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.