he said he said

Bloomberg renews criticism of UFT in ongoing teacher eval spat

Addressing the collapse of teacher evaluation talks for the first time since state education officials criticized his role, Mayor Bloomberg today blamed the teachers union again.

Last week, Bloomberg said he could not accept a teacher evaluation deal because the union wanted only a temporary evaluation system — an objection that State Education Commissioner John King said city officials had not raised earlier in negotiations.

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

Speaking this morning at an announcement about an affordable housing project, Bloomberg dialed back his emphasis on the “sunset” issue. The union “was just deliberately trying to throw as many procedural roadblocks up that it would be so impossible to remove a teacher, even if the deal didn’t expire,” he said.

Despite his harsh criticism of the UFT, Bloomberg said he had asked Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to reach out again to the union today. The city will be cut off from hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds without a new teacher evaluations system.

But UFT President Michael Mulgrew signaled that he was not in the mood to talk.

“Welcome to Bloombergland,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “Most people would be embarrassed that the state’s highest education official has directly contradicted their statements about a new teacher evaluation system. But not the mayor. … And people wonder why negotiations haven’t been successful.”

Here’s what Bloomberg said during his public appearance, via City Hall’s press office:

“Before we take other topics, let me just briefly talk a little bit about negotiations for a teacher evaluation agreement, which I’ve gotten a number of questions about.

“As I said last week, I am extremely disappointed, but I will say I’m not surprised, that the UFT walked away from our negotiations last week.

“I’m disappointed because they have blocked our teachers from having the kind of useful feedback and accountability that is helping teachers – and children – in other parts of the country, and I’m disappointed because the UFT is costing our schools hundreds of millions of dollars.

“But I’m not surprised because I always have been skeptical, as you know, that the union leadership would be willing to accept a deal that made meaningful distinctions about the quality of teaching.

“Those distinctions would enable us to attract, retain and reward the best teachers, and make it easier to remove teachers who, even after two years of extra support, are ineffective.

“We have 75,000 teachers in our system – and the great majority of them are hard-working and talented, and they really make a difference in the lives of our kids – and they deserve credit for our successes over the last decade: rising graduation rates, narrowing of the achievement gap, progress on state tests that outpaces the rest of the state.

“But the truth of the matter is, with 75,000, not every teacher is effective – and all teachers can benefit from the kind of feedback that a fair evaluation system provides. And blocking that system, as the UFT has done, hurts teachers, and it especially hurts our children.

“The Obama Administration knows that. That’s why they promoted Race to the Top as a means of encouraging real evaluation systems. And that’s the kind of deal we were seeking: identify the good teachers and the teachers who need help, help all of our teachers excel, give special help to those who need it most, and for the few who still don’t perform up to standards, replace them.

“That’s why we wanted a deal, and still do – and it’s why the UFT leadership did not.

“For an entire year, the UFT leadership has been dragging their feet and throwing up roadblocks – and they have been trying to inject issues that are entirely unrelated to an evaluation deal into the discussions.

“Then, last week, at the very last minute, they introduced new demands designed to undermine the evaluation system and torpedo the deal. They demanded that the deal expire before bad teachers could be removed from the classrooms. They wanted the deal to go out of existence before it could go into effect.

“It was just deliberately trying to throw as many procedural roadblocks up that it would be so impossible to remove a teacher, even if the deal didn’t expire. Neither is something that we could ever live with.

“The UFT’s demand that we revert to the old system after two years, and its demand for a new grievance process, are not contemplated in the law and are clearly designed to undermine everything else the law requires.

“When we refused to go along with these demands, they held a press conference and unilaterally declared negotiations over. Despite this, I will say, we did make one last attempt last week late at night – and that too was rebuffed.

“Some have suggested that we should accept their last offer, pretending it was adequate, and taking the State’s money. We will not do that. We are not going to be complicit in a fraud.

“For decades, the system was run for the benefit of adults, and our kids suffered from a system that was a dysfunctional failure. We spent the last decade making sure that the system is run for kids. We will not go back by making a deal that protects adults at the expense of kids, nor will we do a deal that purports to do one thing when we all know it’s impossible to do it the way they want it structured.

“We’ve changed, and we aren’t going back.

“Furthermore, it would be irresponsible for me to give the UFT a huge hammer over the next mayor in contract negotiations.

“The UFT would be able to say: Give us what we want, or we’ll let the evaluation system expire, and I’m not going to put our 1.1 million schoolchildren in that position.

“Other states have dealt with this issue differently. They passed bipartisan legislation that gave districts and unions an opportunity to negotiate, but they insisted on implementing fair evaluation standards even if no agreement was reached by the deadline, even if the union objected.

“Unfortunately, when our evaluation law was passed under Governor Paterson, our State gave the union a veto over that process. That proved to be a terrible error, as some of us said back then, because the union is content with the status quo.

“And the union, if there is no deal, suffers no consequence. It is the children who suffer the loss of up to $450 million, and it’s up to the City now to figure out how to address it. That will mean moving monies around and doing less. We always try to do more with less, but there’s a limit to how much we can do.

“The union will always, on the other hand, put its own interest ahead of the interest of kids – no matter how much money is on the table.

“I spoke over the last several days with the Governor, with Merryl Tisch, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. They have urged us to resume negotiations – and we tried to do last week, after the union walked out.

“Again this morning, Dennis Walcott called Michael Mulgrew and suggested they meet.

“We are always willing to talk, and we will do everything we can to reach a deal that is good for our children. But we cannot – and I will not – accept a return to the days when the system functioned for adults and call it ‘reform.’

“We will not be party to any transaction just for the sake of getting State money or Federal monies that says they’ve got a deal, which we all know is not possible to work.”

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 [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.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director