chancellor chat

New York City schools chief asks principals to ‘take a chance’ on unassigned teachers that she sends them

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged principals in a televised interview Tuesday to keep an open mind as she sends them teachers who lost their previous jobs — though she also vowed to help them get rid of any teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom.

She made the comments during a two-part interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, where she also spoke about an often-overlooked benefit of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s free preschool program, her goal for schools in the “Renewal” program, which infuses struggling schools with extra resources, and what she considers a major cause of school violence.

Here are some highlights:

On the “Absent Teacher Reserve”: Fariña asked principals to “take a chance” on teachers who lost their jobs at other schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to drain the pool of teachers —  known as the “absent teacher reserve” — who lost their permanent jobs for disciplinary or legal reasons, or because their previous positions were eliminated, but who still receive full salaries. To do that, the city is placing those teachers in schools with openings — to the chagrin of critics (including some principals) who worry the city will offload troubled teachers onto needy schools. Fariña urged principals to keep an open mind about the teachers, while also promising to send a “whole squad” to evaluate any who cause problems.

“As a principal, I always had some of these people…I got a few teachers that ended up being really good and one or two that were miserable. And then it was my job to say, ‘OK, not only not for my school, but not for the system as a whole.’

And that’s what we’re asking principals to do, take a chance on some of these [ATR teachers] who may be very good [but] for any number of reasons they’re not in their schools. But if there’s one who you really feel should not be in any school — not just in your school — then we’ll support you.”

On a fatal school stabbing: She defended her department and the leaders of a Bronx school where two students were recently stabbed, saying no red flags were “apparent.”

At the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation last month, a student stabbed two of his classmates, killing one and wounding the other. After the incident, reports emerged that the school struggled with bullying and an unsafe environment. When asked about whether the school should have reacted sooner to “red flags,” Fariña suggested the warning signs were not clear.

“This is one of those cases where, you know, in hindsight, could you have done something differently? I still feel…I’ve been to that school four times already and I plan on going back more often. I don’t think that that was something that was really apparent. I mean, there’s a lot of issues that are still under investigation, so I don’t think that whatever is in the press is necessarily the whole story.”

On metal detectors: She walked a fine line, saying she doesn’t think they solve school violence — but she also doesn’t plan to get rid of them.

Since the stabbing, some advocates have called for more metal detectors in schools. Fariña rejected that as a solution to school violence, but also signaled that she is in no hurry to get rid of existing metal detectors.

“I don’t think metal detectors are the answer. We’re not taking them out of our schools. We have them, we’ll keep them there. But as we look at the numbers, where might we want them? There are schools that don’t want them anymore. So we look at the statistics to get that done.”

On mental health: She cited mental health as a major problem among school children — and said it can lead to school violence.

Under First Lady Chirlane McCray, the city has made improving mental health care a priority and that effort has included extra support in schools. Fariña suggested that more guidance counselors or teacher training could help students overcome any violent impulses.

“When you start looking at our kids, in second grade, that are depressed, that are anxious. I mean, it’s become a national phenomenon. How do we change that so kids do not want to either be violent or do violence to themselves?”

On universal pre-K: She noted that free preschool doesn’t just benefit kids — it also saves parents money and lets them go to work.

De Blasio’s pre-kindergarten program has been widely hailed as a success; now, he’s pushing to extend it to younger children. Though one goal of early learning is to prepare students for elementary school, Fariña suggested the positive outcomes extend to adults too.

“The most important thing that was a surprise is how much parents are benefiting in ways we didn’t expect. For example, we’re getting a lot of remarks from parents who were able to go back to work full-time. They were able to raise their family’s economic status.”

On struggling schools: She drew a line in the sand, saying schools that fall far below a target could be shuttered.

Under federal law, the state must intervene in high schools whose graduation rates sink below 67 percent. Fariña said schools in the city’s Renewal program are being held to that standard and that she will consider closing them if they fall too far behind. That’s setting a high bar for the city’s most troubled schools, many of which have graduation rates far below that level.

“Every school has a set of benchmarks. For example, in the high schools you need to graduate at least 67 percent of your students. How far away you are from the benchmark, we give you a certain amount of time. … If you’re too far low, we close.”

Interview

McQueen: Working with Haslam on education was ‘a perfect match’ — and it’s time to move on

PHOTO: TN.gov
Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen meet with members of his teachers advisory group in 2015.

When Gov. Bill Haslam recruited Candice McQueen to take the helm of Tennessee’s education department in 2015, he wanted someone close to the classroom who shared his passion for preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow.

Four years later, the former teacher and university dean calls their work together “a perfect match” and her job as education commissioner “the honor of a lifetime.” But she says it’s also time to transition to a new challenge as Haslam’s eight-year administration comes to an end.

In January, McQueen will become CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a nonprofit organization that works to attract, develop, and retain high-quality educators.

Haslam announced her impending departure on Thursday from a job that has elevated McQueen as a national voice on public education, whether testifying before Congress about Tennessee’s work under a 2015 federal education law or serving on the boards of national organizations seeking to improve student achievement.

The announcement ended months of speculation about whether the 44-year-old McQueen would stay on in Gov.-elect Bill Lee’s administration, either as an interim chief or permanently (although headaches from the state’s testing program last spring decreased the likelihood of the latter).

McQueen said the institute was among a number of organizations that approached her this year as Haslam’s administration was winding down.

“I had a conversation with Gov. Haslam some time back to let him know that I was most likely going to be making a decision about one of these opportunities,” she told Chalkbeat in an interview following the announcement.

Asked whether she had entertained a role in the next administration, McQueen said her focus had been on her current commitment.

“When I came into this role, I came to work with and for Gov. Haslam. I always felt that four years was the right time period for me to accomplish as much as I could, and that’s what I’ve done. It’s been remarkable to work with a governor who has been so intentionally focused on improving education on the K-12 and higher education side and be able to connect the dots between them.

“It was a perfect match in terms of vision and what we wanted to accomplish,” she added.

"I always felt that four years was the right time period for me to accomplish as much as I could, and that’s what I’ve done."Candice McQueen

Under McQueen’s tenure, Tennessee has notched a record-high graduation rate of 89 percent and its best average ACT score in history at 20.2 out of a possible 36, compared to the national average of 20.8. The state has risen steadily in national rankings on the Nation’s Report Card and pioneered closely watched reforms aimed at improving teacher effectiveness.

McQueen called her new job with the teaching institute an “extraordinary opportunity that I felt was a great fit” because of its focus on supporting, leading, and compensating teachers.

“It’s work that I believe is the heart and soul of student improvement,” she said, citing research that high-quality teaching is the No. 1 factor in helping students grow academically.

At the institute, she’ll be able to leverage nationally the work that she’s championed in Tennessee. The group’s goal is to ensure that a skilled, motivated, and competitively compensated teacher is in every classroom in America.

“Coming in as a CEO of an organization that breathes this work around human capital is the work I want to be part of going forward,” she said. “And CEO roles of large national nonprofits don’t come around every day.”

A Tennessee native, McQueen will work from Nashville under her agreement with the institute.

In announcing her hiring, Chairman Lowell Milken said the organization will open a Nashville office, with much of its teacher support work moving from its current base in Phoenix, Arizona.

McQueen will succeed Gary Stark, who stepped down over the summer after a decade with the organization.

Exiting

Tennessee schools chief Candice McQueen leaving for job at national education nonprofit

PHOTO: TN.Gov

Tennessee’s education chief is leaving state government to lead a nonprofit organization focused on attracting, developing, and keeping high-quality educators.

Candice McQueen, 44, will step down in early January to become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

Gov. Bill Haslam, whose administration will end on Jan. 19, announced the impending departure of his education commissioner on Thursday.

He plans to name an interim commissioner, according to an email from McQueen to her staff at the education department.

“While I am excited about this new opportunity, it is hard to leave this team,” she wrote. “You are laser-focused on doing the right thing for Tennessee’s students every single day – and I take heart in knowing you will continue this good work in the months and years to come. I look forward to continuing to support your work even as I move into this new role with NIET.”

A former teacher and university dean, McQueen has been one of Haslam’s highest-profile cabinet members since joining the administration in 2015 to replace Kevin Huffman, a lawyer who was an executive at Teach For America.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy.

But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Haslam, who has consistently praised McQueen’s leadership throughout the rocky testing ride, said Tennessee’s education system has improved under her watch.

“Candice has worked relentlessly since day one for Tennessee’s students and teachers, and under her leadership, Tennessee earned its first ‘A’ rating for the standards and the rigor of the state’s assessment after receiving an ‘F’ rating a decade ago,” Haslam said in a statement. “Candice has raised the bar for both teachers and students across the state, enabling them to rise to their greatest potential. I am grateful for her service.”

McQueen said being education commissioner has been “the honor of a lifetime” and that her new job will allow her to “continue to be an advocate for Tennessee’s teachers and work to make sure every child is in a class led by an excellent teacher every day.”

At the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, she’ll work with states, districts, and schools to improve the effectiveness of teachers and will operate out of the organization’s new office in Nashville. The institute’s work impacts more than 250,000 educators and 2.5 million students.

“Candice McQueen understands that highly effective teachers can truly transform the lives of our children, our classrooms, our communities and our futures,” said Lowell Milken, chairman of the institute, which has existing offices in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica, Calif.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, McQueen said numerous organizations had approached her about jobs this year as Tennessee prepared to transition to a new administration under Gov.-elect Bill Lee. She called leading the institute “an extraordinary opportunity that I felt was a great fit” because of its focus on supporting, leading, and compensating teachers.

“It’s work that I believe is the heart and soul of student improvement,” she said.

McQueen’s entire career has focused on strengthening teacher effectiveness and support systems for teachers. Before joining Haslam’s administration, the Tennessee native was an award-winning teacher; then faculty member, department chair, and dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education in Nashville. As dean from 2008 to 2015, Lipscomb became one of the highest-rated teacher preparation programs in Tennessee and the nation. There, McQueen also doubled the size and reach of the college’s graduate programs with new master’s degrees and certificates, the university’s first doctoral program, and additional online and off-campus offerings.

As Haslam’s education commissioner the last four years, McQueen stayed the course on Tennessee’s 2010 overhaul of K-12 education, which was highlighted by raising academic standards; measuring student improvement through testing; and holding students, teachers, schools, and districts accountable for the results.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been commissioner of education for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam since 2015.

One of the plan’s most controversial components was teacher evaluations that are tied to student growth on state tests — a strategy that McQueen has stood by and credited in part for Tennessee’s gains on national tests.

Since 2011, Tennessee has seen record-high graduation rates, college-going rates, and ACT scores and steadily moved up in state rankings on the Nation’s Report Card.

Several new studies say Tennessee teachers are getting better under the evaluation system, although other research paints a less encouraging picture.

Her choice to lead the national teaching institute quickly garnered praise from education leaders across the country.

“The students of Tennessee have benefited from Candice McQueen’s leadership, including bold efforts to ensure students have access to advanced career pathways to lead to success in college and careers, and a solid foundation in reading,” said Carissa Moffat Miller, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Louisiana Education Superintendent John White said McQueen brings ideal skills to her new job.

“She is not just a veteran educator who has worked in higher education and K-12 education alike, but she is also a visionary leader with a unique understanding of both quality classroom teaching and the systems necessary to make quality teaching possible for millions of students,” White said.

Read more reaction to the news of McQueen’s planned exit.