learning Partners program and gives some principals a raise

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
The city's Learning Partners program in action in 2014 at High School for Law and Finance. Carmen Fariña announced she is expanding the program in the 2015-16 school year.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña is expanding her signature school-collaboration initiative, doubling its ranks and giving some principals a larger role.

Ten principals in last year’s “Learning Partners” program are getting $25,000 raises to work with groups of up to seven schools next school year in what the city is calling “Learning Partners Plus,” officials said Thursday. A total of 146 schools will participate in one of the two programs starting this fall, up from 73 schools last year.

The expansion underscores a larger shift underway at the Department of Education since Fariña took over more than 18 months ago. Fariña was critical of the school ranking system that the Bloomberg administration had used for its accountability system, which she saw as discouraging schools from working together. Under Fariña and her Learning Partners initiative, the department has pushed principals and teachers to visit other schools to learn what works there, like a new curriculum or teacher leadership models, and bring those ideas back to their own buildings.

“It is the purest form of collaboration and sharing of practices,” said J.H.S. 088 Principal Ailene Mitchell, one of the 10 principals chosen for the “plus” program. “There’s no more secrets.”

Learning Partners launched last April and expanded to 73 schools at the start of the 2013-14 school year. The schools were organized into groups of three or four led by “host” schools, whose staff visited the other schools and met regularly.

The department is evaluating both programs, officials said, but it is too early to know if they will move the needle on student achievement, with even one year’s worth of state test scores and graduation rates not yet released. Participants in 2014-15 said their school had made “positive” changes and that they feel better-connected to colleagues outside the school because of Learning Partners, according to an internal survey.

The lynchpin of the new program are the 10 school leaders, Fariña said, who are among the first group to be named “master principals” since the positions was created in the city’s new contract with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. In exchange for their salary boost, they will be required to coordinate visits among up to seven schools and provide other principals with monthly training. The program will be partially funded through grants from the Wallace Foundation.

“Learning Partners Plus recognizes strong leaders in our schools and utilizes them to help improve student outcomes,” Fariña said in a statement.

The master principal raises are different from merit pay bonuses that the city gives to principals and assistant principals. Those bonuses, which have gone to administrators of schools with top-ranking progress report scores in the past, are still part of the CSA contract, although Fariña is tasked with deciding how to rank the top schools in upcoming years.

As with last year, the Learning Partner cohorts in both programs are organized by grade levels. Of 35 groupings, 13 are only high schools, nine are only middle schools and seven are only elementary schools. Two groups include prekindergarten programs and the rest include schools with mixed grades. (Complete lists of schools for both programs are available below).

Most of the Learning Partner Plus host schools will be paired up with at least one school they worked with last year, although Mitchell said principals said they had more say in deciding the groupings this year. She said she was particularly excited about working with P.S. 230 in Windsor Terrace, where many students in her middle school come from.

“Now those teachers can plan with my sixth and seventh grade teachers,” Mitchell said.

All 148 of the Learning Partner schools will be able to have up to three model teachers, which are leadership positions that require extra work and come with a $7,500 raise, a department official said. The 10 host principals in Learning Partner Plus schools will be allowed to promote more teachers.

Ed Tom, principal of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, said having model teachers was a highlight of last year’s program and is promoting an additional five teachers to the position this year.

“I think the biggest gains for our school community is model teachers,” Tom said.

Nearly 100 schools will be new to the programs this fall. Of the 73 schools that participated last year, 50 will be involved a second year, with some moving onto the “plus” program. Learning Partners Plus will consist of 71 schools and Learning Partners will consist of 75 schools.

Over 260 schools applied for the programs, city officials said on Thursday.

Fariña’s vision for collaboration has expanded beyond the Learning Partners programs, too. An entire office at the department is now dedicated to helping schools work together, absorbing the existing the Middle School Quality Initiative and launching Showcase Schools, a group of 17 schools that hosted tours and shared ideas directly with the department.

A complete list of Learning Partner Plus schools below. For a list of Learning Partner schools, click here.

P.S. 112 Jose Celso Barbosa, host 
P.S. 57 James Weldon Johnson
P.S. 206 Jose Celso Barbosa
Dos Puentes Elementary School
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte
Professor Juan Bosch Public School
P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith
Samara Community School

P.S. 249 The Caton, host
P.S. 161 The Crown
New Bridges Elementary
P.S. 49 Willis Avenue
P.S. 208 Elsa Ebeling
P.S. 268 Emma Lazarus
P.S. 276 Louis Marshall

P.S. 214, Bronx, host
P.S. 109 Sedgwick
P.S. 143 Louis Armstrong
P.S. 106, Queens
J.H.S. 052 Inwood
Global Technology Preparatory
Ronald Edmonds Learning Center II

P.S. 321 William Penn, host
P.S. 009 Teunis G. Bergen
P.S. 282 Park Slope
Academy of Arts and Letters
The Maurice Sendak Community School
Sunset Park Avenues Elementary School
Riverdale Avenue Community School
Riverdale Avenue Middle School

I.S. 034 Tottenville, host
I.S. 075 Frank D. Paulo
I.S. 051 Edwin Markham
South Richmond High School I.S./P.S
I.S. 061 William A Morris
P.S. 001 Tottenville
P.S. 6 Corporal Allan F. Kivlehan School
P.S. 042 Eltingville

J.H.S. 088, host
Corona Arts and Sciences Academy
I.S. 5 – The Walter Crowley Intermediate School
Sunset Park Prep
I.S. 392
P.S. 230 Doris L. Cohen
Bronx Writing Academy

School for Global Leaders, host
M.S. 267 Math, Science & Technology
J.H.S. 383 Philippa Schuyler
The School for the Urban Environment
J.H.S. 210 Elizabeth Blackwell
Middle School for Art and Philosophy
Life Sciences Secondary School 

J.H.S. 216 George J. Ryan, host
P.S./M.S 042 R. Vernam
I.S. 254, Bronx
The Forward School
J.H.S. 185 Edward Bleeker
Village Academy

Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, host
Bronx Leadership Academy High School
Bronx High School for Law and Community Service
Belmont Preparatory High School
Pelham Preparatory Academy
Theater Arts Production Company
Bronxdale High School

East Brooklyn Community High School, host
Brooklyn Frontiers High School
High School for Excellence and Innovation
Brooklyn Democracy Academy
Brooklyn Bridge Academy
Green School: An Academy for Environmental Careers

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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