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 FariƱa 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

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