prep school

City’s draft eval training plan heavy on principals, needy schools

City Department of Education officials think they’ll be able to train 1,600 principals and 80,000 teachers to use new a evaluation system by the end of the year, and they plan to let the state know before a deadline next week.

The deadline is one that State Education Commissioner John King set last month after the city and teachers union failed to agree on a new teacher evaluation system: By Feb. 15, he said, the city would have to detail its implementation plans or lose more state funds.

A summary of the draft memo, that department officials released today, is light on details and focuses almost entirely on how administrators will be trained to use a new rubric for classroom observations. It promises real-time training for principals, extra support for administrators at struggling schools, and instruction for network officials and superintendents.

It also includes a proposed requirement for six hours of training for teachers, which a teacher who saw the plan last week said would not be enough.

“A lot of teachers are frustrated about that because there is a lack of resources for teachers to learn how to apply the rubric or shift their practice to the rubric,” said the teacher.

The question of whether the city is ready to implement an evaluation plan has grown more significant as the school year wears on without a plan being adopted. King criticized the city’s lack of training preparation for principals, an issue that drove the teachers union to call off negotiations briefly in December.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Wednesday at the union’s monthly delegate meeting that the latest plans he saw did not assuage his concerns, according to someone who attended the meeting. A spokesman declined to comment on what was discussed at the meeting.

In addition to sharing the plan with the union, which is not required, the city also asked the principals union, its own Teacher Effectiveness Advisory Council, and the nonprofit group Educators 4 Excellence for feedback. Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the memo being circulated was not final and that officials were revising it in response to suggestions from teachers and union officials.

“We have shared drafts with stakeholders … and are incorporating their feedback into our proposed plan,” Pankratz said. She said the city had not yet shared its draft plan with the state.

The department’s teacher council, which has met twice since December, includes about 60 teachers from schools that are participating in the Teacher Effectiveness Pilot. Schools in the pilot — which began with 20 schools and 600 teachers and grew to 215 schools and 10,000 teachers this year — have spent the last three school years practicing a style of teacher observations called the Danielson Framework.

Observations under the Danielson rubric would be more demanding than what has been required under the current evaluation system. The state requires principals and lead observers to consider up to 22 instructional competencies and offer specific evidence to support their ratings.

“Charlotte Danielson’s rubric requires intensive training in order for it to be used correctly, but you have refused to certify or intensely train people so that they can properly use this tool,” Mulgrew wrote in his letter calling off the talks. “Your decision to launch this new program without a plan that would lead to its successful implementation is mind-boggling to us.”

The city’s plan focuses on the training of principals, whose mandated responsibilities would change dramatically under a new evaluation system. Instead of having to visit classrooms once during a school year for formal observations, principals will be required to observe teachers multiple times, formally and informally and at least once without letting them know ahead of time.
The plan would give principals “job-embedded training” in which a subject matter expert would sit with the observer and walk them through the process.

Additional features include giving teachers and administrators access to online training and training on student learning measures that New York City has recently begun developing.

“It’s good the city is thinking seriously about how teacher evaluation will look on the ground and it’s great they’re asking teachers for meaningful input on what will be most effective,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence. Schleifer said he was pleased to see that the plan included an emphasis on principal training and supporting the highest-need schools.

Proof of training is just one part of what King is asking the city to submit to show that it is prepared to roll out an evaluation system soon. King also said he wants to see an estimated budget for the rollout, a preferred observation rubric for rating teachers and principals (the city will almost certainly pick Danielson), and details about anything else “required to prepare for effective implementation” of the state’s teacher evaluation law.

The information the city provided today does not include any budget details, and it does not deal at all with “Student Learning Objectives,” the state’s required tool for evaluating student progress for teachers in grades and subjects that do not have state tests. Few city teachers and principals have so far gotten training on the tool.

At stake if the city does not meet King’s expectations is more than $300 million in federal grants that the state administers. King also said he’d take control of $800 million in federal Title I and II funding for low-income schools.

Union spokesman Peter Kadushin confirmed that the UFT received a draft of the department’s memo to King and sent a response, but he declined to comment on the content of either. He said the union does not comment on what is discussed at Delegate Assembly meetings, which he said are private.

In addition to King’s deadline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set his own. On Feb. 22, Cuomo plans to amend his proposed budget with legislation that would give the State Education Department the authority to assign a third-party arbitrator to settle the city-union dispute, which remains around when the plan would “sunset” and how many appeal hearings teachers would get.

Mulgrew told legislators last week that he was skeptical that the union and the city could ever reach a settlement on negotiations. And he told UFT members on Wednesday that he believed a deal remained highly unlikely.

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