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.

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.