reaction

Union chiefs offer first takes on state-imposed evaluation plans

UFT President Michael Mulgrew offered what appeared to be a tepid endorsement of the teacher evaluation system that State Education Commissioner John King imposed today, while Mulgrew’s counterpart at the principals union was more favorable about the new plan for rating his members.

Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Superintendents, said in a statement that his union had actually reached a deal on evaluations with the city Department of Education late Friday, “with the strong intervention of Commissioner King.” He said the deal resembled what had almost been finalized back in January, when the city’s negotiations with the teachers union fell apart just before a state deadline.

Logan praised the new evaluation system, saying that it “preserves many of the same tools our principals are accustomed to while at the same time substantially improving our due process protections and safeguards.” It also provides for helping principals improve, which the old system did not do, he said.

Mulgrew’s reaction was more circumspect. In a statement posted to the UFT’s website shortly after King released details of the plan, Mulgrew expressed satisfaction that teachers will be allowed to challenge the evaluations process before they receive their ratings and that teachers will have an equal say with their administrators in recommending which tools are used to measure student growth.

“New York City teachers will now have additional protections and opportunities to play a larger role in the development of the measures used to rate them,” he said. “Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s desire for a ‘gotcha’ system, as Commissioner King noted today, New York City ‘is not going to fire its way to academic success.'”

But he also signaled that the union has a speedy timeline for seeking revisions to the plan. King announced that the plan would be in effect through the 2016-2017 school year. But Mulgrew said the specifics would remain in effect “unless and until they are altered in collective bargaining with the new mayor who takes office in seven months.”

The evaluation system that King imposed includes some wins for the UFT and some clear losses. Principals will have to consider all 22 components of the Danielson Framework for assessing classroom instruction, which the union wanted. But starting in the 2014-2015 school year, student surveys will count for 5 percent of ratings for almost all teachers — something that the union had vehemently opposed.

The full statements are below. From UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

New York City teachers will now have additional protections and opportunities to play a larger role in the development of the measures used to rate them. Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s desire for a “gotcha” system, as Commissioner King noted today, New York City “is not going to fire its way to academic success.”

The precise measures of student learning established by this ruling will be in effect unless and until they are altered in collective bargaining with the new Mayor who takes office in seven months.

As the UFT requested, there will now be additional arbitration slots that will allow teachers to challenge any violations by supervisors of the new evaluation process before they reach the stage of actual ratings.

The state has also ruled that teachers will be evaluated on all aspects of the Danielson framework, as the UFT had proposed, in opposition to the DOE’s insistence that fewer measures be used.

In individual schools, teachers will have an equal say with administrators on the committee that will recommend the instruments that each school will use.

Despite the Mayor’s claims to the contrary, the major components of the new statewide system – such as the four categories of Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective – are part of the statute or are regulations;  as such, have never been subject to “sunset;”  they can be changed by the Legislature or the Commissioner.

And from CSA President Ernest Logan:

After a full day of arbitration yesterday, CSA and DOE reached an agreement on an APPR Plan for Principals. This deal was reached late last night with the strong intervention of Commissioner King, and finalizes the agreement we were on the verge of signing in January. We are pleased to report that our agreement is consistent and reliable as it preserves many of the same tools our Principals are accustomed to while at the same time substantially improving our due process protections and safeguards. For the first time, we’ve negotiated a true yearlong improvement plan for any Principal rated “developing” or “ineffective” with regular cycles of feedback from superintendents. Additionally, we negotiated a strong appeals process, including the step of an independent hearing officer. Our rating scales will continue to yield the differentiated results that our Principal Performance Review has had in the past. We look forward to the implementation of this agreement and will have more details this week.

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