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Future of Schools
Following the ongoing efforts to improve struggling schools.
July 25, 2012
On NY1, "turnaround" survivors discuss the possible aftermath
From left to right, teachers Dan Mejias, Mike McQuillen, and Lori Wheal speak to NY1 host Errol Louis about turnaround at their schools. M.S. 22 Principal Linda Rosenbury is obscured behind Mejias. When three teachers and a city principal sat down with NY1 reporter Errol Louis on Tuesday evening, they had just learned that the city's final chance to "turn around" their schools had fallen short. The decision meant that, contrary to the city's intention, their schools' names won't change. And even if the teachers had been told not to return — none of them had been — they could. It also means that a two-year experiment in using federal funds to fuel extra programs at the struggling schools has almost certainly come to an end. Receiving the funds, called School Improvement Grants, was contingent on turnaround, but an arbitrator concluded that the city's plans violated its contracts with the teachers and principals union. Appearing on Inside City Hall, the teachers — all part of an advocacy group that has clashed with the unions — said picking up the pieces would require more than simply blaming the UFT for suing over turnaround, and one even gave an impassioned defense of the union. The teachers also warned that the schools might actually be in worse shape this fall than before they first received the federal funds in 2010. "Morale just crashed when we got those letters" telling teachers they had to reapply for their jobs, said Lori Wheal, a "master teacher" who was told she could stay on at M.S. 391 but is leaving for the policy arena instead. "We lost several effective educators."
July 24, 2012
Judge ends year's turnaround saga with a fast, firm "no" to city
PHOTO: Caroline BaumanTeachers union attorney Adam Ross and Secretary Michael Mendel talk to reporters after the judge ruled to uphold the arbitration. The Bloomberg administration's Hail Mary effort to shake up the staffs at 24 struggling schools fell short today when a State Supreme Court judge shot down the city's request to move forward. An arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, ruled late last month that the city’s hiring and firing decisions at the schools — key aspects of the Department of Education’s "turnaround" plans — violated the city’s contract with the teachers union. The schools were not closing, Buchheit ruled, so the city could not invoke article 18-D of the contract, which sets out staffing rules for schools that are shut down. In a lawsuit filed quickly afterwards, the city contended that Buchheit had overstepped his bounds. Lobis signaled earlier this month that she thought the city was unlikely to win that argument when she rejected its request to be allowed to continue rehiring and replacing teachers at the schools while she considered its appeal. Today, after listening to city and union lawyers lay out their cases for 45 minutes this afternoon, Lobis retired to her chambers with a warning that she might return with a decision today. Seven minutes later, she emerged to say that she had come to a conclusion: The arbitrator's decision would stand. "I could spend weeks trying to tease out an erudite decision," Lobis said, but she added that all parties sought a speedy resolution and the legal issues at stake were not complicated. The city will appeal Lobis's decision, according to a statement from Michael Cardozo, the city's top lawyer.
July 24, 2012
Before turnaround hearing, unlikely principal comes to city's aid
A screenshot from the online petition linked to in an email urging a State Supreme Court judge to allow the city to "turn around" 24 struggling schools. Twenty-four hours before city and union lawyers were due in court for yet another hearing about turnaround, a Bronx principal launched an email campaign to boost the city's case. Sarah Scrogin, principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future, sent an email titled "Love NY? Fix our schools!" Monday afternoon to a network of "Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers." The email asks recipients to sign on to a petition or forward a letter supporting the city's bid to overhaul 24 schools. That bid was rolled back late last month when an arbitrator ruled that the hiring and firing process being used at the schools violated the city's contract with the teachers and principals unions. Today, the city is asking a State Supreme Court judge to overturn the arbitrator's decision. Scrogin's letter urges the judge, Joan Lobis, to look beyond the legal dispute she is charged with adjudicating. "In the coming weeks, as the judge ponders her final decision and weighs the legal issues before her, we ask her to weigh also the value to which we hold the futures of our city’s children," Scrogin writes in the email, which multiple people forwarded to GothamSchools. "We believe she must want the best possible teachers and schools for them." The petition link takes recipients to a form titled "NYC Signatures July 2012" that asks for a name, email address, school, and borough. The petition does not include the names of people who have signed on. Scrogin said today that she could not comment until she secured permission from the Department of Education to speak to reporters. But as the hearing got underway this afternoon, she distributed a list of 93 signatories by email. The signatories included 19 city principals and 12 city teachers, many from Scrogin's school. They also include dozens of "concerned citizens" and people outside of the city school system, such as the manager of labor relations for the NFL.
July 24, 2012
City and teachers union return to court in turnaround saga today
The city and the teachers union are back in court this afternoon to argue over the fates of 24 so-called turnaround schools. Late last month, an arbitrator found that the city’s hiring and firing decisions at the schools — key aspects of the Department of Education’s turnaround plans — violated the city’s contract with the teachers union. With just weeks to go before the school year starts, the city is rolling back those plans and telling teachers and administrators who had been cut loose how to reclaim their positions, in accordance with the arbitrator's remedy. But the city doesn't want to give up the chance at using the turnaround model. So it is still arguing that the arbitrator overstepped his bounds and asking the State Supreme Court to overturn his decision. Two weeks ago, Judge Joan Lobis rejected the city's request to be allowed to continue rehiring and replacing teachers at the schools while she considers the appeal. At the time, Lobis signaled that she did not think the city would be likely to win the case in the end. That's what a city attorney who specializes in labor relations also told GothamSchools before the first hearing with Lobis.
July 18, 2012
Tempers flare at Dougco board meeting
Factions formed around Dougco's conservative board over vouchers and the role of the teachers' union appear to be hardening.
July 11, 2012
Administrators warn of leadership vacuum at schools in limbo
A day after the city lost its latest bid to move forward with its plans to overhaul the staffs of 24 "turnaround" schools, school leaders say they are sitting on their hands as they await guidance from the Department of Education. Reiterating comments he made during a Monday radio appearance, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today that his goal is for the schools to open smoothly this fall, according to SchoolBook. He also said he would meet with their principals next week. But administrators at the schools today said they had heard nothing concrete. The department has declined to comment on its plans for the schools since a judge ruled on Tuesday that the city would have to reinstate teachers and principals cut loose from the schools while it appeals an arbitrator's ruling blocking the staffing changes. The teachers and principals unions said their members have not gotten any updates on how they can reclaim their jobs at the schools. And administrators at some of the schools say they can't see how the next school year can open smoothly when it's not even clear who is in charge right now. "We'd really love to get back in there and do what we do," said one administrator who was ousted last month but is now entitled to return. "I should be preparing stuff for the year. Seeing what kids didn't graduate, why they didn't; calling up kids who didn't come to summer school; attendance outreach; planning freshman orientation — it's a million things we'd be doing. And I'd be doing regular hirings, because we had a lot of retirements this year." The department's preferred principals were in place at 18 of the 24 schools before the end of the school year, and they cannot be displaced. But at six schools, principals from the 2011-2012 school year can reclaim their jobs under the arbitrator's ruling.
July 11, 2012
Voices: Is Dougco ed war good for kids?
Van Schoales, head of A+ Denver, weighs in on what he sees as a diminishing focus on quality education in Douglas County.
July 6, 2012
Arbitrator: City used "circular reasoning" to justify turnarounds
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's testimony before an arbitrator drove one nail into the coffin of the city's plans to replace or rehire teachers at 24 "turnaround" schools. Last week an arbitrator determined that the city violated the city's contracts with the teachers and principals unions when it moved to replace staff members at the schools. This afternoon the arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, released a detailed explanation of why he ruled the way he did. The city was trying to use hiring procedures set for closing schools and their replacements. But the unions argued that the turnaround plans were "sham closures" that would not result in new schools. Instead, they argued, the city was unfairly using contractual provisions about "excessing" to remove teachers and administrators it deemed unsatisfactory. In upholding the unions' grievance, Buchheit at times turns Bloomberg's and other city officials' words against them. He quotes a 2011 memorandum written by the Department of Education's chief financial officer, which said, "excessing is not a permissible way to deal with unsatisfactory teachers." Yet city officials said they intended to do just that from the start of the turnaround process, Buchheit determined.
July 6, 2012
Schooled in activism, Grover Cleveland grad aims for law school
Grover Cleveland High School student Diana Rodriguez spearheaded student protest against her school's closure. Less than two weeks after graduating from high school, Diana Rodriguez is staying busy. The Queens teenager is up at 6 a.m. to go for a morning run, work her two summer jobs, and take driving lessons a few months before she is set to start college. It’s a heavy workload — but it's not the biggest responsibility the 17-year-old has taken on. This spring, she led classmates at Grover Cleveland High School in a fight for the school's life. The school was one of 33 the city planned to close and reopen using an overhaul process, known as "turnaround," that included changing the school’s name and replacing half of the school staff. Rodriguez was enraged. Already the senior class president, she sprang into action galvanizing her classmates to protest the turnaround plans. “I wouldn't stand for it,” said Rodriguez. “You can’t mess with my education – education is a right.” That was Rodriguez's rallying cry as she joined other students in schools facing closure across the city in a group called Student Activists United. The group turned out students for public hearings, called Panel for Educational Policy members who would vote on the closures, and even held an early-morning rally outside Mayor Bloomberg's Upper East Side home.
July 2, 2012
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.
June 28, 2012
Graduation ceremonies are bittersweet for 'turnaround' schools
State Senator Michael Gianaris speaks at the Long Island City High School graduation ceremony. For two high schools that filled a large auditorium at Queens College yesterday for their graduation ceremonies, the festivities were bittersweet. Long Island City High School and Flushing High School are among 24 city schools graduating their final cohorts before closing and reopening this summer. Students who were enrolled in the schools this year and didn't graduate will continue to attend them. But their schools will have new names and many new teachers, in accordance with the rules of a federal school reform model called turnaround. Earlier this year, the schools had packed their own auditoriums to protest the turnaround plans, which Mayor Bloomberg surprised them by announcing in January. On Wednesday, the room reverberated not with chants but with applause — this time, to honor their newly-minted alumni. Yet the impending closures were not far from the minds of the graduation speakers, a mix of alumni, principals and top students, some who immigrated to the United States shortly before beginning high school. "It is sad to know we are the last graduating class of Long Island City High School, but it is also an honor," Xi Xi Hu, Long Island City High School's valedictorian, said in her speech.
June 21, 2012
Dougco says survey results “inconclusive”
Parents surveyed disagree with Dougco voucher plan but officials say a low response rate renders the results invalid.
June 19, 2012
Remainders: A warning about shared exam scoring landmines
A retired math teacher recalls the furor that ensued after she had to grade English exams. (Pissed Off) Both the state and city teachers…
June 19, 2012
Road to "turnaround" rehiring has been bumpy, teachers say
The hiring process has hit snags at several "turnaround" schools where teachers have been told to reapply for their jobs this year. Staff from many of the 24 schools that the city will close and reopen this year under a reform model called turnaround are complaining they are facing confusion and misinformation over who qualifies to be rehired and what will happen to teachers who are not rehired. At a handful of the schools, interviews were delayed by days because of last-minute administrative changes and unexpected time pressures. And some of the school-based hiring committees are working long hours but still falling behind. Department of Education officials say the rehiring process is underway at all schools and is moving smoothly considering the sheer number of interviews that must be conducted. Any teacher from the schools who applies to stay on is guaranteed an interview, and about 2,600 of them have. They represent 85 percent of the 2,995 teachers currently working in the schools. "All of the committees are up and running," said Marc Sternberg, the deputy chancellor overseeing the turnaround initiative. "Some are ahead of others, and some are getting momentum now. Offers are starting to be made." But teachers at the schools say the interviews and offers are coming only after logistical hangups that complicated an already stressful process in the waning weeks of the school year.
June 18, 2012
More than 3,500 "turnaround" school staffers getting pink slips
Thousands of teachers, administrators, and school aides in the city's 24 "turnaround" schools are getting official notification today that they aren't assured a position next year. The total number of workers at the schools who are being "excessed" — or having their positions eliminated — is 3,671, making this year's citywide tally of displaced teachers larger than in any recent year. The Department of Education released the figures this afternoon but did not share data about excessing taking place at the city's 1,600 other schools. Schools learned that the excessing letters would be distributed today on Friday, and at some schools teachers received the notices while interviewing to retain their jobs. The workers who received the notification include 2,995 people represented by the United Federation of Teachers, mostly classroom teachers; 497 people represented by DC-37, the union that includes school aides and parent coordinators; and 179 members of the principals and administrators union. Typically, schools excess teachers because of budget cuts, enrollment drops, and changes to program offerings that render the positions impossible to fund. But this year, every single person who works at the 24 schools undergoing a federally prescribed turnaround process is being excessed — and virtually every single person is being replaced, either by himself or by another person, during restaffing processes that are already underway. The expansive game of musical chairs is intended to shake up the staffs of struggling schools and make them eligible for a pot of federal funds known as School Improvement Grants. "We think it is an exciting opportunity and moment to infuse new talent into these new schools and produce gains for students," said Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education deputy chancellor supervising the turnaround process.
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