By the numbers

Most ATR teachers who left system since new contract took buyouts, retired

PHOTO: Ron Coleman

In his fight to fend off the education policy proposals being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said his administration is already cracking down on subpar teachers.

In particular, he has pointed to 290 or so teachers who have left the school system entirely between April 2014 and this February. They left the costly and controversial absent teacher reserve pool, and represent as many exits as the Bloomberg administration saw during the previous two years combined, city officials said.

“My administration is serious about teacher accountability,” de Blasio told state lawmakers last month while defending his plan for struggling schools. “We have moved 289 teachers out of the Absent Teacher Reserve – and out of the system – since April.”

New figures released Friday, along with documents obtained by Chalkbeat, offer new insight into why those teachers departed. They show that disciplinary processes, including new ones created by last year’s teacher contract, played a fairly small role, with only 21 of the teachers terminated after missing job interviews or for other reasons.

De Blasio has said recently that his administration prefers different strategies. Nearly 200 of those 289 teachers — who lost their permanent positions and couldn’t find new ones, but remained on the city’s payroll as substitutes — took buyouts last summer or retired this school year. Another 18 resigned, and 53 agreed to leave while facing charges of misconduct or incompetence.

In addition, no teachers had faced charges under a new, expedited termination process as of December 2014, according to a department document obtained by Chalkbeat. (That process requires a teacher to have logged formal complaints from two separate principals, something that could be unlikely to happen in the first months of the school year.)

The new figures brought renewed calls from advocates of Cuomo’s plans to change to state law that sets out the procedures for teacher termination.

“Instead of being part of the solution, this administration has thrown its hands up and resigned itself to working around a broken system,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY.

But the absent teacher reserve has shrunk under de Blasio, in part because he did not close any schools last year. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the pool ballooned with teachers excessed from closing schools, costing the city an estimated $105 million in 2013.

City officials says the pool had about 1,000 teachers this February. More than 500 teachers were hired for full-time positions in the fall, according to the department document, and the pool had 280 fewer members at the start of this school year than last.

Now, the de Blasio administration is facing the same complicated process of removing the pool’s longtime members that has frustrated city leaders for years.

Testimony given in 2013 by Lawrence Becker, the department’s CEO of human resources, illustrates some the challenges. More than 300 teachers in the pool then had incompetence or misconduct charges against them substantiated, but were not allowed to be terminated. More than 200 had recently received an unsatisfactory rating, and more than 150 were licensed to teach “esoteric” subjects, making them difficult to place in schools. Formal disciplinary proceedings can last months and sometimes years.

On Thursday, de Blasio said that the best way to get around those problems is by avoiding formal procedures altogether. Instead, principals and department officials should focus on counseling subpar teachers to leave on their own, a strategy that Chancellor Carmen Fariña told Capital gives them an “opportunity to leave gracefully.” Some of the recent retirements and resignations were likely the result of that kind of strategic pressure, officials said.

“If you can counsel someone out voluntarily, skip all that process — ‘You don’t belong here anymore, you’re a good human being but you don’t belong here anymore, you’re not into it, you’re burned out, you can’t do what we need you to do in this day and age,’ whatever it is — if that person goes along willingly, that is the most efficient way to resolve the problem,” de Blasio said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, a close ally of de Blasio’s, has also acknowledged that the process for matching excessed teachers to schools that need them still needs work.

“The entire ATR process was so mismanaged by the Bloomberg administration that it will take years to sort out,” Mulgrew said.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.