human capital

Court ruling gives new hope to Teaching Fellows without jobs

The State Supreme Court in Manhattan today granted the United Federation of Teachers a preliminary injunction protecting 88 new teachers without permanent positions from being fired.

The Department of Education had planned to remove the teachers from the payroll last Friday in accordance with a contract the teachers signed when they joined the DOE’s Teaching Fellows program. But the union sued, saying that the Teaching Fellows contract wasn’t permitted under the terms of the UFT’s own contract. Last week, the UFT won a temporary restraining order that extended the Teaching Fellows’ paychecks until today, when the issue would get its day in court.

The preliminary injunction is an important step, but it’s not the end of the teachers’ limbo. The court’s decision today means only that the Teaching Fellows are protected from being fired until after an arbitrator has ruled on the matter, UFT spokesman Ron Davis told me.

If the arbitrator rules in favor of the DOE, the Teaching Fellows will lose their jobs, leaving them with no paycheck and only a few options back into the classroom. But if the arbitrator rules in favor of the UFT, the Teaching Fellows will stay on the DOE’s payroll.

Davis told me the union is “hopeful” that the arbitration will be complete within a week.

“We obviously believe that our position is the right one, and in this case the judge agreed that we should at least have the right to be heard,” he said.

The DOE plans to appeal the court’s decision, Michael Best, the department’s head lawyer, said in a statement.

Here’s the UFT’s full (and extensive) press release.

UFT Wins Preliminary Injunction Granting Reprieve to Teaching Fellows

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was granted a preliminary injunction in State Supreme Court in Manhattan today preventing the New York City Department of Education (DOE) from firing Teaching Fellows hired over the summer who did not secure full-time school assignments by December 5.

Teaching Fellows are college graduates who became educators in the New York City public school system through non-traditional routes – including leaving other careers – or who did not study education. They were heavily recruited over the summer by the DOE and The New Teacher Project – a national non-profit organization that has been paid $4 million over a two-year period by the DOE – because of their expertise and the life experience they bring to the classroom.

The UFT argued that the DOE was wrong to require the fellows to sign contracts that allow for their dismissal if they did not secure permanent school assignments by December 5. The unassigned fellows are serving in schools throughout the city as full-time substitutes or in vacancies or covering leaves of absence just like educators who lost their jobs due to school closings or changes in student rosters who now serve in an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

“The DOE was prepared to fire these educators just because it didn’t place them in permanent school positions,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “We tried to work this out, but the clock was ticking. So we went to court because we wanted to give the arbitration process a chance to work. The court saw our point of view and gave these individuals a reprieve.”

The UFT filed a grievance earlier this fall on behalf of 130 fellows who had not been hired by a school by August 28. The grievance charged that the fellows are being improperly targeted for termination because the DOE contract the fellows were required to sign does not supercede the UFT collective bargaining agreement.

On December 4, UFT officials and attorneys filed papers at the courthouse at 60 Centre Street in Manhattan seeking an injunction in aid of arbitration to prevent the DOE from firing the 88 Teaching Fellows who had not found permanent classroom positions before the matter could be heard by an arbitrator. The UFT has also filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) opposing the firings.

“The DOE is always talking about the need to recruit quality teachers, but what message are they sending when they treat new educators like this?” Weingarten said.

Weingarten was named as the plaintiff in the court action against Chancellor Joel Klein and the DOE.

“It’s hard to get a job anywhere in this economy right now, but many of these fellows still gave up secure jobs in other professions to come and teach here in New York City,” Weingarten added. “Now after months of letting them fend for themselves and in the middle of this economic downturn, the DOE is ready to show them the door, and that’s just not fair. It’s just another case of gross mismanagement of human resources by the DOE.”

Teaching Fellows such as Michelle Murphy often complain that they get no support from the DOE in their efforts to secure permanent teaching positions.

“It’s almost impossible to go on interviews while working in a school every day until 4 p.m.,” Murphy said, adding, “The placement support is almost nonexistent.”

Murphy complained that there is no central employment database, which forces the fellows to make cold calls to schools to ask about openings.

“Once you are done with the training, the DOE cuts you loose,” Murphy said. “Then they send you a drop-dead letter reminding you – as if you forgot – that you will be unemployed on December 5.”

Another fellow, Yves Henri Cloarec, questioned why the DOE did not scale back its hiring of fellows this fall when it was aware of the number of excessed teachers who were unable to find permanent jobs in the system.

“Why would they continue to recruit new fellows when a current batch is still available, willing and eager to perform the mission they were hired to do?” Cloarec asked.

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.