official notice

More than 3,500 "turnaround" school staffers getting pink slips

Thousands of teachers, administrators, and school aides in the city’s 24 “turnaround” schools are getting official notification today that they aren’t assured a position next year.

The total number of workers at the schools who are being “excessed” — or having their positions eliminated — is 3,671, making this year’s citywide tally of displaced teachers larger than in any recent year. The Department of Education released the figures this afternoon but did not share data about excessing taking place at the city’s 1,600 other schools.

Schools learned that the excessing letters would be distributed today on Friday, and at some schools teachers received the notices while interviewing to retain their jobs. The workers who received the notification include 2,995 people represented by the United Federation of Teachers, mostly classroom teachers; 497 people represented by DC-37, the union that includes school aides and parent coordinators; and 179 members of the principals and administrators union.

Typically, schools excess teachers because of budget cuts, enrollment drops, and changes to program offerings that render the positions impossible to fund. But this year, every single person who works at the 24 schools undergoing a federally prescribed turnaround process is being excessed — and virtually every single person is being replaced, either by himself or by another person, during restaffing processes that are already underway.

The expansive game of musical chairs is intended to shake up the staffs of struggling schools and make them eligible for a pot of federal funds known as School Improvement Grants.

“We think it is an exciting opportunity and moment to infuse new talent into these new schools and produce gains for students,” said Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor supervising the turnaround process.

Already, department officials say, more than 7,000 applicants have cast more than 26,000 applications for the 2,995 teaching positions at the schools, for an average of more than eight applications for each open position.

Some of the schools have had difficulty filling open positions in the past: More than half of them started this school year with at least three vacancies, according to the department. One principal, Linda Rosenbury at M.S. 22 in the Bronx, told department officials that she had received more than a thousand applicants for 50 positions, compared to fewer than 50 applications last year for seven vacancies.

Department recruiters have helped pull in applicants, but the number of applications has been “way more than we could ever take credit for,” Sternberg said. “It’s a unique opportunity [for teachers] to apply an entrepreneurial spirit to the challenge of creating a new school.”

About 2,600 of the applicants are currently working in the 24 schools, meaning that more than 85 percent of teachers are reapplying for their own job or other jobs in turnaround schools. The rest of the applicants are working at other schools in the city or are trying to break into the city school system, which has had stringent hiring restrictions in place since 2009. The city is bringing on 900 new Teaching Fellows this year, twice as many as it hired in 2011, to fill vacancies across the system.

Hiring committees consisting of a principal, department appointees, and teachers union appointees are in place at each turnaround school. The committees must interview any current teacher who wishes to stay on after his school is revamped and must, in accordance with a clause in the city’s contract with the teachers union, extend offers to at least half of qualified applicants from within the schools. But what constitutes qualification leaves room for discretion and has some teachers concerned that they will be shut out unfairly.

Some committees have begun offering positions to applicants. But the city and union are locked in arbitration over collective bargaining rules at the schools. If the arbitrator rules in the union’s favor, hiring decisions would be reversed.

The city’s letter to school workers who are being excessed included that information in a bold-faced “important note” in the second paragraph. And a UFT spokesman emphasized the up-in-the-air reality for the turnaround schools’ rehiring in a statement responding to the excessing letters.

“No final personnel decisions involving these schools can be made until the arbitrator rules on the UFT’s contention that these are ‘sham closings,’” said the spokesman. “We expect that decision before the end of the school year.”

Teachers who are not rehired at their school or any other enter the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of teachers without permanent positions who rotate through vacant positions on a weekly basis. They continue to draw their full salary in an arrangement that the city and union agreed upon in 2005 but now has Department of Education officials calling for a time limit on how long teachers can remain in the ATR pool.

School aides who are not rehired do not have the same protection; last year, hundreds of DC-37 members whose positions were eliminated were fired after several months in limbo.

The city’s letter to schools workers at turnaround schools is below.

Dear Colleague:

As a result of the closing of our school and in compliance with contractual mandates, you have been placed in excess from our school for next year. You are being given a temporary assignment until such time as you find a full-time position at a new school.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Please be mindful that there is currently a grievance arbitration pending regarding school closures and all personnel decisions are subject to change based on the outcome in that matter.  We expect a decision from an arbitrator by the end of June.  I will keep you informed of any updates.

I want to sincerely thank you for your service to our students.  Your support of their education and growth is greatly appreciated.

This letter outlines guidance for finding a new position, as well as your next steps when the 2012-13 school year begins in September.

I. Finding a new regular assignment prior to September 4:         

Beginning now, please make every effort to use the available tools and resources to apply for and attempt to secure a new, regular assignment as soon as possible. A description of specific supports, including the Open Market system, and resources can be found below.  Keep in mind that by starting the job search process earlier you will have access to a broader range of opportunities.

Using the Open Market/Excessed Staff Selection Systems, a key tool in your job search:

  • The Open Market (OM) system allows you to search for schools and vacancies and allows schools to consider you for possible selection. To access the system, go to https://www.nycenet.edu/offices/dhr/transferplane/. Use this website to search for schools and vacancies, enter your applicant statements and résumé, and submit applications to vacancies at schools of interest to you.
  • The Open Market transfer period is open until August 7. Following August 7, the system converts to the Excessed Staff Selection System (ESSS) which is available through the same link exclusively to employees in excess.
  • Vacancies continue to occur throughout the summer and even after the opening of school so you should continue to check OM or ESSS for updates.

You should also verify that your contact information is up to date in the registration section of the Open Market system.  This information, in conjunction with your DOE email, will be used to contact you for recruitment and interview opportunities as well as to advise you of assignments should you remain in excess when the school year begins. If you do not already have access to your NYC DOE email account or need assistance on its use, please contact the DOE Helpdesk at (718) 935-5100, or visit the following link: http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/EnterpriseOperations/DIIT/default.htm

Using the Teacher Hiring Support Center services:

The NYC DOE has resources available to assist you in your search for a new assignment through the Teacher Hiring Support Center (THSC), managed by the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality.  Resources available to all excessed UFT-covered school-based staff include job search webinars, resume and cover letter templates, and sample interview questions. Access to these services and updates on recruitment events can be found on the Teacher Hiring Support Portal at http://thscnyc.org. For more information on these services, please email [email protected] or call HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

II. If you are NOT selected for a new regular assignment before school opening:

If you are not selected for a regular assignment before school opening you will be in excess/ATR status until you find a new, regular position.

As long as you remain in excess/ATR status, your school assignment may change on a weekly basis within your seniority district. Your initial ATR assignment – where to report on September 4th – will be viewable on Open Market/ESSS in late August.  (Note that you will NOT be assigned to the same school where you worked this year and should not report to that location in September.)  You will receive more instructions, via your NYC DOE email, on how to access ATR assignment information in Open Market/ESSS later in the summer.

Finally, keep in mind that even if you are still in excess once school starts, you are still expected to be proactive in seeking a new, regular assignment outside of the ATR.

Once again, I value your professional commitment to our students, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for a new, regular assignment.

If you have any immediate questions regarding excessing or related issues, please contact HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

Sincerely,
Principal

cc:           Network HR Director
Network Budget Officer

High emotions

Denver superintendent sheds light on school closure recommendations, what happens next

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
Parents pick up their children at Amesse Elementary Friday.

While the criteria for Denver school closure recommendations is clearer than ever before, that hasn’t made this week’s emotional conversations at the three low-performing elementary schools facing that fate any easier, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said Friday.

“For school leaders and teachers, they care incredibly deeply about their schools and their kids and they’re very, very committed to them,” Boasberg told Chalkbeat.

“People have respected that there is a clear and transparent process at the intellectual level — and at the emotional level, they’re still very concerned about the changes.”

Denver Public Schools is recommending that Amesse Elementary, Greenlee Elementary and Gilpin Montessori close due to poor school ratings, lagging academic growth and a lack of enough evidence to prove the schools are on a path toward improvement.

The school board is scheduled to vote Thursday on the recommendations, which were made under a new district policy adopted last year and put into effect for the first time this fall.

If the board approves the closures, Amesse and Greenlee would stay open through the end of this school year, 2016-17, and the next school year, 2017-18, Boasberg said.

Each school would be replaced by a new model the following year, 2018-19, he said. The board would choose those models in June 2017 and then give the leaders an entire year to plan — a “year zero” — before asking them to take over in the fall of 2018. Boasberg said the current leaders of Amesse and Greenlee would be welcome to submit plans to reinvent the schools.

The principals at the three schools either declined or did not respond to interview requests.

Walking her second-grader, Clifford, out of Amesse on Friday, parent Sheila Epps voiced her frustration with the district’s closure recommendation. She said in her experience, Amesse is a good school, helping her son get to grade level in reading, writing and math.

She scoffed at what she called DPS’s intense focus on “test scores, test scores, test scores,” saying the district should “stop worrying about rankings” and focus on educating each child.

“As a parent, you feel like there’s nothing you can do,” Epps said. “It’s all up to the district. It’s almost not even worth talking about. It’s like, ‘Now what?’”

The district is recommending a different path for Gilpin. Because of low enrollment projections, Gilpin would close at the end of this school year and not be replaced, Boasberg said.

Students would be guaranteed a seat at one of four neighborhood schools next year: Cole Arts and Science Academy, Whittier ECE-8, University Prep or the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, said Brian Eschbacher, the district’s director of planning and enrollment services. The district would also work with its other Montessori elementary schools to give priority to Gilpin students wishing to continue a Montessori education, he said.

Gilpin’s enrollment is down 30 percent this year from 2013, which is in line with an overall trend in the Five Points neighborhood in northeast Denver, where Gilpin is located, Eschbacher said.

Neighborhood birth rates are also down, meaning there isn’t a big group of infants and toddlers waiting in the wings, and DPS already has 1,000 empty seats in the area, he added.

Said Boasberg: “Even if Gilpin had not been designated under (the policy), we would have either this year or next year … been in a situation where one of the elementary schools in that area would have had to close because of the decline of school-aged kids.”

At 202 students this year, Gilpin is the second-smallest elementary school in the district, Boasberg said. That causes a financial crunch because schools are funded on a per-pupil basis. He said the district is providing Gilpin with an extra $600,000 this year to ensure it’s able to provide smaller class sizes, more teacher aides in the classroom, more staff members to support students’ mental health and a broader array of arts and music offerings.

“We always want to see our schools succeed and we’ve worked hard to provide supports and resources in these cases,” Boasberg said, referring to all three schools recommended for closure. “But while there have been improvements in the schools, we’re not seeing — and haven’t seen now for some time — the kind of growth the kids in the schools need.”

Monica Lubbert lives across the street from Gilpin and sent her third-grade daughter there for several years before pulling her out last year after spring break. Her daughter had fallen behind academically and Lubbert said she didn’t feel the struggling school was capable of catching her up — a shortcoming for which she believes the school district and community share the blame.

“This is not the teachers that did anything wrong. This is not the kids that did anything wrong,” Lubbert said. Instead, she said the district didn’t follow best practices years ago when it converted Gilpin to a Montessori school. “This was the complete … mismanagement of DPS.”

Lubbert also partly attributed the school’s troubles to the fact that many kids who live in the neighborhood go to school elsewhere, as is allowed under the district’s school choice policy. District statistics show 64 percent of children who live in the school’s boundary choiced out this year. Lubbert’s own daughter is attending a private Montessori school.

“This community has gone above and beyond to make every single home in the neighborhood a historically designated home,” she said. But no one seems to care about the school, she added. “How does the community grow and thrive without a school for the kids?”

Boasberg admitted that the district learned some hard lessons over the years about how best to restart low-performing schools, which is what happened at Gilpin. But he said the new policy in effect this year represents a better way to do things.

As for what will happen to the centrally located Gilpin building if the board closes the school, Boasberg said DPS would like for it to remain a school. While the neighborhood doesn’t need any more elementaries, he said the preliminary thinking is to convert it into a secondary school that could draw students from across the city, as Denver School of the Arts, Denver Center for International Studies and Girls Athletic Leadership Academy currently do.

Chalkbeat’s Eric Gorski contributed information to this report.

bigger issues

Harlem parents want more time to weigh in on school rezoning and merger

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The city Department of Education has proposed merging P.S. 241 the STEM Institute of Manhattan into P.S. 76 A. Philip Randolph, about eight blocks away in Harlem.

Crystal Bailey’s son came home from school recently with a dirty uniform. Before she could fuss at him, he explained it was muck from science class.

“He’s like, ‘Guess what I learned?’ How could I be mad at that?” Bailey said.

She and dozens of other parents gathered at a public hearing Thursday night to protest plans to merge and rezone their school, P.S. 241 STEM Institute of Manhattan in Harlem.

For parents, elected officials and advocates, the plan in Harlem has grown to symbolize larger issues: school segregation and the impact of charter schools.

“This is an equity issue,” said Emmaia Gelman, a member of the group New York City Public School Parents for Equity and Desegregation.

The Department of Education has proposed to merge P.S. 241 with P.S. 76 A. Philip Randolph, and to redraw the school lines around P.S. 241. Under the plan, families currently zoned for P.S. 241 would be distributed among other local schools: P.S. 76, P.S. 180, P.S. 185/P.S. 208.

“Why do you want to unravel this institution, rather than strengthen it?” Maria Garcia, who has two children at P.S. 241, asked at Thursday’s hearing.

The proposal comes on the heels of another contentious rezoning in District 3, which spans from the Upper West Side to 122nd Street in Harlem. Both plans have highlighted stark differences among the area’s schools.

For more than a year, parents railed against plans to redraw school boundaries on the Upper West Side, where students are packed into high-performing schools. In Harlem, a rezoning plan was presented just weeks before a final vote was expected — and only after the Department of Education proposed to merge a school that has struggled with enrollment and performance on state tests.

Enrollment at P.S. 241 has hovered around 100 students in recent years, despite a federal magnet grant designed to attract families — and integrate the school — by offering a curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math. The school has seen a small uptick in enrollment recently, but parents say it has been squeezed by two charter schools that share its building.

“Why do we have to go?” asked Tasha Clarke, who has two sons at P.S. 241.

The merger and rezoning rely on two separate processes. The citywide Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the merger in January.

The District 3 Community Education Council must ultimately vote on the rezoning. Though a vote is scheduled for Dec. 14, council members have begun to voice reservations about the plan.

“Anybody who thinks that this council has decided to vote to approve this is sorely mistaken,” council President Joe Fiordaliso said at the hearing.

Council members shared data they compiled that shows declining enrollment in the area’s schools and growing charter enrollment.

“We’re in crisis,” said council member Daniel Katz.

This isn’t the first time P.S. 241 has fought to keep its doors open. The DOE tried in 2009 to close the school and replace it with charters.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and teachers union sued, arguing that by closing a zoned school, the department was essentially redrawing attendance boundaries. That falls under the purview of Community Education Councils, which vote on all zoning decisions.

Soon after the suit was filed, the DOE dropped its plans to shutter P.S. 241. But CEC member Noah Gotbaum thinks the same issues apply to the proposed merger — and therefore the council could play a crucial role in determining the school’s fate.

“I think we on the CEC need to look at the merger very, very carefully and essentially make a decision on it,” he told Chalkbeat, “and not say that we don’t have the power or the right.”