attn atrs

Letter from Mulgrew to ATRs suggests teachers less likely to face expedited hearings than city signaled

Updated with the city’s response: UFT President Michael Mulgrew told excessed teachers on Tuesday that they would be offered a severance package as a part of the proposed contract between the teachers union and the city—a provision that Chalkbeat reported Monday night and was not disclosed for days after both sides’ celebratory announcement.

New details from a memo sent from Mulgrew to absent teacher reserve members, and information provided by union officials, reveal that the excessed teachers would also have stronger job protections than were originally reported or acknowledged by officials.

At last week’s announcement, officials implied that the ATR pool—which includes 1,200 teachers without full-time positions but who are on the city payroll—would be reduced partially by relying on an expedited termination hearing process. The excessed teachers deemed ready for the classroom would be sent to schools with vacancies, but principals who felt the teacher was not a good fit would be able to send the teacher back.

City officials initially said that two rejections would trigger an expedited termination hearing and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña suggested that principals would be able to move quickly to reject a teacher they didn’t want.

“If they go visit a school and the principal says, ‘OK, I’ll try her out,’ but after a day, ‘I don’t want her,’ it’s gone,” Fariña said.

It’s true that a principal will be able to remove teachers who aren’t the right fit in schools they’re assigned to, a union spokeswoman said today. Those teachers will return to the ATR pool, but there is not limit to the number of times they could be given additional temporary placements, she said.

And today’s memo to ATRs explains that a teacher would only be eligible to be brought up on termination charges under that expedited hearing if misconduct two “successive” principals document them for misconduct. That means that if two out of three principals document misconduct—as opposed to two in a row—the teacher would still be permitted to fill vacancies at another school, making  it much less likely that the new hearing process on its own will significantly reduce the number of teachers in the pool.

City officials disputed the union’s take on the issue, saying that ATR teachers merely need to be documented twice in a school year.

“We are reducing the Department’s spending in the ATR pool by helping good teachers get back into the classroom while expediting the process to move out teachers who don’t belong in the profession,” said spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “And as the Chancellor affirmed last week, we are doing so while respecting mutual-consent hiring.”

In the five days since de Blasio and Mulgrew congratulated one another for agreeing on a framework for public school teachers’ first contract since 2005, both sides have been slow to provide details of the deal. They praised the agreement last week for including raises, allowing for innovative school scheduling, and putting the city school system on a path toward “true reform.”

In today’s memo, Mulgrew blamed the press for propagating “some myths” about a new arrangement to place them back into city schools. Just 12 hours earlier, the union declined to discuss details about the ATR arrangement, including the severance package for excessed teachers.

Critics pounced on the new details as evidence that Mayor Bill de Blasio was purposefully withholding less-flattering information about the contract.

“It’s outrageous that the de Blasio administration covered up the details of a deal that will put 1,200 teachers back into the classrooms of this city’s most vulnerable children, ” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said. “Until we see actual contract language, this calls into question every aspect of Thursday’s announcement.”
Requests for comments from the city were not immediately returned, but we will update the story with a response.

Mulgrew’s full note to ATRs is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When the previous administration let it be known that it intended to summarily fire all members in the Absent Teacher Reserve, we as a union made a commitment to stand by our members. We held true to that commitment throughout our negotiations, and the results are in this new contract.

The contract preserves your rights and improves your chances of permanent placement. And, of course, you will participate in the contractual raises and working-condition changes that we won for all members. The press coverage, however, has included some myths about how ATRs are treated under the new contract and misconceptions abound. We want to be sure you have the facts and know your rights.

Myth #1 (the biggest one!):
The city is going to fire the ATRs.
Reality:
No UFT member, whether an ATR or otherwise, will ever be automatically fired. Any ATR may accept, at his or her sole discretion, a voluntary severance package based on years of service.

Myth #2:
Schools still won’t hire ATRs because they are too expensive.
Reality:
Under the new contract, schools that select ATRs for permanent placement will not have that ATR’s salary included in the school’s average teacher salary calculation, which means that principals no longer have a reason to pass over more senior educators in favor of newer hires with lower salaries.

Myth #3:
The contract includes a new way to get rid of ATRs.
Reality:
Not true. ATRs actually get improved access to job placements. Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, 2014, the DOE must send ATRs on interviews for vacancies in their districts and boroughs, and ATRs must attend all of those interviews. After Oct. 15, ATRs are required to accept provisional assignments to schools with a vacancy in their license area within their district or borough. If there is no school with a vacancy in their district or borough, they will continue to be rotated within their district.

Myth #4:
ATRs are going to lose their due process rights.
Reality:
No ATR can be disciplined or fired unless a hearing officer decides that is appropriate in a 3020-a hearing. An ATR who has been placed in a vacancy and is removed by two successive principals for documented misconduct — not pedagogy — may be subject to discipline. The DOE must prove the charge of misconduct through an expedited 3020-a process.

The new contract agreement between the UFT and the DOE, which will go out for your ratification soon, is a strong contract for all our members, including all our ATRs.

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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.