New York

Innovation program will let schools tinker with hiring, evaluations, grievances

Schools that participate in a new program run jointly by the education department and the city teachers union will be able to experiment with new ways of evaluating teachers, handling labor disputes, selecting principals, and using technology in classrooms or for teacher training, according to a letter with new details sent to schools on Friday.

In a sign that the city will be open to wide-ranging changes, the letter says that city and union officials would “consider seeking relief from the state” if schools’ plans run up against state laws, such as those dealing with student testing or teacher evaluations.

The letter from Chancellor Carmen Fariña and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew asks any schools that are interested in the program to submit forms by this Thursday. By then, the schools must be able to list which contract rules or department regulations they are looking to alter. The schools must also describe how their administrators and teachers have collaborated previously and how interested their staff members are in participating in the new program.

The quick turnaround time for schools looking to participate in the program, which was established in the teachers contract that was ratified just last week, is one of several tight deadlines that schools must meet as they start to carry out the contract’s new rules and try to take part in its new initiatives.

City and union officials have ballyhooed the program as a way for district schools to take advantage of the flexibility that charter schools enjoy in order to try out new ideas.

“Of all the breakthrough ideas in the new contract, this one in particular has incredible potential to empower educators and their school communities,” read Friday’s joint letter.

Officials have already begun reaching out to individual schools or groups of schools with similar approaches that they think would be a good fit for the program. The contract sets a goal of enrolling 200 schools in the program over the next five years, but the letter makes clear that the first batch of schools will be small, since they have had limited time to come up with ideas.

Schools that express interest in the program by this Thursday will be told by the following Monday if they should submit “brief” applications, according to a UFT timeline. Schools will be notified by June 20 whether a joint city-UFT committee has approved their proposals.

If a school’s plan is approved, the principal and at least 65 percent of the staff must vote to move forward with the plan.

Here is the full letter that the Department of Education posted on its internal website on Friday (the union sent a similar letter to its school chapter leaders):

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to invite you to apply to participate in the Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) program.

Of all the breakthrough ideas in the new contract, this one in particular has incredible potential to empower educators and their school communities. The opportunities for innovative practices PROSE will provide are based on our shared belief that the solutions for the challenges faced by our city’s schools can be found within our school communities themselves, rooted in the expertise of those who practice our profession every day.

The PROSE program may not be right for every school. Many of our schools are thriving just as they are. At some schools, however, staff, leadership, parents, and other stakeholders want to work together to create and expand innovative approaches for supporting student success. For those schools, PROSE offers the ability to alter some of the most basic parameters by which schools function, which are currently defined by the collective bargaining agreement and by Chancellor’s regulations – including but not limited to the ways teachers are selected, evaluated, and supported; programming for students and teachers; the handling of grievances at the school level; the selection of the principal and other administrators; and the use of technology to support teacher development and student learning. The UFT and DOE would also consider seeking relief from the state when worthy plans cannot be implemented under current statewide regulations.

Schools that are interested in implementing the PROSE program beginning in September 2014 must submit a letter of intent by June 12. We encourage groups of schools to apply together using one letter of intent; however, each school’s School Leadership Team, principal, and staff must vote to approve the model individually. While the PROSE program will eventually accommodate up to 200 schools, we expect that a smaller number will be approved in this initial round through an expedited application process.

The key for successful participation in the PROSE program will be the extent to which schools’ proposed initiatives are driven by teachers, school leaders, and other school community members, working collaboratively to focus on excellence for students. Proposals will be submitted to a central committee staffed equally by the UFT and DOE, and only the plans which come from school communities with a proven record of collaboration and a strong potential to impact student success will be accepted. Accepted proposals must then be approved by at least 65% of the UFT members who vote at the school, as well as by the school principal.

Whether you are interested in applying for this year, are hoping to use 2014-2015 as a planning year, or are just interested in more information, click here <> . During the 2014-15 school year, the DOE and UFT will offer a series of planning meetings and workshops which will offer information about the program.

We are encouraged by the enthusiastic responses we have already received from many schools about PROSE, and are looking forward to working with our city’s educators and school communities to launch this exciting new program.


Carmen Fariña

Michael Mulgrew
President, United Federation of Teachers

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.