human capital

A cheer, then a caution, as theater teacher hiring rules relax

Add theater to the list of subjects for which principals have been allowed to circumvent the city’s longstanding teacher hiring freeze.

The city allowed four principals to hire theater teachers from outside the school system last month, breaking from the hiring restrictions in place since May 2009 that limit most job searches to current city teachers.

The Center for Arts Education, a group that advocates for more arts instruction in the city’s public schools, released a statement cheering the city for opening hiring for theater teachers and calling on it to end the freeze for all arts teachers. The city has just 100 theater teachers, and 20 percent of schools have no arts teachers at all, according to CAE.

But city officials said the hiring freeze hasn’t been lifted in theater the way it has been in other subjects, such as Latin and English as a second language. Instead, the city simply granted exemptions to all of the schools looking for theater teachers in mid-September, according to Ann Forte, a Department of Education spokeswoman. At the time, there was just a single theater teacher in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of excessed teachers to which principals are expected to look first when filling vacant positions, she said.

Currently, the city’s hiring system lists no open positions for theater teachers, Forte said.

There are currently 54 vacant positions for arts teachers, according to CAE’s statement. The city did not immediately respond to questions about how many arts teachers are in the ATR pool, but last fall, there were dozens.

Here’s the full statement from CAE policy director Doug Israel:

October 18, 2010

The city’s Department of Education has announced that the system-wide hiring freeze for New York City public schools has been lifted for theater teachers in order to fill current school-based vacancies. That’s great news.

As the director of research and policy for The Center for Arts Education I have advocated on CAE’s behalf to lift this freeze as one of several means to ensure that city public schools have an adequate array of highly qualified arts instructors on staff.

Since 2009 city schools have only been allowed to hire existing DOE teachers-either working in other schools or in excess in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool-to fill vacancies. Principals will now be permitted to hire licensed theater teachers from outside the system to fill these slots. This is a welcome development as there are only approximately 100 theater teachers citywide and more than 1.1 million school children-a ratio of about 1 theater teacher for every 11,000 city students.

There are currently four announced vacancies for theater teachers in city schools. Theater teachers licensed by the State of New York can apply for these positions by uploading relevant materials to the TeachNYC portal at: http://schools.nyc.gov/TeachNYC/apply/default.htm.

We commend the DOE for responding to the recognized shortage of certified theater teachers by lifting the hiring freeze in this area.

However, we are concerned that there are approximately 54 arts teacher vacancies in city public schools.  More troubling is the fact that more than 20% of schools have no full-time certified arts instructor on staff.  This is consistent at the middle and high school levels where, according to state education law, students must complete two arts courses led by an instructor certified in the subject matter they teach.

We call upon the DOE and the Office of Arts and Special Projects to ensure that all 54 vacancies are filled in a timely manner and that all schools have a minimum of one certified arts instructor on staff to ensure that New York City school children receive the quality arts instruction to which they are entitled.

Sincerely, Doug Israel
Director of Research and Policy

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”