In residence

Teaching prep pilots on the rise in SIG and high-needs schools

A new recruitment program designed to keep teachers in high-needs schools for the long-term is ramping up its presence in schools where the city is preparing to replace large swaths of teachers.

The city’s $1.3 million teacher apprenticeship program, called the NYC Teaching Residency for School Turnaround, embeds teachers-in-training in high-needs schools and pairs them in classrooms taught by experienced teachers to ease the learning curve. The program launched last summer with 26 residents in two schools and was funded in part with money from federal School Improvement Grants. Next year, the Department of Education aims to double the number of residents and expand into more schools eligible for SIG funding.

Currently the only schools in line to receive SIG funding are the 33 the city has proposed for a “turnaround” at the end of the year, meaning one of the schools that hosted residents this year — Queens Vocational and Technical High School — is likely to close its program at the end of the school year. Queens Vocational was one of six schools that had been receiving SIG funds that the city determined in January should no longer be eligible for them. An education department spokeswoman said no decision has been made about the residency program, but the school’s website is already promoting a different residency starting next year.

The residency is part of a series of recruitment models that the department’s Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality is piloting to better prepare new teachers for classrooms in high-needs communities. One hundred and thirty-six new NYC Teaching Fellows — up from 25 a year ago — were paired with a mentor teacher this month and will work in classrooms for the remainder of the school year as part of an apprenticeship program to supplement the 10-week training they will receive this summer. The fellows will earn a $3,500 stipend for the remainder of the school year.

The DOE is busy staffing up for the expansion of both programs. It is hiring a director to oversee the residency program, something that aroused some confusion and suspicion among some current teachers this week. In a SchoolBook column earlier this week, a teacher lamented that a job posting for the position spelled doom for “tenured, higher paid teachers” because it would replace them with uncertified teachers.

In fact, this year’s small cohort of residents will be eligible to apply for fulltime teaching positions in the fall while finishing up a Master’s program at St. John’s University. The residency expansion was planned months before Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to shake up the SIG program, shuffling most of the schools that had been receiving funds into the turnaround model in order to qualify for the money without union sign-off. The SchoolBook column has since been updated with a correction.

The fledgling residency program in New York City, which pays residents $22,500 for the school year, has received largely positive reviews this year. Linda Rosenbury, principal at J.H.S. 22 Jordan L Mott in the Bronx, said the residency benefited all who were working in it.

“Our strongest educators are our mentors and they’re being intellectually fulfilled because they have to articulate their practices in a way that they didn’t have to when they were alone,” Rosenbury said. And since two residents work in the classroom most of the time, student-teacher ratios have dipped below 10:1, maximizing individualized instruction, she said.

For the residents, Rosenbury said, their crash course in first-year teaching is coming in a low-risk environment.

“They’re making all of their mistakes now, so when they start in September in their classroom, they’re going to be much more ready,” Rosenbury added. Like principals in the other turnaround schools, Rosenbury will likely have to replace up to 50 percent of her staff at the end of the school year. She said that it was too soon to make decisions about who would be hired back but added that she had confidence that many of her residents this year were ready to take over full-time teaching positions in schools such as hers.

The residency’s first year was not without some road bumps. Department officials said that mentor teachers, who earn $3,000 for each resident they work with, are the most important element to a functioning residency program. But at Queens Vocational, residents reported that some mentors picked for the program were not readily available to support their development, according to a survey the department conducted. The school’s principal declined to comment.

Residency programs are also prohibitively more expensive than any other kind of certification program, a factor that will likely prevent the city’s programs from expanding to fully meet the city’s hiring needs. Despite the programs’ promise, experts say it’s still too early to know how effective they will be at achieving their goal, which is to place stronger teachers in high-needs schools in low-income communities.

“I think we have a lot to learn about them, but it’s certainly provided much more promise in terms of ensuring that teachers will have support in these kinds of settings,” said James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance at New York University, who studied talent development as a director of MDRC. “They’re changing the game quite a bit, but I don’t think we know anything about their effectiveness.”

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”