a done deal

Teachers get pay bump, evaluation tweaks, and more in $5.5 billion contract deal

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Michael Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured together last year, each addressed principals of schools in the Renewal program on Monday.

A proposed nine-year contract deal between the city and the teachers union would increase teachers’ pay and simplify the way they are rated, free some schools to design innovative schedules, provide parents with more opportunities to meet with educators, and allow the city to more easily fire teachers who are deemed incompetent or accused of misconduct, officials announced Thursday.

Teachers’ pay would grow by 18 percent by 2020 through spread-out raises and back pay, and they would receive a $1,000 cash bonus when the deal is ratified. The contract between the United Federations of Teachers and the city would expire Oct. 31, 2018, and would preserve teachers’ existing health-care benefits while saving the city $1 billion in health care costs over several years, the officials said.

All told, the deal will cost the city $5.5 billion by the time the last payment is made in 2020, the city said.

At a celebratory press conference on Thursday afternoon, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Mayor Bill de Blasio both praised the deal as a historic agreement representing a new vision for education reform in a large urban school system.

De Blasio is betting that the path to higher student achievement is through cooperation with the union, raising teacher morale and increasing parent involvement. But some of those changes came at the cost of extra learning time for the city’s low-performing students.

His collaborative vision for the school system marks a sharp break from that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who viewed the teachers union as a barrier to educational change.

“This is what partnership and equal operations look like,” de Blasio said before he embraced Mulgrew at the podium. “This is what respect engenders. Respectful relations allows us to get to the results that our people deserve.”

[If you missed it, we broke the news here and here; live-blogged today’s announcement; analyzed the issues here (backpay and excessed teachers) and here (evaluations and training). If you’re looking for even more context, check out this timeline of UFT contracts over the last 20 years.]

The UFT’s 110,000 members have been without a contract since 2009, and the deal grants them retroactive pay raises similar to those that other city workers got in previous years. An umbrella group of other municipal unions must still approve the deal, which is likely to set a pattern for the raises that they will receive in their own contract negotiations with the city. A committee representing UFT members must also ratify the new contract.

The contract has not been finalized and questions surround some of the changes that officials touted Thursday.

For instance, officials were not able to immediately say where savings came from in changes to the union’s health care benefits. And there is a legal question about whether a new process to remove educators who are deemed unfit to teach will have teeth.

The expedited process would be focused on terminating ineffective teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of about 1,200 educators who are on the city’s payroll but lack permanent positions in schools.

The contract deal says the city must send those teachers to schools that still have vacancies by mid-October in positions they are qualified to teach, according to the union. Fariña said that the teachers are being vetted by the department, “And if we don’t feel they’re ready, we don’t send them out to interviews [with principals].”

Principals have the right to send those teachers back to the pool. If a teacher is sent back twice, a truncated termination process will be triggered, city officials said.

The deal amends a new state-imposed teacher evaluation system that has been criticized for judging some teachers based on the performance of students they do not teach and for overwhelming principals who must now observe and rate teachers multiple times a year. Now, principals will have to consider far fewer criteria when rating teachers — a plan the teachers union opposed when the evaluation system was first being negotiated. Educators who teach grades or subjects that do not take standardized tests will have the option of being evaluated based on their own students, though it was unclear what measures that will involve.

Meanwhile, the city will find it easier to remove teachers for sexual misconduct, which now includes more behaviors, such as inappropriate texting.

Both sides said the agreement is also intended to spur innovation by freeing up to 200 schools from certain city regulations and contract provisions. That would enable those schools to experiment with their schedules, add time to their days or years, or give teachers more input in hiring decisions.

De Blasio framed that piece of the contract similarly to the way he has said he wants charter schools to interact with the rest of the school system.

“Innovations will be shared,” de Blasio said, adding, “and we know it will be easy.”

The deal also rewards teachers for taking on leadership roles or tough assignments, and gives them more professional development time.

Under a new “career ladder” compensation system, high-performing teachers can earn yearly bonuses of $7,500 or $20,000 for allowing colleagues to observe their work or sharing best practices. Teachers who work at certain schools in low-income areas will be paid a $5,000 bonus. Low-rated teachers won’t receive the bonus, the city said.

All teachers will now spend 80 minutes every Monday in school-based professional development, and 35 minutes each Tuesday collaborating with colleagues.

To foster closer ties between schools and families, teachers will get another 40 minutes each Tuesday to communicate with parents through emails or phone calls, meetings, or a class website or newsletter. And parents will get more face time with teachers: Two additional parent-teacher conferences will be added to the school year, and each will last 30 minutes longer than in the past.

Those minutes were reallocated from the 150 minutes a week that schools have previously set aside for tutoring struggling students, thereby reducing instructional time for some.

“It’s a historic day because it is, first and foremost, a great day for children and their families,” de Blasio said.

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father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.