official notice

More than 3,500 "turnaround" school staffers getting pink slips

Thousands of teachers, administrators, and school aides in the city’s 24 “turnaround” schools are getting official notification today that they aren’t assured a position next year.

The total number of workers at the schools who are being “excessed” — or having their positions eliminated — is 3,671, making this year’s citywide tally of displaced teachers larger than in any recent year. The Department of Education released the figures this afternoon but did not share data about excessing taking place at the city’s 1,600 other schools.

Schools learned that the excessing letters would be distributed today on Friday, and at some schools teachers received the notices while interviewing to retain their jobs. The workers who received the notification include 2,995 people represented by the United Federation of Teachers, mostly classroom teachers; 497 people represented by DC-37, the union that includes school aides and parent coordinators; and 179 members of the principals and administrators union.

Typically, schools excess teachers because of budget cuts, enrollment drops, and changes to program offerings that render the positions impossible to fund. But this year, every single person who works at the 24 schools undergoing a federally prescribed turnaround process is being excessed — and virtually every single person is being replaced, either by himself or by another person, during restaffing processes that are already underway.

The expansive game of musical chairs is intended to shake up the staffs of struggling schools and make them eligible for a pot of federal funds known as School Improvement Grants.

“We think it is an exciting opportunity and moment to infuse new talent into these new schools and produce gains for students,” said Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor supervising the turnaround process.

Already, department officials say, more than 7,000 applicants have cast more than 26,000 applications for the 2,995 teaching positions at the schools, for an average of more than eight applications for each open position.

Some of the schools have had difficulty filling open positions in the past: More than half of them started this school year with at least three vacancies, according to the department. One principal, Linda Rosenbury at M.S. 22 in the Bronx, told department officials that she had received more than a thousand applicants for 50 positions, compared to fewer than 50 applications last year for seven vacancies.

Department recruiters have helped pull in applicants, but the number of applications has been “way more than we could ever take credit for,” Sternberg said. “It’s a unique opportunity [for teachers] to apply an entrepreneurial spirit to the challenge of creating a new school.”

About 2,600 of the applicants are currently working in the 24 schools, meaning that more than 85 percent of teachers are reapplying for their own job or other jobs in turnaround schools. The rest of the applicants are working at other schools in the city or are trying to break into the city school system, which has had stringent hiring restrictions in place since 2009. The city is bringing on 900 new Teaching Fellows this year, twice as many as it hired in 2011, to fill vacancies across the system.

Hiring committees consisting of a principal, department appointees, and teachers union appointees are in place at each turnaround school. The committees must interview any current teacher who wishes to stay on after his school is revamped and must, in accordance with a clause in the city’s contract with the teachers union, extend offers to at least half of qualified applicants from within the schools. But what constitutes qualification leaves room for discretion and has some teachers concerned that they will be shut out unfairly.

Some committees have begun offering positions to applicants. But the city and union are locked in arbitration over collective bargaining rules at the schools. If the arbitrator rules in the union’s favor, hiring decisions would be reversed.

The city’s letter to school workers who are being excessed included that information in a bold-faced “important note” in the second paragraph. And a UFT spokesman emphasized the up-in-the-air reality for the turnaround schools’ rehiring in a statement responding to the excessing letters.

“No final personnel decisions involving these schools can be made until the arbitrator rules on the UFT’s contention that these are ‘sham closings,’” said the spokesman. “We expect that decision before the end of the school year.”

Teachers who are not rehired at their school or any other enter the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of teachers without permanent positions who rotate through vacant positions on a weekly basis. They continue to draw their full salary in an arrangement that the city and union agreed upon in 2005 but now has Department of Education officials calling for a time limit on how long teachers can remain in the ATR pool.

School aides who are not rehired do not have the same protection; last year, hundreds of DC-37 members whose positions were eliminated were fired after several months in limbo.

The city’s letter to schools workers at turnaround schools is below.

Dear Colleague:

As a result of the closing of our school and in compliance with contractual mandates, you have been placed in excess from our school for next year. You are being given a temporary assignment until such time as you find a full-time position at a new school.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Please be mindful that there is currently a grievance arbitration pending regarding school closures and all personnel decisions are subject to change based on the outcome in that matter.  We expect a decision from an arbitrator by the end of June.  I will keep you informed of any updates.

I want to sincerely thank you for your service to our students.  Your support of their education and growth is greatly appreciated.

This letter outlines guidance for finding a new position, as well as your next steps when the 2012-13 school year begins in September.

I. Finding a new regular assignment prior to September 4:         

Beginning now, please make every effort to use the available tools and resources to apply for and attempt to secure a new, regular assignment as soon as possible. A description of specific supports, including the Open Market system, and resources can be found below.  Keep in mind that by starting the job search process earlier you will have access to a broader range of opportunities.

Using the Open Market/Excessed Staff Selection Systems, a key tool in your job search:

  • The Open Market (OM) system allows you to search for schools and vacancies and allows schools to consider you for possible selection. To access the system, go to https://www.nycenet.edu/offices/dhr/transferplane/. Use this website to search for schools and vacancies, enter your applicant statements and résumé, and submit applications to vacancies at schools of interest to you.
  • The Open Market transfer period is open until August 7. Following August 7, the system converts to the Excessed Staff Selection System (ESSS) which is available through the same link exclusively to employees in excess.
  • Vacancies continue to occur throughout the summer and even after the opening of school so you should continue to check OM or ESSS for updates.

You should also verify that your contact information is up to date in the registration section of the Open Market system.  This information, in conjunction with your DOE email, will be used to contact you for recruitment and interview opportunities as well as to advise you of assignments should you remain in excess when the school year begins. If you do not already have access to your NYC DOE email account or need assistance on its use, please contact the DOE Helpdesk at (718) 935-5100, or visit the following link: http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/EnterpriseOperations/DIIT/default.htm

Using the Teacher Hiring Support Center services:

The NYC DOE has resources available to assist you in your search for a new assignment through the Teacher Hiring Support Center (THSC), managed by the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality.  Resources available to all excessed UFT-covered school-based staff include job search webinars, resume and cover letter templates, and sample interview questions. Access to these services and updates on recruitment events can be found on the Teacher Hiring Support Portal at http://thscnyc.org. For more information on these services, please email [email protected] or call HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

II. If you are NOT selected for a new regular assignment before school opening:

If you are not selected for a regular assignment before school opening you will be in excess/ATR status until you find a new, regular position.

As long as you remain in excess/ATR status, your school assignment may change on a weekly basis within your seniority district. Your initial ATR assignment – where to report on September 4th – will be viewable on Open Market/ESSS in late August.  (Note that you will NOT be assigned to the same school where you worked this year and should not report to that location in September.)  You will receive more instructions, via your NYC DOE email, on how to access ATR assignment information in Open Market/ESSS later in the summer.

Finally, keep in mind that even if you are still in excess once school starts, you are still expected to be proactive in seeking a new, regular assignment outside of the ATR.

Once again, I value your professional commitment to our students, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for a new, regular assignment.

If you have any immediate questions regarding excessing or related issues, please contact HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

Sincerely,
Principal

cc:           Network HR Director
Network Budget Officer

charter talks

Hopson weighs charters as school turnaround tool for Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson leads Shelby County Schools in Memphis, home to Tennessee's highest concentration of low-performing schools.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has opened a crack in the door to charter school partnerships that might help his district avoid losing more schools to Tennessee’s turnaround district.

Hopson emailed his principals this week to clarify his recent comments to the editorial board of The Commercial Appeal about possibly recruiting charter organizations for turnaround work. The report’s original headline read: “Hopson says he’s willing to hand schools over to charters, if they have a plan for improvement.”

The superintendent quickly turned to Twitter to label the headline “misleading and inaccurate” and, as he sought to regain control of dialogue on the thorny matter, dispatched an email to his school principals.

“…It is my top priority to ensure all of our schools have the necessary resources to provide students with the high-quality education they deserve,” he wrote on Tuesday. “If the Tennessee Department of Education offers us the opportunity to select a charter operator that is willing to collaborate closely with District leaders to improve a school instead of losing it to the (Achievement School District), then I believe it is our responsibility to explore the option.”

Hopson’s comments hint at a potentially significant shift for a district that has battled openly with the charter sector over students being absorbed by the state’s 6-year-old turnaround initiative known as the ASD.

They also point to the tough spot that the superintendent is in.

On the one hand, the growth of the city’s charter turnaround sector has been a thorn in the side of local school leaders since 2012 when the state-run district began taking control of low-performing schools and assigning them to charter operators. Now with 29 Memphis schools, the ASD has siphoned off thousands of students and millions of dollars in an already under-enrolled and under-funded school environment — and made mostly anemic academic gains. (The local district also oversees about 50 charter schools that it’s authorized.)

On the other hand, Shelby County Schools has its hands full trying to improve a substantial number of struggling schools. It’s made some important headway through its Innovation Zone, which adds resources, extends the school day, and pays more to top principals and teachers who are willing to do some of the toughest education work in America. But the iZone is an expensive model, and few of its schools have exited the state’s priority school list.

In addition, some education reform advocates are lobbying to shift Memphis to a “portfolio model,” in which districts actively turn over schools to charter operators and manage them more like stocks in a portfolio. In other words, successful ones are expanded and failing ones are closed. Indianapolis has a robust portfolio model and, last fall, the philanthropic group known as the Memphis Education Fund took several Memphis school board members there for a tour. (The Memphis Education Fund receives support from several local philanthropies, including The Pyramid Peak Foundation and the Hyde Foundation. Chalkbeat also receives support from Hyde; read about our funding here.)

In his email to principals, Hopson said the school board ultimately would decide whether to authorize charter schools for the district’s turnaround work, and that he expects to discuss the matter with members in the coming weeks.

“All that said, I want to be very clear that my preference would always be to keep schools under the governance of (Shelby County Schools),” the superintendent added.

Hopson has been in discussions with the state Department of Education about several school improvement avenues available in Tennessee’s education plan under a new federal law. Among them is an option for Shelby County Schools to voluntarily convert priority schools to a charter, according to department spokeswoman Sara Gast.

One school board member told Chalkbeat he needs more information from the district and state before he would support any move forward. Chris Caldwell added that he thinks the board isn’t up to speed on options under the state’s new education plan.

“At this point, there’s so little information that I’ve been given,” Caldwell said. “I don’t want to conjecture what (a charter conversion) would actually will be like, but I have reservations with any kind of collaboration with the state.”

What would it take for such a shift to be successful?

One Memphis charter advocate says the ground rules are already in place because of a charter compact developed in recent years to address turf issues such as facilities, funding, and accountability.

“In order for a charter to manage a district school that’s underperforming and for it to be successful, that charter needs to have supports from the district to be successful,” said Luther Mercer, the Memphis advocacy director for the Tennessee Charter School Center.

The next school board work session is scheduled for Jan. 23.

School and church partnership

Detroit district aims for faith-based partnerships for every school to support student needs

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti surrounded by religious and district leaders wearing new "Got Faith?" shirts.

Each Detroit public school might soon have its own church, synagogue, mosque, temple, chapel, or parish as a partner.

The district on Thursday announced an initiative to connect every district school with a faith-based community partner to help with academic support, student basic needs, and personal and career development, among other services.

The district is now trying to determine which schools have a defined partnership with a religious institution, but estimates that 25 to 30 percent of schools already do. Sharlonda Buckman, senior executive director of family and community engagement, said that the district hopes that, by the end of the year, every one of its 106 schools “has a religious partner working with them in tandem toward the goal of helping our children achieve.”

The program was announced at a press conference at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Midtown, attended by educators, school board members, and invited guests.

“It doesn’t surprise me when I look around the room and see our religious leaders, because you guys, for a long time, have been investing in our children and our people, and it’s been an informal effort,” Buckman said. “You’ve worked with a number of our schools across the district, so today we recognize that we don’t need to do it informally anymore — we need to make this a formal part of how we move this district forward.”

The district is not unique in its approach: church-school partnerships are common across the country and in the state. The national partnering organization Kids Hope USA is based near Holland, Michigan. Supporters believe that stronger faith-school ties will not only improve local support for schools, but also help provide vital services for children and a more stable personal and family foundation upon which learning could take place.

District leaders “cannot lift our children up to their full potential by themselves,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at the press conference. “We need help in that work.”

The district is looking to the faith-based partners to provide services such as tutoring, coaching, chaperoning; deliver before and after school support; donate uniforms and other goods; and highlight teachers at their institutions through announcements and bulletins.

R. Khari Brown, a professor of sociology at Wayne State, said the faith community is already deeply ingrained in Detroit in a variety of ways.

“There are a lot of community centers that closed down over the years in the city, and most churches in the city provide some sort of programming,” he said. “They provide backpacks and school supplies, so [the partnership] makes sense.”

Religion is also a large part of the culture of many African Americans, he said, and a significant force in a district where 81 percent of the students were black in 2016-2017.

“Most African Americans want their churches to be involved on the ills that disproportionately affect black people.” he said.

While other communities might balk at such intermingling of church and state, Brown said he believes that it is a “non issue” in this case because the religious institutions are not receiving money from the district.

The ACLU of Michigan said it had no comment at this time but that the organization hopes to “continue to learn more” about the district’s initiative.

Vitti said a more explicit district-faith community partnership could provide both protection and support for Detroit’s children.

“What I’m talking about is developing a stronger safety net to ensure that what students are not receiving in homes, what students are not receiving in school, can be addressed through the faith-based community,” Vitti said. “When we go back to when the city was at its peak, we worked together as a team to lift children up. When children fell through the cracks, there was a safety net to catch them and lift them back up. That happened through the school system, through the churches, the synagogues.”

Vitti said the initiative is part of his larger effort to align schools and the community more closely. Since starting in his position as superintendent in May of last year, he has been pressing programs like the parent academy.

The academy will provide parents with lessons on subjects like what to ask during parent-teacher conferences, how to create stronger readers, how to fill out FAFSA paperwork, and even how to print a resume. Vitti said most of all, it would empower parents to pursue educational goals for their children, even if they weren’t the best students themselves.

“Every parent knows education is important, but parents don’t know how to navigate the system often, and they feel hypocritical when they push their children when they know they didn’t do well in school,” he said.  

Vitti said he envisions a time when faith-based institutions could house some of the parent services.

He said he also sees the faith community working side by side with the district’s 5,000 role models initiative. The program is recruiting volunteers to work with middle and high school African American and Hispanic students, and plans to have sponsors in each school to work with students daily, taking them on field trips and providing an open line of communication.