hot potato

City dissolves fleet of "master" and "turnaround" teachers

The teachers union’s victory in a legal fight over the city’s “turnaround” plans kept thousands of teachers at 24 struggling schools from losing their positions. But it has also put another group of teachers at risk.

They are the “master” and “turnaround” teachers, a cohort of experienced educators selected to put in extra hours helping their colleagues in exchange for extra pay.

The positions were funded through federal School Improvement Grants, but without turnaround or another overhaul process in place at the schools, those funds will not flow to the city. Last week, just after the city’s final bid to reinstate turnaround failed, the 71 master and turnaround teachers got a letter from the Department of Education telling them to look for other positions.

The demise of the elite positions has given rise to yet another city-union dispute centered around the schools formerly slated for turnaround.

The special positions, created in 2010 when a handful of city schools first received SIG funding to undergo a school reform model called “transformation,” offered exemplary teachers large annual bonuses to work in struggling schools. Last year, the teachers were distributed across 33 schools undergoing transformation and another overhaul process, known as “restart,” including schools the city ultimately did not propose for the turnaround model. Some of the schools funded part of the teachers’ salaries with their discretionary budgets, but others used the federal funds to cover the full cost of the extra teacher.

The positions were always something of “a gamble” because the teachers’ job security depended on the federal funds and the schools’ continued success. The funds were yanked from the schools in late December after the city and teachers union failed to reach an agrement on a teacher evaluation system by the state’s deadline.

The city asked the UFT in June to agree to keep the master and turnaround teacher positions alive for another year, union officials said. The officials said the union would sign off on extending the program — but only if the schools returned to the restart and transformation models, which do not require any teachers to be removed. The proposition would have required to the city to agree with the union on an evaluation system for the schools at a time when the city was fighting to preserve the turnaround plan instead.

“We told them that we would complete the things necessary to put those schools in compliance if they wanted to it,” a union official involved in negotiations said. “We already have a lead teacher program in our contract. If they want to put a lead teacher into these schools, let them fund it and do it.”

The lead teacher program, in place since 2006, lets experienced teachers spend half their day coaching other teachers. Now, the city is letting educators who had been hired as master or turnaround teachers enter the central lead teacher pool, according to a letter sent to the teachers last week. But those jobs could send them to schools around the city.

The master and turnaround teachers will be added to their current school’s faculty roster as a regular teacher unless they tell the city by Wednesday that they are choosing another path. Other options outlined in the letter include filling vacancies at their previous schools, finding a new school altogether, or entering the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of position-less teachers who rotate through schools on a temporary basis.

Some teachers might also choose to leave the system. Lori Wheal, who was a master teacher at M.S. 391 in the Bronx last year after working as a classroom teacher for a decade, said on NY1’s Inside City Hall last week that said she is leaving teaching now that her position no longer exists.

“It was the master teacher program that kept me in the system,” Wheal said. “Now that program has been ripped away because we’ve lost our funding, I am looking to go into education policy.”

The city’s full letter to the 71 master and turnaround teachers is below.

Dear Master Teacher,

We are writing to update you on the status of the Master and Turnaround Teacher program for the next school year. As you may know,these positions will not continue for the 2012- 2013 school year and we wanted to ensure that you have clear information on your next steps for the coming year.

The UFT and DOE have agreed that Master and Turnaround Teachers will take their rightful place in seniority order on the school’s Table of Organization as a regular teacher unless one of the following options apply and you choose to exercise it:

If there is a vacancy in your license area at your prior school, you will have a right to return to that the vacancy until school opening only; it is the teacher’s choice whether or not to take this option.

If you and your current principal agree, then you may go into excess rather than staying at the school. Master and Turnaround Teachers going into excess may choose to go into excess in the current districtor the district of their prior school. Decisions must be made by August 7, 2012.

All Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers will be invited to join the central Lead Teacher pool. Teachers in the central Lead Teacher pool may apply for and be selected into available Lead Teacher positions citywide through August 7, 2012.

Consistent with the rights of all teachers, Master Teachers and Turnaround Teachers may seek a position at a new school via the Open Market through August 7, 2012. To facilitate your transition, we ask that you indicate your preferences for next year by completing this short survey by August 1,2012. Should you not respond to the survey, you will assume a position in your current school’s Table of Organization.


Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”