Newtown High School

New York

Few hard details about 24 schools as city prepares legal action

Mayor Bloomberg speaks at a press conference this afternoon in Union Square. The city canceled meetings with the teachers and principals unions today as its lawyers prepare to seek a restraining order against a ruling that reverses thousands of hiring decisions at 24 struggling schools. Both the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators planned to meet with city officials this afternoon to figure out what would come next for the schools, which had been slated to undergo an overhaul process called "turnaround." The process involved radically shaking up the schools' staffs, which total more than 3,500 people. But the arbitrator's ruling undid all of the changes. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the meeting was already on his agenda by Friday afternoon, just hours after the arbitrator ruled that the city's staffing plans for the schools violated its contracts with the unions. A main agenda item would have been figuring out a mechanism for staff members who were not rehired at the schools to reclaim their positions. Another issue, Mulgrew said on Friday, was whether the city and unions might instead try to hash out a teacher evaluation agreement for the 24 schools so they could undergo less aggressive overhaul processes and still qualify for federal funding. But this morning, the city told the unions that the meetings were off. Mayor Bloomberg explained this afternoon that he thinks the city should not have to abide by the arbitrator's ruling until the arbitrator explains his reasoning.
New York

Pep-rally tone but many worries at Queens turnaround hearings

Students dressed in blue and white, Long Island City High School's colors, chant at the school's closure hearing Tuesday. The feeling at two Queens high schools Tuesday evening was as much pep rally as protest during public hearings about the city's plans to close the schools in June. The city wants to close and reopen the schools, Long Island City High School and Newtown High School, under the federally prescribed reform process known as "turnaround." The process would require many teachers to be replaced, a prospect that students said has induced anxiety about what classes and clubs would be offered next year. Students and teachers said unique elective and extracurricular options that currently exist — including boys gymnastics, robotics, and guitar — are a large part of what makes the schools special. They urged the Department of Education to preserve those features and revert to other improvement plans that would cause less disruption. At a third school whose turnaround hearing took place last night, John Dewey High School, students and teachers have been mounting a vigorous defense since January, when the turnaround plans were announced. The three schools are among 26 whose turnaround proposals are likely to be approved when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on them next week. Newtown High School The crowd at Newtown gave forth whoops and cheers for every teacher who spoke, for every mention of the school’s winning robotics team, and for every nod to longstanding principal – and Newtown alum – John Ficalora. But before there was cheer, there was tension when a top Department of Education official, Deputy Chancellor David Weiner, had not shown up 20 minutes after the meeting was supposed to begin. At 6:20 p.m., with Weiner an estimated 20 minutes away, Jesse Mojica, the Department of Education’s executive director for Family and Community Engagement, tried to start the meeting without him.
New York

Details emerging about turnaround schools' leadership, hiring

More details are emerging about how "turnaround" is proceeding at 26 schools still slated to undergo the controversial overhaul process. For a month, the department has been informing principals of some of the schools that they would be removed at the end of the school year or even sooner. Now their replacements are making their first appearances at the schools, and teachers are starting to learn about the schedule for the rehiring process that could cost up to half of them their positions. Teachers at Newtown High School found out this week that their longtime principal, John Ficalora, would be replaced by Marisol Bradbury. Bradbury has been working in school support at the Department of Education for the last several years but led a small high school in Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant Preparatory High School, before that. A proposed principal for the school that would replace Long Island City High School toured the building yesterday with the superintendent, according to teachers there. The city's choice to take over is Vivian Selenikas, Long Island City's current network leader. Selenikas led the High School for Arts and Business in Queens from 2003 to 2007 and will replace Maria Mamo-Vacacela, who does not actually have to be removed under turnaround rules. And at Flushing High School, teachers and families have been invited to a "meet and greet" with Magdalen Radovich on April 25, the day before the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the turnaround plans. Radovich is currently an assistant principal at Queens Vocational Career and Technical High School. The city decided not use turnaround at Queens Vocational, where a residency program has been training teachers to work in turnaround schools.
New York

Fearing turnaround, Queens schools seek borough prez's help

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, held a hearing Monday night for families and teachers at the eight would-be turnaround schools in Queens. Dozens of teachers, parents, students, and at least one principal from the eight Queens schools facing "turnaround" say they have brought their concerns to district superintendents and other Department of Education officials this month to no effect. On Monday evening, they found a more sympathetic audience: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who vowed to push back against the city's plans to close the schools. Marshall's uncharacteristically aggressive promise came at a meeting at Queens Borough Hall that her office organized about the city's plan to "turn around" 33 struggling schools. Under the plan, which Mayor Bloomberg announced last month as a way to secure federal funding, the schools would close and reopen this summer with new names and at least half their staffs replaced. Marshall sat before a standing-room-only crowd with Dmytro Fedkowskyj, her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, the citywide school board that decides the fate of schools proposed for closure. As a panel member, Fedkowskyj has emerged as a frequent critic of the mayor's school policies, signaling Marshall's endorsement, but she has typically been soft-spoken on education issues. That was not the case on Monday. Marshall often clapped and cheered as she listened to dozens of teachers and families defend their schools. Occasionally she even interjected to describe how her respect for teachers developed over years of working as an early childhood educator.
New York

City, nonprofits at odds over legal liability at 14 restart schools

A dispute over who would take the fall if something goes wrong inside struggling schools is delaying a federally funded turnaround effort that had already gotten off to a slow start. As part of its application to secure school improvement grants, the city agreed to hand over operations to independent education organizations at 14 of its lowest-performing schools through a process called "restart." The Department of Education selected six nonprofits to take over the reins at those schools, awarding them more than $17 million altogether. But four months after the groups started working in the schools, the money remains in the city coffers. The sticking point is that city lawyers want the groups, known as educational partnership organizations, to cover their own legal costs for any litigation brought by teachers, principals, staff or students in the schools they’re working in. The proposition is controversial because the groups are replacing an authority figure — the superintendent — who does not actually carry any of the liability costs. The DOE is effectively an insurance carrier for superintendents, so when a lawsuit challenges, for example, a teacher rating that the superintendent signed off on, the DOE bears the legal costs. The EPOs said they assumed they would have the same protection against legal liability, known as indemnification, because the state's regulations mandate that they adopt all of the roles and responsibilities of each school's superintendent. But according to several EPO directors, the city's initial contract language treats them like vendors providing services to the schools, not managing everything from hiring to budgeting to discipline. “It’s been several months of frustration over what we see as a fairly straightforward issue,” said a program director from one of the EPOs. “We feel we should be covered to the same extent that a superintendent would be covered in the case of a lawsuit.”
New York

DOE moves monthly school board meeting to central Queens

New York

Teachers in ATR pool get first temporary assignment of many

The Department of Education gave out temporary assignments yesterday to nearly 2,000 teachers who are on the city payroll but who do not have permanent jobs in schools. That didn't stop dozens of teachers from lining up outside the Brooklyn Museum yesterday afternoon for one of the last hiring fairs before school starts next week. Members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers whose positions have been cut, mostly due to budget cuts or school closures, received special invitations to the job fair from the DOE, encouraging them to be "proactive" in their job search. If those teachers are not offered jobs this week, they will be asked to rotate between different schools on a weekly basis as substitute teachers, according to an arrangement made by the teachers union and the DOE earlier this summer to avoid teacher layoffs. In previous years, ATRs were typically assigned to one school for the entire year to cover for absent teachers. There were 1,940 teachers in the ATR pool as of Aug. 19. Typically, the pool shrinks in the first weeks of the school year as principals hasten to fill open positions. Those who logged into the job portal for excessed teachers yesterday morning found information on what schools to report to in September. English teacher Jerome Madramootoo, who was excessed after the city began phasing out Jamaica High School in June, said he was assigned to work at Newtown High School in Queens next month, but given no specific information about what he would be doing there.