the new guy

Weiner enters race with education platform a big question mark

Anthony Weiner points to a public school in the video he released today to announce his mayoral campaign.
Anthony Weiner points to a public school in the video he released today to announce his mayoral campaign.

New Yorkers know a lot of things about the latest entrant to the mayoral race — but not where he stands on hot-button education policy issues.

Anthony Weiner, who resigned from Congress in 2011 after a sexting scandal, launched his campaign with an video posted – apparently prematurely — early this morning. He becomes the sixth major Democratic candidate, landing in second place to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a poll released today.

Though his candidacy is seen as a long shot, Weiner is assured of media attention and is in a position to influence campaign trail conversation. In the campaign kickoff video, he cites high housing costs and a scarcity of jobs that offer benefits to paint a picture of himself as a champion of the middle class.

He also mentions education, saying, “Our schools aren’t what they should be.”

But Weiner’s vision for the city’s schools is not at all clear. He barely broached the topic of education in 2005, when he ran for mayor, and 2009, when he briefly considered running again.

A booklet of policy ideas that Weiner released last month and cites in the video released today skirts the major issues that are dividing candidates this year on education, including charter schools, school governance, and the role of testing. Weiner’s top priority, according to the book, which was a refreshed version of a similar document from 2009, is to “streamline the process for removing troublesome students from the classroom.”

That position could score points with families and educators who see school discipline as a major issue. But it also drew a protest outside of Weiner’s Park Avenue apartment building last month by students who said the approach to discipline would unfairly penalize students of color. The rally was organized in part by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, the coalition that formed to oppose the Bloomberg administration’s school policies in the election.

Billy Easton, who heads one of the main groups in the coalition, said the group had invited Weiner to participate in its mayoral debate next week but that he had not yet responded. “The big question we have for him on education is that his top priority is to increase suspensions and that is problematic,” Easton said.

Weiner’s extended time in the public eye has left a few other inklings of his education policy outlook. In 2008, just before legislators were set to revisit New York City’s school governance, he repeatedly expressed strong support for mayoral control, saying he wanted to see “unfettered” mayoral control continue. That puts him at odds with some of his Democratic competitors, who have said recently that they would cede some control of the city school board in order to place checks and balances against the mayor’s power.

But he did say that he thought Bloomberg had misused his power. At a forum in 2009, Weiner called then-Chancellor Joel Klein a “non-educator” and said his mother, a 31-year teacher, had left the system out of frustration. He also criticized Klein for failing to make the school system transparent.

He also turned up to a major event in 2008 at the Brooklyn Museum that was thrown by the charter sector, signaling that he might be interested in trying to wrestle the “reform” mantle from Mayor Bloomberg, who at the time had only recently begun to discuss the possibility of a third term. At the time, Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, said Weiner had been a supporter of charter schools for a while and favored lifting the state cap on the number of charter schools, which happened the following year.

Weiner’s nascent campaign does have some school ties: His press secretary is Barbara Morgan, who was a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education for until a year ago. Most recently, she was the press secretary for New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Here’s what Weiner said when he turned up at a Queens forum on mayoral control in 2009:

Superintendent search

Nashville school official is one of four finalists to become Newark’s next superintendent

Sito Narcisse

A top Nashville schools official is one of four finalists vying to become Newark’s next superintendent.

Newark’s school board has not announced the finalists, but Sito Narcisse, currently chief of schools of the 88,000-student Metro Nashville Public School system, is in the running, Chalkbeat has learned. Narcisse, who has also been a high-ranking official in two large Maryland school districts and a principal in Boston and Pittsburgh, confirmed the news on Monday. The son of Haitian immigrants who spoke French-Creole at home as a child growing up on Long Island, he later helped open two high schools for recent immigrants who were still learning English.

The other finalists, Chalkbeat has previously reported, are former Baltimore city schools chief Andres Alonso, Newark Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory, and Newark Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon. (Alonso previously declined to comment, and Leon did not respond to an email.)

Newark’s last state-appointed superintendent, Christopher Cerf, stepped down on Feb. 1 when the school board officially regained control of the district after 22 years of management by the state. As the district transitions back to local supervision, it must adhere to a state plan that stipulated that there be a national search for the next superintendent and three finalists for the full board to vote on. However, the state last month granted a request by the board to name four finalists instead of three.

The finalists will introduce themselves to the public at a forum on Friday, though the audience will not be allowed to ask questions. The school board will then interview the candidates in private on Saturday, before they are expected to make their selection at the public board meeting on May 22.

Narcisse was also a semifinalist for the superintendent position in Duval County, Florida until Monday, when the school board there voted not to advance him to the second round of interviews, according to the district’s website. (Unlike Newark, that school system posted all the candidates’ applications online and will livestream the school board’s interviews with the finalists.)

Alonso, the other candidate from outside Newark, was recently in the running to become Los Angeles’ next superintendent before withdrawing his name last month. Both he and Narcisse may face an uphill battle in Newark, where several board members and many residents have said they would prefer a local educator to run the school system now that it is back in local hands after decades of state oversight.

In an interview Monday, Narcisse told Chalkbeat that if he was hired in Newark he would work hard to get to know the district and “become a part of that community.” He added that many of the schools he oversaw in Tennessee and Maryland served low-income students who dealt with trauma and poverty similar to the kinds faced by many Newark students.

“I know I’m not from Newark,” he said. “But the children of Newark have the same set of issues, the same set of challenges.”

Narcisse began his career as a high-school French teacher in a suburban district outside Nashville, before opening a public school in Pittsburgh and then taking over a struggling high school in Boston. He later held district leadership roles in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he helped design the new schools for immigrants still learning English.

In 2016, he became chief of schools for the Metro Nashville system, the second-highest position in the district, where he is responsible for overseeing 169 schools. In that role, he helped establish a high school where students can earn associate’s degrees, brought new science and technology programs into the middle schools, and participated in a public-private partnership to boost students’ reading skills, he said. His salary is $185,000 per year, according to his application for the Duval County position.

He said that he has absorbed several lessons over the years on how to improve struggling schools: Find a strong principal, provide lots of staff training, and invest in extra support services for students. He also cited another lesson that could be especially apt in Newark, where many residents rejected the sweeping policy changes enacted by Cami Anderson, a prior state-appointed superintendent.

“The other part is to not to do reform to them — but to be a part of the work with them,” he said, referring to community members. “That’s how change and sustainability happens.”

family matters

Lashing out at de Blasio administration, Mulgrew says educators lack paid parental leave because of ‘gender bias’

PHOTO: Philissa Cramer
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew tore into the city Monday for not providing paid parental leave to city teachers, calling the situation a case of “gender bias.”

Mulgrew, whose union is 77 percent women, was among the leaders testifying about the need for a paid parental leave policy Monday at a joint hearing of the City Council’s committees on education and civil service and labor.

In some of his harshest criticism of the de Blasio administration, Mulgrew criticized city leaders for saying leave should be negotiated in contract talks and come with concessions.

“I believe this is clearly gender bias on behalf of the City of New York and I do believe now it’s being used completely as a bargaining chip against our union, the union with the high female [membership],” Mulgrew said. “So I’m quite aggravated and pissed off at the city on this whole thing.”

Under the Department of Education’s current policy, teachers who want paid leave after having a baby must use accrued sick days. The policy applies only to birth mothers, not educators who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

The UFT’s fight, spurred in part by a petition that went viral last fall, comes after the city extended six weeks of fully paid time off to its non-union workforce in 2016, covering about 20,000 managerial employees.

The city has pointed out that those workers made concessions, including giving up raises and vacation days, in exchange for their leave. The administration has also estimated that extending this program to all UFT members could cost $1 billion over four years.

Bob Linn, the city’s labor commissioner, testified Monday that paid leave was an issue that would be addressed during negotiations with the UFT, whose contract expires in November. “We will be reaching agreements on this issue,” he said.

Here’s what three UFT members who spoke Monday told the council:

Carolyn Dugan, a special education teacher in Manhattan at PS/IS 180

“I went into labor at my school because I was trying to save all my sick days for my maternity leave.
I wanted to maximize the little time I had with my newborn, so instead of taking a few days to rest before the baby was born, I worked up to very last moment and I ended up going into labor at
work.”

Eric Rubin-Perez, a school counselor at the John F. Kennedy Jr. School in Queens

“I had managed to save over 65 days in my bank that I had always planned on using for child care leave. I attended a UFT workshop on paternity leave in the fall of 2013. To my shock, I learned that as a father I was only allowed to use three personal days. It didn’t matter how many days I had saved in my bank, I was not able to use any of them. All those times I made the treacherous commute in the snow to my school in Elmhurst, Queens, from my home in Suffolk County, or when I came back to work after oral surgery didn’t matter, because I could not use any of my days. My husband who worked on Long Island got six weeks of paid paternity leave so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get anything.”

PHOTO: Jessica Jean-Marie
Teacher Jessica Jean-Marie returned to work last week.

Jessica Jean-Marie, teacher in New York City public schools

“Last week, I returned from maternity leave after 11 weeks from having my second child. I tried working until I went into labor so that I could have a full 12 weeks — six weeks using sick days and six weeks off payroll on unpaid child care leave — at home with my son. I couldn’t do it. The physical pain and the mental stress became too much. I worked up until the week of my due date, hoping my son would come sooner than later so I can maximize my leave. He arrived three days past due.”