take your time

New York officials promise to move slowly as they revamp teacher evaluations — again

PHOTO: Monica Disare
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia began outlining a roadmap on Wednesday for how she plans to revamp teacher evaluations and stressed that it’s going to take a long time.

The current evaluation system has been in limbo since 2015, when state policymakers put a four-year freeze on the use of student test scores in teacher ratings. Her pledge to move slowly is an attempt to avoid the battles that erupted between the state and teachers unions when test scores became a more significant part of teacher evaluations three years ago.

On Wednesday, Elia said officials are preparing a survey that will ask teachers across the state what they like in the current teacher evaluation system and what they would like to see changed. The state education department will also solicit input from focus groups that will include teacher representatives, superintendents, and school board members, Elia said during testimony before state lawmakers.

She did not provide a specific timeline for finishing the evaluation overhaul, but stressed that it will be a slow and deliberate process.

“This isn’t going to be a fast process,” Elia said. “Because if you do things too quickly, then you don’t give yourself time to listen.”

Elia’s commitment to take things slow may put her at odds with the state teachers union, whose leader appeared to push for a more aggressive timeline on Wednesday.

“Now is the time to make these changes to the New York State teacher evaluation system,” said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta during the same legislative hearing. “Teacher evaluations should be returned to local control, with no state mandates.”

The teacher evaluation system that New York adopted in 2015 gave greater way to students’ test scores, upsetting many teachers and their union, which argues that the tests are not designed for that purpose. The state’s top education policymakers passed a moratorium on the use of grades 3-8 math and English tests in teacher evaluations until 2019. However, when the moratorium lapses, officials will have to tackle the issue again.

Elia said she hopes the next round of changes results in a rating system that teachers embrace.

“There’s no question teacher evaluation, principal evaluation was a hot spot in New York and we have to address that,” Elia said. “We need to have this be a collaboration with teachers, not having them be something that’s done to teachers.”

Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.

the search

As chancellor search continues, Weingarten dismisses Orlando schools chief as ‘Joel Klein type’

PHOTO: Dr. Barbara Jenkins 2013 Award Video/YouTube
Barbara Jenkins has been floated as a possible candidate for New York City Schools Chancellor.

After several months of searching for a new leader for the nation’s largest school system, Barbara Jenkins, the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Florida, emerged this week as a contender for the job.

City Hall is still courting the Orlando schools chief, according to a source. But there are several big reasons why Jenkins might not be New York City’s next school’s chancellor — as well as some unusual behind-the-scenes discussion that could help draft Jenkins or other out-of-state superintendents.

One is that Jenkins has voiced concerns about taking the job, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the search. Some said she signaled weeks ago that she was not interested.

Another is that she may not have the union support that has proven valuable to Mayor Bill de Blasio. She definitely doesn’t have the support of Randi Weingarten, the influential leader of the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten told Chalkbeat this week that she was “surprised” to hear Jenkins’ name surface, and compared her to leaders of the so-called education reform movement who have had contentious relationships with teacher unions.

I think that Barbara Jenkins is much more in line with the Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee types than she is in line with the Carmen Fariña types,” Weingarten said, comparing the polarizing former schools chiefs of New York City and Washington, D.C. to the city’s current schools chancellor.

Fariña, who has held the top job since 2014 and announced she was stepping down in December, was brought in partly to undo Klein’s policies and has taken a friendly stance toward the city’s United Federation of Teachers. (UFT President Michael Mulgrew declined to talk about discussions he has had with City Hall about Fariña’s successor.)

A third potential issue: compensation. Jenkins made $310,000 in 2017, according to the Orlando Sentinel, while Fariña’s salary is roughly $235,000. A move could mean Jenkins, who is in her late 50s, would have to forfeit some of her future pension, after spending years in the same district, and contend with the high cost of living in New York City.

Those factors could be a problem for many potential candidates, says Kathryn Wylde, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, which serves as the business community’s lobbying group. That’s given rise to conversations about whether the chancellor’s compensation could be supplemented — perhaps by a third party, such as an individual who is interested in education. (The Partnership for New York City is not working to find additional funds, she said.)

“It’s understandable that it would be difficult to attract somebody to the city because of our high costs,” Wylde said. “Perhaps that’s something we ought to be trying to address.”

Still, Jenkins generally fits within the profile de Blasio has sketched out for the next schools chief. She has years of experience running a school system with over 200,000 students, and the district has earned praise under her leadership. If chosen, she would be the first black woman to lead New York City’s school system.

Jenkins and Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to comment.

Patrick Wall contributed reporting.