Turnaround Tactics

Hundreds of teachers must soon reapply for their jobs at six troubled schools

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar

About 420 New York City teachers and guidance counselors will have to reapply for their jobs this spring at six bottom-ranked schools that were given the grim label “out of time” by the state.

The state-ordered rehiring process, which is rare for tenured teachers, could lead to major staff shakeups and recruitment challenges. When two other long-struggling schools were forced to undergo that process last year, a majority of teachers chose to leave or were not rehired.

State officials have said the process is meant to replace any “unwilling or ineffective” staffers at these schools, where the average graduation rate last year was nearly 27 points below the city average. (At the one middle school in the group, J.H.S. 80 in the Bronx, only 5 percent of students passed last year’s state math exams.) But finding teachers to replace those who leave can be difficult.

Last year, 24 of 38 teachers at Automotive High School in Brooklyn left after the rehiring process, in most cases because they decided not to reapply. Now, about 40 percent of the struggling school’s teachers are beginners, according to Principal Caterina Lafergola.

“Many of the schools that are going through the rehiring have a stigma attached to them,” she said. “It’s very hard to recruit strong candidates.”

The six schools are Herbert H. Lehman High School, Banana Kelly High School, J.H.S. 80, and Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx; along with August Martin High School and John Adams High School in Queens. Those six were designated by the state last year as “out of time” because they have gone so long without making significant improvements, joining Automotive and Boys and Girls High School, which were identified a year earlier.

State officials have made clear that the schools must make rapid gains or they risk being shuttered. The schools, which are part of the city’s “Renewal” improvement program, were forced to lengthen their days, and teachers were required to undergo additional training during the school year and summer.

The pressure appears to be taking a toll on some staffers. When principals at the six schools had to reapply for their jobs last summer, at least one chose not to reapply and others decided to retire, according to the principals union.

Now some teachers are questioning whether they want to return. A teacher who has worked at one of the high schools for nearly a decade said he has decided not to reapply because of changes in the school administration and the added scrutiny on the school.

“You walk down the halls and people are just saying, I’m not reapplying to this,” he said. “I’m not coming back to this school.”

Some staffers have been asked to submit resumes, letters of recommendation, and work portfolios, teachers said. Then they must be interviewed by selection committees that include the principal, teachers union representatives, and education department appointees.

The job uncertainty has darkened the mood at some schools, said Jeffrey Greenberg, a math teacher and union representative at Lehman High School.

“Normally this time of year we’d be talking about how we’re going to get our kids to improve on their Regents scores,” he said. “That conversation is not being done now because our life, in many ways, is in front of us.”

According to an agreement between the city and teachers union, any teachers who decide not to reapply or are not rehired — and who do not find positions elsewhere — will be assigned to another school in their borough that has an opening for which they are licensed. Unlike teachers in the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve, who are paid by the city as they rotate among schools until they find a permanent placement, the out-of-time school teachers will remain at their assigned schools for the entire school year.

If principals want to remove an assigned teacher, a superintendent and teachers union representative must sign off — an arrangement some critics have compared to former policy called “forced placement,” where the city sent displaced teachers to schools without principals’ input. But city and principals union officials say the new process is different because the placements are not permanent, the city pays the teachers’ salaries, and principals can assign the teachers any role, not just as classroom instructors.

Education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye pointed out that the city-union rehiring deal does not stipulate that a minimum number of teachers be rehired, and added that the city would organize recruitment events during the spring and summer.

“To effectively turn a school around, there must be the right leadership, the right teachers, and the right school staff to improve student achievement,” she said in a statement, adding that the city is “working closely with each school during the hiring process to support educators while holding them accountable.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect revised figures from the education department. About 420 teachers and staffers will have to reapply for their jobs, not 500.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”