hot potato

City dissolves fleet of "master" and "turnaround" teachers

The teachers union’s victory in a legal fight over the city’s “turnaround” plans kept thousands of teachers at 24 struggling schools from losing their positions. But it has also put another group of teachers at risk.

They are the “master” and “turnaround” teachers, a cohort of experienced educators selected to put in extra hours helping their colleagues in exchange for extra pay.

The positions were funded through federal School Improvement Grants, but without turnaround or another overhaul process in place at the schools, those funds will not flow to the city. Last week, just after the city’s final bid to reinstate turnaround failed, the 71 master and turnaround teachers got a letter from the Department of Education telling them to look for other positions.

The demise of the elite positions has given rise to yet another city-union dispute centered around the schools formerly slated for turnaround.

The special positions, created in 2010 when a handful of city schools first received SIG funding to undergo a school reform model called “transformation,” offered exemplary teachers large annual bonuses to work in struggling schools. Last year, the teachers were distributed across 33 schools undergoing transformation and another overhaul process, known as “restart,” including schools the city ultimately did not propose for the turnaround model. Some of the schools funded part of the teachers’ salaries with their discretionary budgets, but others used the federal funds to cover the full cost of the extra teacher.

The positions were always something of “a gamble” because the teachers’ job security depended on the federal funds and the schools’ continued success. The funds were yanked from the schools in late December after the city and teachers union failed to reach an agrement on a teacher evaluation system by the state’s deadline.

The city asked the UFT in June to agree to keep the master and turnaround teacher positions alive for another year, union officials said. The officials said the union would sign off on extending the program — but only if the schools returned to the restart and transformation models, which do not require any teachers to be removed. The proposition would have required to the city to agree with the union on an evaluation system for the schools at a time when the city was fighting to preserve the turnaround plan instead.

“We told them that we would complete the things necessary to put those schools in compliance if they wanted to it,” a union official involved in negotiations said. “We already have a lead teacher program in our contract. If they want to put a lead teacher into these schools, let them fund it and do it.”

The lead teacher program, in place since 2006, lets experienced teachers spend half their day coaching other teachers. Now, the city is letting educators who had been hired as master or turnaround teachers enter the central lead teacher pool, according to a letter sent to the teachers last week. But those jobs could send them to schools around the city.

The master and turnaround teachers will be added to their current school’s faculty roster as a regular teacher unless they tell the city by Wednesday that they are choosing another path. Other options outlined in the letter include filling vacancies at their previous schools, finding a new school altogether, or entering the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of position-less teachers who rotate through schools on a temporary basis.

Some teachers might also choose to leave the system. Lori Wheal, who was a master teacher at M.S. 391 in the Bronx last year after working as a classroom teacher for a decade, said on NY1’s Inside City Hall last week that said she is leaving teaching now that her position no longer exists.

“It was the master teacher program that kept me in the system,” Wheal said. “Now that program has been ripped away because we’ve lost our funding, I am looking to go into education policy.”

The city’s full letter to the 71 master and turnaround teachers is below.

Dear Master Teacher,

We are writing to update you on the status of the Master and Turnaround Teacher program for the next school year. As you may know,these positions will not continue for the 2012- 2013 school year and we wanted to ensure that you have clear information on your next steps for the coming year.

The UFT and DOE have agreed that Master and Turnaround Teachers will take their rightful place in seniority order on the school’s Table of Organization as a regular teacher unless one of the following options apply and you choose to exercise it:

If there is a vacancy in your license area at your prior school, you will have a right to return to that the vacancy until school opening only; it is the teacher’s choice whether or not to take this option.

If you and your current principal agree, then you may go into excess rather than staying at the school. Master and Turnaround Teachers going into excess may choose to go into excess in the current districtor the district of their prior school. Decisions must be made by August 7, 2012.

All Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers will be invited to join the central Lead Teacher pool. Teachers in the central Lead Teacher pool may apply for and be selected into available Lead Teacher positions citywide through August 7, 2012.

Consistent with the rights of all teachers, Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers may seek a position at a new school via the Open Market through August 7, 2012. To facilitate your transition, we ask that you indicate your preferences for next year by completing this short survey by August 1,2012. Should you not respond to the survey, you will assume a position in your current school’s Table of Organization.


New role

Principal Donna Taylor retiring from Brooklyn School of Inquiry, moving to DOE

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry

Brooklyn School of Inquiry Principal Donna Taylor announced this week she is stepping down from her position next month.

Taylor, who has been with the Bensonhurst school since it opened in 2009, will take a position with the Department of Education, where she will support principals implementing progressive education and gifted and talented programs — two focuses of BSI. The school, which runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, is one of five gifted and talented schools open to children citywide.

“BSI was created by a team who believes that students need an inquiry-based, arts-infused curriculum, steeped in technology, where everyone is encouraged to think critically,” Taylor said in a statement. “We came together down here in Bensonhurst to grow our practice and build capacity. I am proud of the work I’ve done together with the school’s community to build and grow BSI.”

Her announcement comes the same week that BSI graduated its first cohort of eighth-graders. Moving forward, Taylor is working with other school staff and her superintendent, Karina Constantino, to ensure a smooth transition. A new principal has not yet been named.

BSI is the only citywide gifted school that participates in the city’s Diversity in Admissions program. The admissions pilot allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, English learners or meet other criteria. In the case of BSI, the school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

While it met that target in its admissions offers this year, it had few open seats because siblings of current BSI students get priority. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students.

It will be up to Taylor’s successor, alongside city officials, to decide where to take the pilot program next.

“We have no way of knowing what the new leadership will do or who they will be or what their position will be on the program,” said Sara Mogulescu, the parent of two children currently studying at BSI. “But I know there is a very strong core of commitment to that pilot and to continue to strengthen our community in all kinds of ways, regardless of whether Donna is the principal.”

Despite her many accomplishments, Taylor’s eight years at the helm of BSI were not without controversy. In 2014, Taylor made headlines for a comment she made at an open-house meeting at BSI. She remarked to prospective parents, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house.” Taylor subsequently apologized.

Mogulescu said Taylor had built a solid foundation at BSI, and she and other parents were confident about the school’s future — and Taylor’s.

“As much as we are all sad to see her go,” she said, “I think the parents take solace in the fact that she is going to be spreading her wisdom and experience to other schools.”

planning ahead

Big assignment for group of Colorado education leaders: rethink the state’s education priorities

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

The group will begin meeting in August and will spend its first year setting priorities. It is supposed to give recommendations for possible legislation by 2018 or 2019.

Lynne said various state departments and groups already work on initiatives tied to education, but “we don’t have a place where we weave it all together.”

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

Having a strategic plan and clear goals for what schools should be accomplishing could also give officials a better chance of changing school finance, Lynne said, if the group determines that is needed. Reports routinely rank Colorado near the bottom in per pupil funding among states.

“I think it’s hard when people want to talk about changing school finance or they want to address things like compensation for teachers, if you don’t have the core foundation of what do we want to achieve and how do we get there,” Lynne said.

Bipartisan legislation introduced this spring would have created a group with similar goals, but Republicans killed the so-called “vision” bill. Critics said the bill would have created more state bureaucracy and potentially conflicted with school districts’ strategic plans, and called it a ploy to ultimately ask taxpayers for more money.

Lynne said the group commissioned by the governor — which will have as many as 25 members — will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal.

The original Education Leadership Council was commissioned in 2011 by a Hickenlooper executive order. Recently the group stopped meeting. Members’ terms had expired, and excitement had decreased after the 2013 defeat of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes for schools. The council helped push for the measure.

When Lynne succeeded Joe Garcia as lieutenant governor, she said she knew she wanted to revive the group.

Her office started planning to regroup the Education Leadership Council in late 2016 before the legislature considered the same work, but she said she paused while legislators considered their bill. When that effort failed, Lynne said her office got back to organizing the council.

The group, Lynne said, will work under a shorter timeline than the one outlined in the failed bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who sponsored the “vision” bill, said the council is the right avenue for this kind of work.

“The legislature is not suited for long-term strategic thinking,” Rankin said. “It’s more about shorter-term action. This is a better way to do it — with our involvement.”

Sponsors of the vision bill, including Rankin, will be part of the leadership council.

Here is a copy of the executive order:

EO Education (Text)