early commitments

De Blasio tabs team tasked with making pre-K plan a reality

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio with members of his early education working group.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s ever-expanding transition team just got a little bigger.

De Blasio today introduced the six-person group in charge of figuring out how to make a reality out of his campaign’s boldest pledge, to provide full-day pre-kindergarten to nearly 70,000 four-year-olds. De Blasio first announced he would convene the group last week in a speech to build support for his plan.

Much attention up to now has been focused on how de Blasio wants to fund the expansion, an income tax hike that first needs approval from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And while that part of the plan remains in doubt, a series of logistical hurdles also await de Blasio even after he secures funding from Albany.

De Blasio’s “all-star” working group will be tasked with advising him on those challenges. They include finding and renovating space to make room for 50,000 students who aren’t currently in full-day programs, hiring new teachers to teach those students, and setting standards to ensure New York City’s pre-K programs deliver a high-quality education.

“To achieve that pre-K initiative, we need some of the best minds in the city to start work right now on developing the practical approaches of making sure that we’re ready to go as soon as legislation is approved in Albany,” de Blasio said at a press conference inside of a crowded Head Start classroom in East Harlem.

It was one of the few public appearances that de Blasio has made since being elected a month ago and lacked details about more significant decisions, such as who he’ll pick for chancellor and when that choice will be made. De Blasio has created several groups to help him make those decisions and prepare for his new job, including a core transition team, a 60-person transition committee, and another big group that is planning his inauguration.

Responding to critics who say he is backing away from comments he made during the campaign about publicly screening his chancellor candidates, de Blasio said that it was an “open process” that was already underway.

“That was clearly a reference to an unfortunate chapter in our city’s history related to Cathie Black and I am totally sure that we will never have a situation like that again on my watch,” de Blasio said. “We are talking to a number of individuals with extraordinary careers in education and we are accepting nominations through our…large transition committee and through our web site.”

The early education group is made up of five women and one man who have decades of combined experience working in early education and social welfare services: De Blasio’s transition co-chair, Jennifer Jones-Austin, a former official for the Administration for Children’s Services; Josh Wollack, a former City Council staffer for de Blasio and director of Children’s Aid Society’s early education programs; Sherry Cleary, who runs an early education professional development program at CUNY, Elba Montalvo, founder and CEO of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families and a foster care advocate; and Gail Nayowith, executive director for SCO Family of Services.

De Blasio said that the group would be responsible for coming up with answers to many lingering questions about how his administration will implement the full-day pre-k expansion, though he offered some of his own hints.

He said he’d be able to find teachers who have been unable to get jobs in Department of Education schools because of hiring freezes. He also suggested that one option to find space could be in city-owned school buildings, which the Bloomberg administration has used primarily to open new K-12 schools.

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

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.”