first take

Deal lays framework for new evals; city appeals issue smoothed

A compromise between the state and its main teachers union will refine the state’s teacher evaluation law and make it easier for local districts to implement new evaluations, Gov. Cuomo announced today.

Cuomo had said that he would impose a new evaluation system if a deal did not come by today.

The announcement suggested that some of the most pressing issues at the state level had been resolved but that significant questions remained wide open here in New York City. The city and UFT have settled at least part of their dispute about appeals for teachers with low ratings but have not actually agreed on a new evaluations system.

Cuomo announced the deal during a a press conference in Albany, where he was joined by State Education Commissioner John King, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew — but no officials from New York City. Mayor Bloomberg is holding a press conference at City Hall this afternoon to discuss the deal.

We’ll have more details about the content of the agreement, which is a statewide framework that would tweak the state’s 2010 evaluation law, later today. Cuomo will be submitting bills today to formalize the agreement through the budget amendment process.

What’s clear is that it gives Cuomo some of what he wanted last spring when he asked the Board of Regents to increase the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations. The agreed-upon framework allows districts and their unions to agree to use state exam scores for a second 20 percent of evaluations set aside for local assessments — but they can’t use the exams in exactly the same way the state does. Instead, they’ll be able to crunch the numbers a different way or substitute their own assessments, which the State Education Department would have to approve.

It’s also clear that while the agreement represents a leap forward for the city and UFT, it does not end their disputes. The city and union agreed only to an appeals process for teachers with low ratings — resolving a major sticking point in negotiations over teacher evaluations at 33 schools that had been receiving federal funding.

But it does not actually represent an agreement on a new evaluation system. Other issues that were unresolved when negotiations broke down over the appeals question are still up in the air. Plus, the negotiations that fell apart were only for the 33 schools that received School Improvement Grants. The city, like all districts, now has until Jan. 16, 2013, to finalize an evaluation system using the framework NYSUT agreed to today.

“Are there continuing, outstanding issues when it comes to education between the city and the UFT. Yes, yes, that is clear,” Cuomo said. “We never said we were going to resolve all the open issues.”

The one issue that was resolved, about the appeals process, represents something of a loss for the city. Bloomberg’s position was that the school chancellor should have the final word on all appeals. But Mulgrew said the agreed-upon appeals process — which Cuomo said would go into effect by the end of 2012 and enable the city to receive a 4 percent increase in school aid — brings in third-party validation for some ratings.

He also said the process included safeguards against low ratings issued as a means of harassment.

Cuomo lavished praise on Mulgrew during the press conference, saying that the union leader had “worked extraordinarily hard … and has been extraordinarily reasonable” through the negotiation process.

A major open question is whether the city will go ahead with its plan to “turn around” 33 struggling schools, which would require half of their teachers to be replaced. Bloomberg had proposed turnaround as a way to circumvent a requirement that the city negotiate an evaluation deal for teachers in those schools. But with the sticking point in those negotiations resolved, the city could continue the school improvement strategies already underway there. The city is set to make its case with the state next week for why federal funds should continue flowing to support those schools

Mulgrew signaled today that he thought the evaluation should take turnaround off the table. But he signaled that the city had not said clearly that it would.

“”If the mayor chooses he can speak to us about putting in a SIG application,” he said in Albany. “You can ask him. I think he has decided he’d rather close schools than fix them.”

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.