ATR Update

New York City sent just 41 unassigned teachers to schools after predicting up to 400 placements

After announcing a plan to place up to 400 teachers without permanent jobs in schools with openings this fall — potentially over principals’ objections — the New York City education department ended up placing just 41, according to figures released Thursday.

The placements are part of a city effort to shrink by half the pool of teachers who receive full salaries and benefits despite having lost their full-time positions due to disciplinary or legal issues, or because schools where they worked were closed or lost enrollment. The pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, cost the city nearly $152 million last school year.

In September, just over 1,200 teachers were in the pool — a 20 percent decrease from the start of the previous school year, department officials said. The officials attributed the reduction to a hiring incentive that subsidized the salaries of teachers the schools agreed to hire permanently, and a severance package given to over 100 teachers who retired or resigned this summer.

In recent months, principals with open positions have hired 359 of the unassigned teachers — including 205 on a provisional basis, who will only be kept on if they receive good job ratings. The other 113 teachers were hired permanently under a deal where the department will subsidize their salaries through mid-2019.

Randy Asher, the education department official tasked with shrinking the pool, said the city would work to find placements for more unassigned teachers this school year, though he could not say how many. He added that the city would try whenever possible to have principals voluntarily hire the teachers rather than be assigned them.

“We’ve been working to make matches of their own choosing,” Asher told Chalkbeat. “We’re going to continue to work with principals on a case by case basis.”

None of the 41 teachers assigned to schools had faced legal or disciplinary cases, officials said.

Typically, teachers in the reserve pool rotate among schools on a monthly basis, often serving as substitutes. But under the new assignment policy, the teachers — who started at their new positions in November — will remain in the same school for the full academic year.

Officials said the year-long placements will allow the teachers to participate in school trainings and be evaluated by their principals. Those are rated “effective” or “highly effective” on their evaluations will be permanently hired by their schools, the officials said.

The city’s earlier projection of 300 to 400 placements was based on expected school vacancies, but officials said that some of those vacancies turned out to be for teachers on leave who are due to return soon or for spots that no longer need filled due to declining enrollment.

It’s also possible the smaller-than-expected number of vacancies could reflect principals scrambling to fill or otherwise hide their vacant positions before Oct. 15, after which the city was to begin assigning them teachers.

After the placement plan was announced in July, some principals said it would take away their freedom to hire whomever they choose and could saddle them with ineffective teachers. Among 822 teachers in the reserve at the end of last school year, 12 percent had been rated “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” in 2015-16, compared to just 1 percent of teachers citywide, according to city data.

Critics also worried the plan would send subpar teachers to struggling schools, since they are most likely to have openings.

The schools where the 41 teachers were sent include a high school that is part of the city’s “Renewal” program for low-performing schools. Taken together, the schools enroll a higher share of poor students and a lower share of students who passed the state exams than the city average, according to an analysis released by The Education Trust – New York, an advocacy group that had criticized the city’s teacher-placement plan.

“This raises major equity concerns,” said Ian Rosenblum, the group’s executive director, in a statement.

Despite advocates’ fears, some principals welcomed the teachers. Department officials said the principal of the Renewal high school, the Coalition School for Social Change in Manhattan, asked to be sent a teacher from the pool. And the principal of a Bronx school said it struggled to find a qualified special-education teacher before the city assigned it one.

“I don’t know if I got lucky, but it worked out,” said the principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “My dawning perception of folks who are ATRs is give them a job, give them a clear role, and hold them accountable — and they mostly do it.”

The reserve pool grew under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who struck a deal with the teachers union that gave principals more power to make hiring decisions but prevented teachers from being fired. As the Bloomberg administration aggressively closed schools, the number of unassigned teachers swelled even as the union resisted efforts to cap the length of time educators could remain in the pool.

In 2014, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promised not to use “forced placement of staff” as a way to shrink the ATR pool. Officials argue that the current policy does not qualify as forced placement because teachers are only sent to schools with open positions and the assigned teachers cannot bump others from their positions.

In October, Fariña said principals should “take a chance” on unassigned teachers.

“But if there’s one who you really feel should not be in any school — not just in your school,” she added, “then we’ll support you.”

The schools that were assigned teachers are spread among 20 of the city’s 32 local districts, with the largest — Manhattan’s District 2 — receiving the most teachers (6). Below are the schools where they were sent:

Manhattan

P.S./I.S. 217 ROOSEVELT ISLAND
BATTERY PARK CITY SCHOOL
BUSINESS OF SPORTS SCHOOL
THE HIGH SCHOOL FOR LANGUAGE AND DIPLOMACY
HIGH SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE
INDEPENDENCE HIGH SCHOOL
COALITION SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
P.S. 092 MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE
P.S. 133 FRED R MOORE
P.S. 197 JOHN B. RUSSWURM
MOTT HALL HIGH SCHOOL

Bronx

BRONX DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION ACADEMY
P.S. 011 HIGHBRIDGE
P.S. 199X – THE SHAKESPEARE SCHOOL
THE NEW AMERICAN ACADEMY AT ROBERTO CLEMENTE STATE
NEW DIRECTIONS SECONDARY SCHOOL
BEDFORD PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
P.S. 041 GUN HILL ROAD
P.S./M.S. 11X498 – VAN NEST ACADEMY
FREDERICK DOUGLASS ACADEMY V. MIDDLE SCHOOL

Brooklyn

P.S. 003 THE BEDFORD VILLAGE
CITY POLYTECHNIC HIGH SCHOOL
PS 059 WILLIAM FLOYD
P.S. 147 ISAAC REMSEN
KHALIL GIBRAN INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY
P.S. 191 PAUL ROBESON
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND RESEARCH EARLY COLLEGE HS
P.S. 219 KENNEDY-KING
I.S. 285 MEYER LEVIN
FDNY – CAPTAIN VERNON A. RICHARDS HIGH SCHOOL
EAST NEW YORK MIDDLE SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE
P.S. 164 CAESAR RODNEY
MOTT HALL BRIDGES ACADEMY

Queens

P.S./I.S. 087 MIDDLE VILLAGE
PIONEER ACADEMY
GOLDIE MAPLE ACADEMY
P.S. 015 JACKIE ROBINSON
P.S./M.S. 147 RONALD MCNAIR
P.S. 127 AEROSPACE SCIENCE MAGNET SCHOOL

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

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.”