contract sport

Mulgrew mum on negotiations, but offers plenty of praise for city leaders

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew won’t talk about ongoing contract negotiations, but he is more than happy to praise the city officials on the other side of the table.

“We’re doing our work,” Mulgrew said repeatedly. As for the new leadership in city government, he said, “It’s nice to have people who understand education.”

At stake in those negotiations are billions in retroactive pay for teachers and a number of contentious issues like changes to teacher evaluations. In Crown Heights on Wednesday morning to promote a new partnership that will bring free reading glasses to needy students, Mulgrew indicated that the personalities around that negotiating table were meshing in a way they hadn’t in years.

“Moving education forward is something that we now have an opportunity to do because we now have people who are teachers in terms of the [leadership of the] Department of Education. And we have to make schools about education and not about political ideologies or agendas, which is what has happened for the last 12 years,” Mulgrew said, referring to his clashes with the Bloomberg administration.

As students cycled through eye exams and received new prescriptions in an optometry van parked outside P.S. 335, the union president repeated some familiar goals, including making changes to the teacher evaluation system that was rolled out for the first time this year.

“When it came out, we were like, it’s fine,” Mulgrew said of the evaluation system. “But I think with people who understand education sitting at a table, we’ll be able to come up with a system that makes a little bit more sense and is actually about helping the teachers and not about some craziness that a bunch of lawyers have put their fingers all over—all about a compliance mechanism rather than a support system, which it should be.”

The Wednesday event was a rare appearance for Mulgrew, who has kept a low profile over the last few months. As battles over charter school space and pre-kindergarten dominated the news cycle, Mulgrew chimed in only with short statements sent through union representatives, staying far from the center of the disputes.

Now, he’s focused on winning five years worth of raises for his 125,000 members, who have been without a contract since 2009. Mulgrew took over the UFT just months before its contract expired, making this the first contract he’ll have negotiated as union president.

The union also wants to place more than 1,000 teachers who are part of the “absent teacher reserve” pool due to budget cuts, school closures or for disciplinary reasons, into full-time positions.

The union’s goal is to wrap up the contract talks before the end of June so changes can be in effect for the next school year. Those could include changes to school schedules, like adding time to the day or adding minutes dedicated to professional development.

Mulgrew has spent much of his tenure at war with the Bloomberg administration over school closures, charter school co-locations and ill-fated contract talks. Four months after Bloomberg departed office, Mulgrew continued to bring up the union’s tenuous relationship with the city in recent years.

Now, the union president is projecting a much different tone. Mulgrew declined to criticize de Blasio’s singular focus on pre-kindergarten, which some have said has come at the cost of other education initiatives, and offered praise for the chancellor as well.

“It’s very nice to have an elected official make a promise during a campaign and then say, ‘I’m going to get it done,’” he said. “Chancellor [Carmen] Fariña has been doing an immense amount of work and she understands what needs to be done.”

Though Bloomberg is gone, Mulgrew and the union still face resistance from advocacy groups seeking to continue the previous administration’s policies. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis repeated her group’s call to reduce the Absent Teacher Reserve by taking its teachers off the city’s payroll.

“It’s nice to hear that the adults are getting along, but will this lead to better outcomes for kids or will it put 1,000 ineffective teachers back into the classroom?” Sedlis said in a statement. “That’s what really matters.”

Want the latest in New York City education news? Follow Chalkbeat on Facebook or @ChalkbeatNY on Twitter.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”