merit pay

Schools and teachers collect prizes for math, science instruction

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Michelle Persaud of Murry Bergtraum High School of Business Careers is one of seven math and science teachers to win an annual award for their work.

A leading nonprofit thinks one of the city’s very best science teachers works at one of the city’s most struggling high schools, and it’s putting its money where it’s mouth is.

For the fourth straight year, the Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are giving city teachers awards for excellence in teaching science and mathematics. One of the seven winners is Michelle Persaud, whose school, Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in Manhattan, received a “D” from the city last week.

The honorees were nominated by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and then selected by a committee made up of representatives from local science museums and universities, based on their students’ achievement, their involvement in extracurricular activities, and their efforts to promote math and science inside and outside the classroom.

Schools with winning teachers each receive $2,500 to support their math and science programs. They are honoring their winning teachers in a series of assemblies today and Wednesday, and the teachers will receive their prizes — $5,000 to $7,500 each — at an award ceremony on Wednesday.

Here are this year’s recipients, along with a highlight about each that we pulled from longer biographies compiled by the Sloan Awards:

Teacher: Neal Lutchme Singh
School: Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts
Subject: Earth Science, Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science

Why his school thinks he’s great: Singh revamped LaGuardia’s environmental science program, increasing enrollment sixfold by focusing on environmental justice issues, bringing in outside speakers, and taking students upstate to study for the Advanced Placement exam in the ecosystems they have learned about.

Teacher: Cameron H. Cassidy
School: Gotham Professional Arts Academy
Subject: Geometry, Pre-Algebra, Robotics

Why his school thinks he’s great: Cassidy brings nontraditional approaches to math to his alternative school, exposing struggling students to robotics, other hands-on approaches, and the relationship between mathematical concepts and art through a partnership with the Whitney Museum.

Teacher: Michelle Persaud
School: Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers
Subject: Living Environment, Earth Science, Forensic Science, Bio-Med Tech, Chemistry, Anatomy & Physiology, Research Methods, Psychology

Why her school thinks she’s great: In addition to revamping Bergtraum’s science program to include new courses such as biomedical technology and forensic science, Persaud is helping to lead a broader effort to bolster the curriculum in all subjects at the large, struggling high school.

Teacher: Naoual Eljastimi
School: Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences
Subject: Chemistry, AP Chemistry

Why her school thinks she’s great: Students say they beg to get into Eljastimi’s chemistry class because it is so engaging, and she also leads the school’s Science Olympiad team, oversees the science section of the student newspaper, and keeps students in the loop about science-themed events in and around the school.

Teacher: C. Anthony Finney
School: Flushing International High School
: Living Environment, College Now

Why his school thinks he’s great: Even though they are all recent immigrants who are still learning English, two thirds of Finney’s students pass the Living Environment Regents exam and some also participate in an after-school science investigation club through Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Teacher: Eyal Wallenberg
School: Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice
Subject: College Math Prep, AP Microeconomics

Why his school thinks he’s great: In Wallenberg’s math classes, students are pushed to solve problems, think critically, and discover concepts on their own, and he also created a microeconomics course in which nearly all students passed the Advanced Placement exam, earning them college credit.

Teacher: David Griffin
School: Collegiate Institute for Math and Science
Subject: Chemistry, AP Chemistry

Why his school thinks he’s great: Griffin opened advanced chemistry courses to all students at CIMS, regardless of their academic achievement, and students of all skill levels have taken him up on the offer to experience engaging lessons that have used taste tests, cooking, and explosions to illustrate various concepts and principles in chemistry.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”