As trainings start, a new name for new teacher evals: Advance

photo (2)Love it, hate it, or reserve judgment — just don’t call it “the city’s new teacher evaluation system.”

The Department of Education has a new name for the evaluation system that State Education Commissioner John King imposed on the city a month ago: Advance.

The name, which comes with a snazzy logo, got its first public airing today as the department launched a series of summer training sessions aimed at preparing schools to begin implementing the evaluation system this fall. The department held five training sessions across the city today and plans to hold 53 total before the end of next month.

At Brooklyn Law School, where administrators and teachers from 32 schools convened, department officials said they had decided to give the evaluation system a name to communicate the purpose of the changes. The new system will help teachers advance professionally, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, and it is also an advance from the system that was in place until now.

Officials said they looked at other districts that have adopted new teacher evaluation systems and found that educators in districts that rebranded their evaluation systems understood the system’s goals and details better. Washington, D.C., called the evaluation system it adopted in 2008 IMPACT, while Indiana is calling its new evaluation system RISE.

Educators participating in today’s training session had not yet assimilated the name into their vocabularies. Instead, looking at the Danielson Framework for Teaching, which will be used to assess teachers’ instructional practices, many focused on citing language in the rubric to assess teachers described in case studies that the department distributed. The case studies centered mostly on areas of the Danielson rubric that the city, hoping that its evaluation system could be constrained, had not asked schools to emphasize before.

Now, even educators who participated in the department’s Teacher Effectiveness Pilot are learning about how to assess the ways that teachers prepare for their classes and participate in professional responsibilities within the school.

Marcella Barros, a former principal who has served as a talent coach at the department for the last year, said she was heartened to see educators rate their knowledge of the Danielson Framework as their major area to work on, above building a positive culture at their school and ensuring that their staff is committed to changing their instructional practices.

“That’s good news,” she said. “We can totally help with that.”

In the afternoon, the educators turned their attention to “measures of student learning,” the assessments that schools will have to select and administer starting this fall in order to generate “growth scores” for teachers. They also got a primer on how the evaluation components will turn into a final score, a question that has been tricky even for the state officials who designed the evaluation system.

Some question marks remained when the training broke for lunch. For example, teachers said they wished the department had come up with a list of materials that teachers can provide as evidence of work that does not take place in the classroom. “We feel like we’re prepared,” said Carolyn Denizard, the UFT Chapter Leader at Brooklyn’s P.S. 38. “But artifacts — it’s hard to know what that is when they don’t even know themselves. How are we supposed to go back to our schools?”

“The only things we can’t address are the things we don’t know,” Barros said. “We’re really committed to not giving inaccurate information.”

The last page of the agenda that educators received acknowledged that a single day of training was not enough to master the complex new evaluation system.

“This training is not designed to cover everything you need to know,” the agenda said. “You will be provided with more support and resources this summer and throughout the year.”


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.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director