new york state of mind

As Teach for America shifts, training for New York recruits is headed back to the city

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Charissa Fernández, executive director of TFA New York.

When Teach For America confirmed it would slash 15 percent of its national staff – including its chief diversity officer – in a major shakeup last month, the organization said the cuts would give local offices more independence.

And while it remains unclear exactly how those changes will affect TFA’s operations across the country, the organization’s New York leaders say they are set to change up summer training so that, for the first time, all of the recruits headed into New York City schools in 2017 will first be trained in New York by local staff.

Charissa Fernández, executive director of TFA’s New York office, said the decision to move its intensive five-week summer training – known as “institute” in TFA parlance – back to New York City was partly driven by the successful local training last year of 20 teachers who work in community-based organizations as part of the city’s expansion of pre-kindergarten.

“Educational context changes in every state – now even more so,” Fernández said in an interview this week.

The locally-based training for those outside the early childhood program will begin in the summer of 2017. The new training, Fernández said, will focus specifically on the state’s academic standards, address changes now being made to the standards in New York, and help recruits better understand the communities in which they will work. The training may also include an emphasis on STEM education and involve some of the 1,500 New York-based TFA alumni, Fernández said.

“In order to be culturally responsive at the local level, we really wanted to have that grounding in New York City,” she added.

That shift toward more locally-designed training is part of a small national trend.

Twelve local offices will train their recruits this year in lieu of the national organization, up from nine last year, according to Sharise Johnson, a TFA spokeswoman.

For 11 of the past 14 years, New York recruits have been trained locally, but that training was operated by the national organization. (New York recruits have intermittently been trained in Philadelphia, including this summer.) The main shift is that now, for the first time, the New York staff will design and oversee the training.

Still, it’s not yet clear how significantly the moves will change the training itself, a central part of TFA’s model. Fernández said her office is developing the local training now.

The rhetoric around empowering the local offices comes at a tumultuous moment for the national organization, which has failed to meet its recruiting targets for the past three years and has reduced its staff by almost one-third over the past two fiscal years.

New York reflects some of those recruiting challenges: The organization placed just 230 teachers in local schools last year, a five-year low. Fernández said she didn’t know how many recruits would be placed in New York this coming school year, and the improving economy “continues to be a factor” in lower recruitment numbers.

Fernández emphasized that she is not anticipating staffing cuts locally.

The national organization has long been a lightning rod for critics who worry the organization perpetuates the inequality it seeks to address by putting inexperienced teachers in classrooms dominated by low-income students. And recently, it has attracted a new round of criticism for firing its diversity chief despite consensus among education experts that promoting diversity among public school teachers benefits all students.

Some of those criticisms have been less relevant to TFA’s teaching force as of late in New York, where roughly 60 percent of TFA teachers identify as people of color. By comparison, about 60 percent of city public school teachers are white.

To some observers, the new emphasis on local training makes sense.

Dan Goldhaber, who has studied the relationship between the environments in which teachers are trained and student outcomes, said there is an important “acculturation effect” that TFA could be tapping into.

“It might be greater familiarity with the kind of students you’ll be working with, or with the culture and practices of the school system you’re working in,” said Goldhaber, who directs the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington Bothell.

He cautions that most of the research on teacher training only shows correlational effects on student outcomes, but said TFA could use the shift as a chance to learn more about how its training affects student achievement.

“People are definitely interested in the TFA model,” Goldhaber said. “It really is a golden opportunity.”

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
work.”

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.”