Re-Hiring Process

In city-union deal, leaders and faculty at two troubled schools will reapply for their jobs

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, along with principals union leaders, agreed on a plan Thursday to overhaul two struggling schools.

The principals and staffs at two of the city’s lowest-performing schools must reapply for their jobs as part of a state-ordered overhaul of the troubled schools.

Any of the roughly 130 people who work at two Brooklyn high schools — Boys and Girls and Automotive — who want to keep their jobs next school year will face newly formed hiring committees made up of superintendents, teachers and principals union representatives, city appointees, and parents, according to a city-union agreement made Thursday. Teachers who choose not to reapply or who are not rehired will be placed in other Brooklyn high schools, according to the teachers union.

The state had ordered the city to put a plan in place at both schools to reevaluate their administrators and staffers and replace any who were “unwilling or ineffective,” according to a letter sent to the city Friday by State Education Commissioner John King, who conditionally approved the agreement. Earlier this year, the state designated the chronically low-achieving schools as “out of time” and required the city to make major changes. Final plans for the schools were due Friday, but the state gave the city an extension until Dec. 19 to file them.

In addition to the rehiring process, the schools will also add extra learning time for students and a mandatory week of summer training for teachers. In an effort to stabilize the schools, the city will not send them new students mid-year for the next two years, as Chalkbeat previously reported.

The long-struggling schools might also enact a host of other interventions, according to the preliminary plan the city submitted Friday. The city could audit teachers’ lessons and assessments, require personal graduation plans for each student, put extra student-support services in the school, shrink class sizes, and reduce teachers’ course loads, the proposal said. A joint city-union committee at each school will choose which changes to carry out.

The Bloomberg administration forced teachers at two-dozen struggling schools to reapply for their jobs in 2012 as part of a school-restructuring plan, which the United Federation of Teachers opposed and an arbitrator eventually stopped. Unlike the Bloomberg-era plan, the latest deal does not limit the number of teachers who can be rehired or require the principal to be replaced.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña attributed the union’s willingness to go along with the new plan to the “real partnership” between this administration and educators, a point that Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed.

“The agreement we’re announcing today is something we could only achieve because of the trust we’ve built with educators,” he said in a statement, “and our shared commitment to a city where every neighborhood has the strong public schools it deserves.”

The agreement follows the city’s announcement this week of a $150 million plan to rescue more than 90 low-performing schools by flooding them with supports for students and educators. The staffs at those schools do not have to reapply for their positions.

In his letter, King said the city’ final plans for the two out-of-time schools must include goals for each school around attendance, school culture, student credit-earning and course-taking, and “academic progress,” though it was unclear how academic progress will be measured.

The city still must submit improvement plans for nearly 250 other low-performing schools. Those were originally due in July, but the city received an extension through Friday. However, the city asked for more time, and King agreed to accept those final plans next month as well.

In a separate letter to Fariña, King said those plans must include targets similar to those expected for the two out-of-time schools and added that any struggling schools that do not improve must face “increased accountability.” He said the rehiring process and other changes at Boys and Girls and Automotive could provide a “blueprint for turnaround efforts” at other schools that need intensive interventions.

Fariña also agreed to provide a “detailed explanation” of the unusual arrangement she made with the new Boys and Girls principal, Michael Wiltshire, who she installed last month to replace the principal who abruptly left. Wiltshire not only received a $25,000 bonus to take on the tough assignment, but he also was given the option to leave after one year and to continue to oversee the successful school that he has led for a decade, Chalkbeat revealed last month. In a letter sent to King on Thursday, Fariña also promised to submit a sample weekly schedule for Wiltshire and a description of his duties after this school year.

In her letter, Fariña also said that the parent associations and leadership teams — which include administrators, faculty, parents, and students — at both schools have been “either lacking or non-existent.” The city helped reform them and will now start meeting with the “reconstituted” groups monthly, Fariña said. Chalkbeat previously reported that the city went around the leadership team at Boys and Girls, which had been aligned with the outspoken principal who resigned, when it appointed the new principal.

Finally, Fariña assured King that the schools’ admissions policies would not change. While the schools may not have changed how they admit students, Boys and Girls has adjusted its enrollment by advising struggling students to transfer out, Chalkbeat reported on Friday. Roughly 30 students have left the school since Wiltshire took over last month, sources there said.

Read the full agreements between the UFT and the city, the principals union and the city, and the UFT, principals union, and the city.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.