lesson leaders

City doubles Learning Partners program and gives some principals a raise

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
The city's Learning Partners program in action in 2014 at High School for Law and Finance. Carmen Fariña announced she is expanding the program in the 2015-16 school year.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña is expanding her signature school-collaboration initiative, doubling its ranks and giving some principals a larger role.

Ten principals in last year’s “Learning Partners” program are getting $25,000 raises to work with groups of up to seven schools next school year in what the city is calling “Learning Partners Plus,” officials said Thursday. A total of 146 schools will participate in one of the two programs starting this fall, up from 73 schools last year.

The expansion underscores a larger shift underway at the Department of Education since Fariña took over more than 18 months ago. Fariña was critical of the school ranking system that the Bloomberg administration had used for its accountability system, which she saw as discouraging schools from working together. Under Fariña and her Learning Partners initiative, the department has pushed principals and teachers to visit other schools to learn what works there, like a new curriculum or teacher leadership models, and bring those ideas back to their own buildings.

“It is the purest form of collaboration and sharing of practices,” said J.H.S. 088 Principal Ailene Mitchell, one of the 10 principals chosen for the “plus” program. “There’s no more secrets.”

Learning Partners launched last April and expanded to 73 schools at the start of the 2013-14 school year. The schools were organized into groups of three or four led by “host” schools, whose staff visited the other schools and met regularly.

The department is evaluating both programs, officials said, but it is too early to know if they will move the needle on student achievement, with even one year’s worth of state test scores and graduation rates not yet released. Participants in 2014-15 said their school had made “positive” changes and that they feel better-connected to colleagues outside the school because of Learning Partners, according to an internal survey.

The lynchpin of the new program are the 10 school leaders, Fariña said, who are among the first group to be named “master principals” since the positions was created in the city’s new contract with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. In exchange for their salary boost, they will be required to coordinate visits among up to seven schools and provide other principals with monthly training. The program will be partially funded through grants from the Wallace Foundation.

“Learning Partners Plus recognizes strong leaders in our schools and utilizes them to help improve student outcomes,” Fariña said in a statement.

The master principal raises are different from merit pay bonuses that the city gives to principals and assistant principals. Those bonuses, which have gone to administrators of schools with top-ranking progress report scores in the past, are still part of the CSA contract, although Fariña is tasked with deciding how to rank the top schools in upcoming years.

As with last year, the Learning Partner cohorts in both programs are organized by grade levels. Of 35 groupings, 13 are only high schools, nine are only middle schools and seven are only elementary schools. Two groups include prekindergarten programs and the rest include schools with mixed grades. (Complete lists of schools for both programs are available below).

Most of the Learning Partner Plus host schools will be paired up with at least one school they worked with last year, although Mitchell said principals said they had more say in deciding the groupings this year. She said she was particularly excited about working with P.S. 230 in Windsor Terrace, where many students in her middle school come from.

“Now those teachers can plan with my sixth and seventh grade teachers,” Mitchell said.

All 148 of the Learning Partner schools will be able to have up to three model teachers, which are leadership positions that require extra work and come with a $7,500 raise, a department official said. The 10 host principals in Learning Partner Plus schools will be allowed to promote more teachers.

Ed Tom, principal of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, said having model teachers was a highlight of last year’s program and is promoting an additional five teachers to the position this year.

“I think the biggest gains for our school community is model teachers,” Tom said.

Nearly 100 schools will be new to the programs this fall. Of the 73 schools that participated last year, 50 will be involved a second year, with some moving onto the “plus” program. Learning Partners Plus will consist of 71 schools and Learning Partners will consist of 75 schools.

Over 260 schools applied for the programs, city officials said on Thursday.

Fariña’s vision for collaboration has expanded beyond the Learning Partners programs, too. An entire office at the department is now dedicated to helping schools work together, absorbing the existing the Middle School Quality Initiative and launching Showcase Schools, a group of 17 schools that hosted tours and shared ideas directly with the department.

A complete list of Learning Partner Plus schools below. For a list of Learning Partner schools, click here.

P.S. 112 Jose Celso Barbosa, host 
P.S. 57 James Weldon Johnson
P.S. 206 Jose Celso Barbosa
Dos Puentes Elementary School
P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte
Professor Juan Bosch Public School
P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith
Samara Community School

P.S. 249 The Caton, host
P.S. 161 The Crown
New Bridges Elementary
P.S. 49 Willis Avenue
P.S. 208 Elsa Ebeling
P.S. 268 Emma Lazarus
P.S. 276 Louis Marshall

P.S. 214, Bronx, host
P.S. 109 Sedgwick
P.S. 143 Louis Armstrong
P.S. 106, Queens
J.H.S. 052 Inwood
Global Technology Preparatory
Ronald Edmonds Learning Center II

P.S. 321 William Penn, host
P.S. 009 Teunis G. Bergen
P.S. 282 Park Slope
Academy of Arts and Letters
The Maurice Sendak Community School
Sunset Park Avenues Elementary School
Riverdale Avenue Community School
Riverdale Avenue Middle School

I.S. 034 Tottenville, host
I.S. 075 Frank D. Paulo
I.S. 051 Edwin Markham
South Richmond High School I.S./P.S
I.S. 061 William A Morris
P.S. 001 Tottenville
P.S. 6 Corporal Allan F. Kivlehan School
P.S. 042 Eltingville

J.H.S. 088, host
Corona Arts and Sciences Academy
I.S. 5 – The Walter Crowley Intermediate School
Sunset Park Prep
I.S. 392
P.S. 230 Doris L. Cohen
Bronx Writing Academy

School for Global Leaders, host
M.S. 267 Math, Science & Technology
J.H.S. 383 Philippa Schuyler
The School for the Urban Environment
J.H.S. 210 Elizabeth Blackwell
Middle School for Art and Philosophy
Life Sciences Secondary School 

J.H.S. 216 George J. Ryan, host
P.S./M.S 042 R. Vernam
I.S. 254, Bronx
The Forward School
J.H.S. 185 Edward Bleeker
Village Academy

Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, host
Bronx Leadership Academy High School
Bronx High School for Law and Community Service
Belmont Preparatory High School
Pelham Preparatory Academy
Theater Arts Production Company
Bronxdale High School

East Brooklyn Community High School, host
Brooklyn Frontiers High School
High School for Excellence and Innovation
Brooklyn Democracy Academy
Brooklyn Bridge Academy
Green School: An Academy for Environmental Careers

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.