long-term planning

To transform failing schools, new teachers take up residence

A Bank of America employee, a fashion industry veteran, and a 311 operator are among the newest additions to the city’s teaching corps.

They are among 26 people being eased into the classroom through a new city program designed to train – and retain – high-quality teachers specifically for the city’s worst-performing schools.

Launched with little fanfare this summer, the NYC Teaching Residency for School Turnaround is the city’s latest effort to attract talent using an alternative certification program. But unlike the city’s NYC Teaching Fellows program, the residency isn’t throwing its trainees straight into the classroom. Nor is it quickly relieving them from their obligation to the city.

Instead, the program requires them to make a lengthier commitment, but only after they’ve spent a year working as assistants to in the classroom.

The teachers-in-training have been dispersed into two schools undergoing federally-funded “transformation” — Queens Vocational and Technical High School and J.H.S. 22 Jordan L. Mott — and are part of an experimental effort to overhaul schools deemed “persistently low-achieving” by the state.

Borrowing heavily from models that preceeded it in recent years, the program comes amid a growing nationwide focus on improving both the teacher quality and retention rates in high-needs urban schools.

The programs are expensive to create and operate, but supporters say the cost is worth it because it cuts down on pricey turnover expenses. Half of all teachers in urban districts will leave the profession within five years, statistics show. But 85 percent of teachers who were trained as residents will stay, according to early data collected by Urban Teacher Residency United, a network that has more than a dozen programs in 10 cities.

This summer, NYC Teaching residents spent a month preparing for the school year in classes of their own. They spent mornings in lectures at St. John’s University and afternoons in seminars and workshops taught by a DOE instructor.

During the first few months of school, trainees will have limited responsibilities, but by the end of the year they’ll be expected to devise and teach their own lesson plans for weeks at a time without guidance.

The city is spending $1.3 million — or $50,000 per resident —  in federal School Improvement Grant money for the 10-month program, which includes a $22,500 stipend, benefits, and tuition subsidies for certification classes at St. John’s. After the residency, participants commit to four years of teaching in schools that the city wants to overhaul.

“It is part of a broader school improvement initiative to create a pipeline of people who are going to come in and stay in these schools,” said DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan. The city plans to double the program’s size next year.

Dozens of new residencies have popped up around the country in just the last few years, fueled by federal grants and philanthropic organizations that seek to not only find committed new teachers, but identify and prepare the ones who are most likely to succeed. Last year, 19 new residency programs were funded with a $43 million federal grant to “improve teaching in high-needs schools.”

And more are on the way, via Race To The Top. This summer, the state awarded grant money to six city training institutions to “address the teacher shortage issue” through two teacher preparation programs, one of which includes a residency.

“We’re looking at teacher preparation pretty hard,” said Julie Mikuta, of New Schools Venture Fund, a philanthropic firm that was an early investor of UTRU and supports education initiatives for low income students. Mikuta, who focuses on human capital investments at the firm, said preparation was “a major spoke in the wheel” toward closing the school achievement gap.

In New York City, four residencies have been created in the last three years, with the NYC Teaching Residency being the latest. Vicky Bernstein, the DOE’s executive director of teacher recruitment and quality, has supervised each of the new programs and, before being promoted to chief academic officer last year, Shael Polakow-Suransky worked closely on developing some of the programs.

The four programs follow a basic model, but teachers aren’t necessarily trained in the same way.

At New Visions for Public Schools, teachers are trained to teach in high-needs schools, but they are initially placed in “stronger schools where they can learn effective practices,” said program director Marisa Harford.

“We feel that for the residency school, it’s important to be in an effective school first,” Harford said.

At I-START, the city’s first residency program, which trains teachers for schools for new immigrants, residents are trained on strategies that get English language learners speaking English in their classes.

“We really take seriously developing human capital and this was one way to create a continuous pipeline of teachers who fit our educational approach,” said Claire Sylvan, founder of Internationals Network for Public Schools, which launched I-START in 2008 in partnership with Long Island University.

The costs associated with teacher residencies are high, ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 per teacher per year. As school districts’ budgets contract, some question whether it can be a sustainable model for preparing teachers nationwide.

“I always caution against measuring these things in the abstract,” said Rick Hess, an education policy analyst.

Hess warned that just because teachers trained in a residency did not mean they’d be successful. He said the positive generalizations given to residencies as they’ve grown in numbers remind him of the reputation that charter schools obtained, even though they vary widely in type and quality.

“Certainly a well-run residency program that’s being highly-selective about talent would give me confidence that it’s a reasonable strategy, but the  notion that a residency is any kind of a solution is naive.”

The I-START program is still young, but Sylvan said that many former residents have stayed in her network of schools and their presence is beginning to pay off.

“The vast majority went into our schools are are beginning to play significant roles,” she said. “I expect to have some school leaders come out of this in the next five to 10 years.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.