live deadline

State sets new deadline to pressure city to submit eval plan

If nearly $300 million wasn’t incentive enough for the city to create an evaluation plan, state Education Commissioner John King said today that he hopes the threat of more than $1 billion will do the trick.

King assailed the city and the teachers union for their failure to reach a deal on evaluations before last night’s deadline and vowed to get them to do so in the coming weeks. In a letter sent to Chancellor Dennis Walcott today, King said he plans to add teeth to the request by taking advantage of a $1 billion pot of funds meant for city schools that the state has the power to withhold or control.

“They have a legal obligation to continue their negotiation,” King said in a call with reporters today. “I’m disappointed that they’re not at the table today…They thought this new system was the right thing for students. If so, shouldn’t they be at the table?”

King set a new deadline for the city. If the city fails to submit a plan by Feb. 15 that shows it is prepared to implement an evaluation by March 1, King said he has the authority to take over more than $800 million in federal Title I and II funding and withhold more than $300 million in Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. King said the Title I and II money would still be spent in New York City classrooms, but that he would have control over how it is spent.

“It’s not our intention to deprive students of much-needed resources. Part of what we’re trying to convey is that we’ll direct their use of dollars,” King told reporters afternoon.

The $1 billion would come on top of an estimated $240 million in increased state aid that New York City already lost by failing to come to a deal yesterday. King also disclosed for the first time that the funding loss caused by yesterday’s missed deadline includes an additional $45 million in state grants that are eligible only for districts that have an approved evaluation plan.

King’s remarks also challenged Mayor Bloomberg’s statements surrounding yesterday’s failed teacher evaluation negotiations.

King stopped short of saying which side was to blame, but he offered some insight that challenged the mayor’s version of events and supported the union’s.

City officials said the union wrecked any possibility of a deal by trying to insert new terms at the last minute to make it harder to fire ineffective teachers. Bloomberg said he did not want the plan to expire and that one of union’s demands was a “sunset clause,” which would have allowed the system to default back to the current system.

“If the agreement sunset in two years the whole thing would be a joke,” Bloomberg said at a press conference yesterday. “Nobody would ever be able to be removed.”

In his remarks to reporters, King seconded the union’s version of events — that the city had actually intended to sign off on and submit a short-term plan.

“That comment from the mayor was from my perspective a new issue that was raised after they walked away from the table,” King said.

“My understanding, as of yesterday morning, was the submission we would receive officially from them when they completed the agreement was going to cover two years,” King added.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew immediately embraced King’s remarks. “I want to thank Commissioner King for clarifying many of the issues around the UFT’s negotiations with the DOE over a new teacher evaluation system, particularly the sunset provision,” he said in a statement released late today.

King also sided with another union on another issue: implementation. The union called off negotiations briefly last month over concerns that the city wasn’t properly training principals and teachers in how the new system would work.

King seconded that description.

“Throughout these negotiations what became clear is that principals have not received the training necessary to implement the evaluation system,” King said.

He said that the new Feb. 14 deadline requires that the city submit a plan that shows it is prepared to implement large portions of an evaluation system. The plan would have to include agreements on a teacher observation rubric and a plan to train staff to use the new system, among other things, he said.

The city said it planned to comply with King’s new deadline, but refuted his characterization of its implementation plans so far.

In a conference call with reporters, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, who led negotiations with the union, cited several programs that the department meant to prepare teachers to be observed on a new instructional rubric, including the Teacher Effectiveness Pilot and the citywide Teacher Effectiveness Intensive.

Speaking in the same call, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky vowed not to cow to pressure to make a deal.

“We’re not going to just do it for show,” Polakow-Suransky said of an evaluation system. “We’re not just going to to do it for money. We’re going to do it right. Until we get a deal that doesn’t undermine us and take us backward, we’re not going to do it.

d Walcott by GothamSchools.org

Newcomers

This mom came to the newcomer school ready to stand up for son. She left with a job.

PHOTO: Provided by Javier Barrera Cervantes
Charlotte Uwimbabazi is a bilingual assistant at the Indianapolis Public Schools newcomer program.

When Charlotte Uwimbabazi showed up at Indianapolis Public Schools’ program for new immigrants, she was ready to fight for her son. When she left that day, she had a job.

A native of the Congo, Uwimbabazi fled the war-torn country and spent nearly a decade in Cape Town, South Africa waiting for a new home. Last spring, Uwimbabazi and her four children came to the U.S. as refugees.

(Read: Teaching when students are full of fear: Inside Indiana’s first school for new immigrants)

When the family arrived in Indianapolis, Uwimbabazi’s youngest son Dave enrolled at Northwest High School. But he wasn’t happy, and a volunteer helping to resettle the family suggested he transfer to Crispus Attucks High School. When the school year started, though, Crispus Attucks turned him away. Staff there said he had been assigned to the newcomer program, a school for students who are new to the country and still learning English.

There was just one problem: Dave was fluent in English after growing up in South Africa. Uwimbabazi said it’s the only language he knows. So Uwimbabazi and her son Dave headed to the newcomer school to convince them he should attend Crispus Attucks.

That’s when Jessica Feeser, who oversees the newcomer school and programing for IPS students learning English, stepped in — and found a new resource for the district’s growing population of newcomer students.

Feeser immediately realized that Dave was fluent in English and should enroll in Crispus Attucks. Then, Uwimbabazi started talking with Feeser about her own experience. With a gift for languages, Uwimbabazi speaks six fluently, including Swahili and Kinyarwanda, languages spoken by many African students at the school.

“Where are you working right now?” Feeser asked. “Would you like a job here?”

Uwimbabazi, who had been packing mail, took a job as a bilingual assistant at the school. Her interaction with the district went from “negativity to positivity,” she said.

The newcomer program has seen dramatic growth in enrollment since it opened last fall, and it serves about three dozen refugee students. Students at the school speak at least 14 different languages. As the only staff member at the school who speaks Swahili and Kinyarwanda, Uwimbabazi is a lifeline for many of the African refugees it serves, Feeser said.

She works alongside teachers, going over material in languages that students speak fluently and helping them grasp everything from simple instructions to complex concepts like graphing linear equations, Feeser said. She also helps bridge the divide between the district and the Congolese community on Indianapolis’ westside, going on home visits to meet parents and helping convince families to enroll their children in school.

When students in the newcomer program don’t share a language with staff members, the school is still able to educate them, Feeser said. But it is hard to build community without that bridge. Uwimbabazi has played an essential role in helping the school build relationships with families.

“She believes that all of our families are important, and she’s working diligently to make sure that they feel that their voices are heard,” Feeser said. “It was a gift from God that she joined us.”

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 FACE@schools.nyc.gov.

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.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director