Deep Thaw

Principals can now hire new teachers in most subjects, ending five-year freeze

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Principals can now hire new teachers in almost every subject area and grade, officials said this week, effectively ending a half-decade hiring freeze that cut costs by shrinking the labor force but also frustrated would-be teachers and accompanied growing class sizes.

Another signal of the city’s rebound from the depths of the recession, the hiring thaw should slow a five-year decline in the number of city teachers but will also mean new competition for educators already in the system who have struggled to find placements.

The new policy reverses rules the city enacted in 2009 that permitted principals to fill vacancies only with teachers already on the city payroll, except in select high-demand areas like special education or science. It also bolsters Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s pledge to re-empower principals and to boost the arts and support services in schools, since art teachers and guidance counselors have been removed from the restricted list.

Now principals are free to hire new teachers in English, social studies, health, foreign languages, and other subjects, along with school psychologists, social workers, and librarians, as staffing begins for next school year.

“That’s a wonderful thing,” said Serapha Cruz, principal of M.S. 331 in the Bronx. She said her school takes in talented student teachers every year who cannot always be hired because of the restrictions.

“That’s who we want to hire because they can hit the ground running,” Cruz said. “Now we’ll be able to do that.”

Still, the city is taking steps to control costs even as the restrictions are eased.

To prevent schools from replacing lots of existing staff members with new hires, which could cause the city’s payroll to balloon, any effort to displace current employees must pass a “strict review,” principals were told this week. Assistant principals and parent coordinators in particular cannot be “excessed” this year, city officials said. And the officials are urging school leaders not to overlook teachers in the system just because they can now hire outside it.

“Because we have more flexibility in hiring, that should not be seen as an opportunity to rush out and hire all new people right away,” Larry Becker, the Department of Education’s human resources chief, told principals in a webcast this week.

Cautioning principals not to remove too many staff members, Becker added that the new flexibility “is contingent on the overall number of excessed teachers” and could be curtailed at any time. Also, schools still cannot hire new paraprofessionals, school aides, secretaries, or teachers in a few areas, including home economics and vocational courses.

Former Chancellor Joel Klein instituted the hiring freeze amidst budget cuts brought on by the financial downturn. By limiting hires to existing department employees, the city was able to shrink its payroll as teachers retired or left the system while avoiding layoffs. The policy was also intended to drain the expanding pool of teachers who had lost their permanent positions — often because the city was closing their schools — but kept earning salaries.

That absent teacher reserve pool has shed about 700 teachers since 2009, and there are about 5,000 fewer total teachers in the system than before the freeze, even as the rate of educators leaving their posts has slowed. At the same time, class sizes have climbed steadily over the past five years.

The hiring freeze was never absolute and has become less restrictive over time. The city has allowed schools to hire teachers of certain subjects if demand was high and the number of qualified teachers in the excessed pool was low. New schools and those in hard-to-staff areas also faced fewer hiring restrictions, and some principals reportedly sidestepped the rules by filling vacancies with long-term substitutes or hiring teachers for non-restricted grades or subjects and then placing them in other classes.

The new hiring policy is likely to pose a challenge to the pool of 1,200 teachers without full-time positions. As of last spring, nearly 60 percent of teachers in the absent teacher reserve had been in the pool for two or more years. The new competition may make it even harder for those ATR teachers seeking permanent placements to get hired.

Here is the full list of teachers that can now be hired from outside the school system and those that still cannot:

Permitted:
· Special education
· Speech
· Sciences
· Mathematics
· English
· Social studies
· Common branches
· Early childhood and middle school generalist
· Bilingual (all of the above licenses)
· English as a second language
· Physical education and health
· Arts licenses including visual arts, music, theater and dance
· Most foreign languages including Spanish, Chinese, Latin and French
· Guidance counselor
· School social worker
· Librarian
· School psychologist

Restricted:
· Reading
· Business licenses including accounting, business practices, and distributive education
· Typing and stenography
· Home economics
· Most vocational licenses
· Attendance
· Paraprofessional
· School Aide
· School Secretary
· Community-series titles

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.