attn atrs

Letter from Mulgrew to ATRs suggests teachers less likely to face expedited hearings than city signaled

Updated with the city’s response: UFT President Michael Mulgrew told excessed teachers on Tuesday that they would be offered a severance package as a part of the proposed contract between the teachers union and the city—a provision that Chalkbeat reported Monday night and was not disclosed for days after both sides’ celebratory announcement.

New details from a memo sent from Mulgrew to absent teacher reserve members, and information provided by union officials, reveal that the excessed teachers would also have stronger job protections than were originally reported or acknowledged by officials.

At last week’s announcement, officials implied that the ATR pool—which includes 1,200 teachers without full-time positions but who are on the city payroll—would be reduced partially by relying on an expedited termination hearing process. The excessed teachers deemed ready for the classroom would be sent to schools with vacancies, but principals who felt the teacher was not a good fit would be able to send the teacher back.

City officials initially said that two rejections would trigger an expedited termination hearing and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña suggested that principals would be able to move quickly to reject a teacher they didn’t want.

“If they go visit a school and the principal says, ‘OK, I’ll try her out,’ but after a day, ‘I don’t want her,’ it’s gone,” Fariña said.

It’s true that a principal will be able to remove teachers who aren’t the right fit in schools they’re assigned to, a union spokeswoman said today. Those teachers will return to the ATR pool, but there is not limit to the number of times they could be given additional temporary placements, she said.

And today’s memo to ATRs explains that a teacher would only be eligible to be brought up on termination charges under that expedited hearing if misconduct two “successive” principals document them for misconduct. That means that if two out of three principals document misconduct—as opposed to two in a row—the teacher would still be permitted to fill vacancies at another school, making  it much less likely that the new hearing process on its own will significantly reduce the number of teachers in the pool.

City officials disputed the union’s take on the issue, saying that ATR teachers merely need to be documented twice in a school year.

“We are reducing the Department’s spending in the ATR pool by helping good teachers get back into the classroom while expediting the process to move out teachers who don’t belong in the profession,” said spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “And as the Chancellor affirmed last week, we are doing so while respecting mutual-consent hiring.”

In the five days since de Blasio and Mulgrew congratulated one another for agreeing on a framework for public school teachers’ first contract since 2005, both sides have been slow to provide details of the deal. They praised the agreement last week for including raises, allowing for innovative school scheduling, and putting the city school system on a path toward “true reform.”

In today’s memo, Mulgrew blamed the press for propagating “some myths” about a new arrangement to place them back into city schools. Just 12 hours earlier, the union declined to discuss details about the ATR arrangement, including the severance package for excessed teachers.

Critics pounced on the new details as evidence that Mayor Bill de Blasio was purposefully withholding less-flattering information about the contract.

“It’s outrageous that the de Blasio administration covered up the details of a deal that will put 1,200 teachers back into the classrooms of this city’s most vulnerable children, ” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said. “Until we see actual contract language, this calls into question every aspect of Thursday’s announcement.”
Requests for comments from the city were not immediately returned, but we will update the story with a response.

Mulgrew’s full note to ATRs is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When the previous administration let it be known that it intended to summarily fire all members in the Absent Teacher Reserve, we as a union made a commitment to stand by our members. We held true to that commitment throughout our negotiations, and the results are in this new contract.

The contract preserves your rights and improves your chances of permanent placement. And, of course, you will participate in the contractual raises and working-condition changes that we won for all members. The press coverage, however, has included some myths about how ATRs are treated under the new contract and misconceptions abound. We want to be sure you have the facts and know your rights.

Myth #1 (the biggest one!):
The city is going to fire the ATRs.
Reality:
No UFT member, whether an ATR or otherwise, will ever be automatically fired. Any ATR may accept, at his or her sole discretion, a voluntary severance package based on years of service.

Myth #2:
Schools still won’t hire ATRs because they are too expensive.
Reality:
Under the new contract, schools that select ATRs for permanent placement will not have that ATR’s salary included in the school’s average teacher salary calculation, which means that principals no longer have a reason to pass over more senior educators in favor of newer hires with lower salaries.

Myth #3:
The contract includes a new way to get rid of ATRs.
Reality:
Not true. ATRs actually get improved access to job placements. Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, 2014, the DOE must send ATRs on interviews for vacancies in their districts and boroughs, and ATRs must attend all of those interviews. After Oct. 15, ATRs are required to accept provisional assignments to schools with a vacancy in their license area within their district or borough. If there is no school with a vacancy in their district or borough, they will continue to be rotated within their district.

Myth #4:
ATRs are going to lose their due process rights.
Reality:
No ATR can be disciplined or fired unless a hearing officer decides that is appropriate in a 3020-a hearing. An ATR who has been placed in a vacancy and is removed by two successive principals for documented misconduct — not pedagogy — may be subject to discipline. The DOE must prove the charge of misconduct through an expedited 3020-a process.

The new contract agreement between the UFT and the DOE, which will go out for your ratification soon, is a strong contract for all our members, including all our ATRs.

Don’t miss the latest news about New York City schools: Follow Chalkbeat NY on Facebook.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.