ATR Exemption

Fariña: Low-performing ‘Renewal’ schools won’t be assigned educators from the Absent Teacher Reserve

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
The group StudentsFirstNY staged a rally this summer to protest the city's plan to place educators in the Absent Teacher Research in schools with job openings.

When the city begins placing teachers without permanent positions in schools next week, there’s one place it won’t send them: low-performing schools in its “Renewal” turnaround program.

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said on Thursday that the education department will not assign teachers from the controversial Absent Teacher Reserve to any of the 78 schools in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s high-profile Renewal program, which is intended to revamp struggling schools. The announcement seems to address some critics’ concern that those high-needs schools would be saddled with teachers that other principals had declined to hire.

Fariña also announced that no teachers in the reserve with a record of disciplinary problems will be placed in any schools.

“We are not putting people who have a record of not behaving in any school,” she told reporters during an unrelated press conference. “We are also very clearly asking everybody to be vetted by the principal.”

An education department spokesman later added that the department has “full discretion” to decide where to send teachers in the reserve, and that decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

The reserve, commonly known as the ATR, is a pool of educators who don’t hold permanent positions because they face disciplinary or legal issues, or because their school declined in enrollment or closed.

Educators in the reserve typically serve as roving substitutes. But education department officials recently announced they would begin filling school positions that are vacant as of Oct. 15 with educators from the group — potentially even over the objections of principals. The assignments will last through the school year, and would become permanent if the teacher earns a positive evaluation.

Critics say the city’s plan will put sub-par teachers in the neediest schools, since those are also typically the hardest to staff.

Two weeks after the school year began, a Chalkbeat review of school vacancies revealed that four out of five school districts with the most postings were in the Bronx. At the same time, according to city figures, teachers from the reserve are typically rated less effective than the full body of teachers: Only 74 percent of teachers in the ATR received positive ratings in 2015-16, compared to 93 percent of all city teachers.

While the city tried to reassure parents and advocates that it will use “discretion” when placing teachers from the reserve, the chancellor’s comments went a step further. In an email, the department spokesman, Will Mantell, wrote that the chancellor’s comments were “further clarifications” of the city’s policy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that there are “very good teachers” within the ATR. He has pledged to cut the pool in half from more than 800 educators, which costs the city more than $150 million a year.

“We believe that there is now a real process in place to find the right placement for someone in that ATR pool, with principals who are ready to take the talented folks,” de Blasio said. “And if they find in some cases someone is not up to the challenge, they’re ready to act on that and we can work to move that person out of the system.”

This is not the first time the city has made a special exception for schools in de Blasio’s signature school-improvement program. The education department also reduced the number of hard-to-serve latecomer students that it sent Renewal schools, and gave them extra time to meet performance goals.

School deserts

New study shows just how hard it is to find a decent public school in Detroit — especially in 10 city neighborhoods

An alarming new study shows just how difficult it is to find a quality school in the city of Detroit — especially for families that live in certain neighborhoods.

The study from the nonprofit research organization IFF identified ten city neighborhoods where it’s extremely difficult to find a seat in a quality school.

Those neighborhoods are home to 30,000 children, but had just eight “performing” schools. The study defined them using the color-coded school ratings that state education officials assigned for the 2015-16 school year based primarily on test scores.  

That doesn’t mean Detroit doesn’t have enough schools. In fact, the study found that many of the city’s schools are half empty. The main Detroit district had physical space for more than  80,000 students in the 2015-16 school year but served fewer than 45,000 kids that year.

Some Detroit families travel long distances — at great personal sacrifice — to find better schools but even families with the means to travel can have difficulty finding a spot in a decent school.

The study found that the vast majority of Detroit children — 70,000 of the 85,000 Detroit children who attend public school in the city — are in schools that don’t meet the state’s criteria for performance.

“This report is not about criticizing our public schools without offering a path forward,” said Chris Uhl, IFF’s executive director in a press release. The purpose, he said, “is to give everyone with a stake in improving Detroit’s education system — the district, charter schools and their authorizers, the city, foundations, and, of course, our families — the neighborhood-by-neighborhood data they need to work together to find shared solutions.”

The study includes an online tool that allows Detroiters to see which neighborhoods have performing schools as well as the conditions of those schools, and the basic demographics of the students who attend them.

Click here to use that tool — and scroll down to read the full report below.

How I Lead

When this Colorado principal learned about a student’s tough home life, she put him to work at school

Karen Shaw, principal of Columbia Elementary School, in Colorado Springs District 11.

Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here and pieces in our sister series “How I Teach” here.

After a student’s mother used an expletive to describe her son, Karen Shaw decided to act.

The principal of Colombia Elementary School in Colorado Springs thought that giving the boy “jobs” might help him succeed. So Shaw tapped him to become a daily helper in the library and later in a kindergarten class — being careful to put him around adults he liked and trusted.

Shaw talked to Chalkbeat about how that experience changed her perspective, why teacher evaluations sometimes go awry and how poverty affects the school.

Shaw was the 2016 National Distinguished Principal of the Year for Colorado. The award is sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?
My first job in education was teaching second grade in Great Falls, Montana. My interest in education was sparked when I was in high school. I had the opportunity to teach vacation Bible school at our church. I really enjoyed working with the kids in my class. The rest is history.

Fill in the blank. My day at school isn’t complete unless I __________. Why?
Visit every classroom. The success of every student and staff member is my number one priority. At Columbia, “All means all!”

How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?
Having been at Columbia for the past eight years really puts me ahead of the game when it comes to getting to know the kids. We have weekly data meetings with either primary or intermediate teachers. I have my own system that I keep up to date with student data, just like the teachers. This helps me track how kids are learning and growing academically. Being visible in classrooms and other areas of the school is another way to get to know students. I supervise the fourth- and fifth-graders daily at lunch as well as work with my own intervention groups.

Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?
On two occasions, I had teachers who were new to the profession. Both believed they already knew everything. I would show them data that documented kids weren’t learning. We would visit highly effective classrooms highlighting more efficient ways for students to learn and high standards for behavior. I would provide multiple levels of coaching from the building level and district level. These teachers didn’t want to take feedback to improve.

Even after 20- some years in education, I believe none of us have arrived. We can always learn ways to do things better.

What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?
Five years after being at Columbia we were named one of Colorado’s five 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools. This was a true team effort. Columbia was recognized based on student achievement growth over that five-year period. I was so proud of our staff, students and families. Being Colorado’s 2016 National Distinguished Principal was pretty awesome as well! I still can’t believe that was me!

How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?
I speak to all involved to hear all sides of the story and proceed with an appropriate resolution. My favorite resolution is when there is a natural consequence. I also work hard to build relationships with our students. It is always my hope that when a student has made a mistake that disappointing me is one of the biggest consequences.

What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is working with reluctant staff members. When there isn’t an innate desire to grow and improve, it is very difficult to impact change.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
We have a student who is in his second year with us at Columbia. When our social worker first met his mom she was told by the mom that the boy is a little sh**. Knowing that is what his mom shared with the school, I knew I would have to take a different approach with him. So I quickly “employed” him with a caring adult at our school. Our library technology educator gave him a job in the library. My purpose in doing this is to build a relationship with an adult in our school. The student gets to participate in the job regardless of behavior.

When there is a discipline problem, I have the student’s “supervisor” help me work with the child to reflect on the behavior and talk about different choices. This year I have him “employed” as a kindergarten helper for 15 minutes a day with his favorite person in our school, Ms. Rene. Ms. Rene is always positive with him and happy to work with him. I hope this little intervention will help change his life.

What issue in the education policy realm is having a big impact on your school right now? How are you addressing it?

Families in poverty. The RJ Montgomery Center for homeless families is in our school boundaries. We assess students the first day that they come to our school and use the data to put students in appropriate math and reading intervention groups. This year we offer yoga classes to all kindergarten through fifth grade students once or twice a week. We use our district funds and federal funds for low-income students in creative ways to have the most impact on our students’ academic and social emotional wellbeing.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

What’s the best advice you ever received?
“When you know better, you do better”