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June 7, 2011
Meeting with parents, Walcott gets feedback and asks for more
Chancellor Dennis Walcott met with parent coordinators and leaders of Parent Teacher Associations yesterday. Chancellor Dennis Walcott met the parents last night at a panel session with PTA leaders and parent coordinators that gave him a chance to demonstrate his oft-stated commitment to community outreach. Walcott also previewed a new survey, called the Chancellor's Family Feedback Form, that he said will be released later this month. A flier handed out to parents describes the survey as an opportunity to "Tell us what information about your child is important to you and how you'd like to get it." The flier advertises a web site for the survey, FamilyFeedback.org, which is not yet live. Asked for more detailed information, a Department of Education spokeswoman said that the survey is still being developed. The announcement came as several attendees complained to Walcott about the challenges of getting a response from school officials. "What resources do parents have when principals don't respond?" one woman said. “What’s the chain of command here if we have a problem?” asked another attendee.
June 3, 2011
In court, UFT and NAACP ask for immediate halt to closure plans
UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks at an NAACP rally Friday morning. The organizations are the primary plaintiffs on a lawsuit against the Department of Education. Seeking to force an immediately halt to the city's plans to close 22 schools and co-locate another 19 charter schools, the teachers union and the NAACP asked for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education on Thursday. The court request would force the plans to end whether or not a judge rules in favor of the original lawsuit challenging the city's plans. That lawsuit, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP last month, argues that the closures and co-locations create an unequal allocation of resources. City school officials immediately criticized the attempted restraining order, describing a colliding impact that they said would target thousands of high school students. Last year, when another lawsuit by the teachers union and the NAACP forced the city to reverse its plans to close struggling schools, the city delayed matching students to high schools until the outcome of the suit was clear. This year, the city has already matched students to high schools. It's not obvious what would happen to re-match students to closing high schools, but school officials said the process would be chaotic. “It would throw the high school admissions process into disarray,” a Department of Education official said, speaking on background.
June 1, 2011
Walcott defends budget against fierce council opposition
Underscored by an intervention from the council’s top budget broker, education committee members rang a unified tone at their hearing today, telling schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott they won’t support his final budget if a plan to eliminate thousands of teaching positions isn't reversed. Sources and council members said Mayor Bloomberg's current budget proposal would not have enough votes to pass at the end of the month because of the layoffs. The city has maintained the layoffs are necessary to eliminate a $350 million education deficit. "I just don't see how I would vote for a budget that lays off 4000 teachers," said Brad Lander, of Park Slope, echoing a sentiment shared by several other members. The chorus of opposition started an hour before the hearing, when no less than 15 council members from the committee joined protesters on City Hall steps to punctuate their opposition to the cuts. Walcott repeatedly defended the budget as members challenged ballooning contract costs and bureaucratic waste. They said that curbing those expenses could make up the difference to save teaching jobs.
May 31, 2011
Layoffs to take center stage at tomorrow's City Council hearing
Chancellor Dennis Walcott will take the hotseat tomorrow morning before a City Council whose members are growing increasingly restive about the city's proposed teacher layoffs. According to the city's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the department is $350 million short of being able to fund its teaching spots. Mayor Bloomberg is pushing to close that gap by eliminating more than 6,000 teaching spots, 4,100 by layoffs. Insiders say council members are likely to grill Walcott on why the city's layoff estimates haven't wavered, despite two changes in chancellors since Bloomberg first unveiled them in November. They are also likely to demand why the city didn't cut other parts of the department's budget that doesn't directly affect the classroom, such as transportation and special education, both of which are projected to see a big spending boost next year. Many council members have said they don't think layoffs are necessary to balance the city's budget, and a few say they won't vote for a budget that includes layoffs. Robert Jackson, chair of the council's education committee, is among the elected officials set to appear at a rally against the layoffs proposal an hour before the hearing's 10 a.m. start. He'll be joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has been lobbying against the proposed layoffs on his own; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who advocates cutting contract spending to boost the staff budget; and other officials. But most council members haven't stated where they stand so clearly. Tomorrow's hearing is a chance for them to signal their intentions, offer suggestions for alternative cuts, and construct a roadmap for a month of political jockeying over the city's spending plans.
May 23, 2011
NYC teacher discipline model praised, but Walcott seeks change
The city needs changes in state law to speed and ease teacher firing procedures, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told members of the State Senate in Albany today. He asked legislators to change who judges teacher discipline cases and also the legal standard those cases must meet. Yet the city’s rules are actually the toughest in the state and in many ways are a model for reform, state and union officials told the senators during a hearing on the state’s 3020-a process, the legal process that governs the discipline of tenured teachers. Districts that want to terminate a tenured teacher must prove their case in a 3020-a hearing. The hearings process has long been seen as unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive. Statewide, cases routinely take as long as two years to be resolved and some principals choose not to bring cases against teachers rather than have to take on the long and burdensome 3020-a process, senators said. “I really haven’t met anyone who thinks it's going swimmingly,” said State Sen. John Flanagan, who convened the hearing. Until recently, New York City was a case study for how 3020-a hearings could drag on. By last summer, the city was paying more than 700 teachers under investigation to report each day to “rubber rooms.” But after Mayor Bloomberg turned his attention to the rubber rooms, the city and teachers union reached an agreement to close them by speeding up the hearing schedule, paying neutral arbitrators to work more days, and rotating cases randomly among the arbitrators. The backlog was cleared of all but 16 cases in just four months, by the end of 2010, and the accelerated timeline remains in place.
May 23, 2011
In Washington Heights, a basic education on charter schools
Last December, Community Board 12’s executive committee was discussing charter schools when committee members realized something: There were almost as many different perceptions of charter schools as there were people in the room. This epiphany, recalled board chair Pamela Palanque-North, was the inspiration for a forum the board held Saturday to give Washington Heights residents the basic facts about charter schools. “This is an opportunity for us to have something called an educational intervention,” Palanque-North said in her opening remarks at the forum, titled “Our Children, Our Choices: An Informative Discussion on Public and Charter School Options." About 35 neighborhood residents attended the event, which was organized by the board's youth and education committee and translated live into Spanish. The panel included charter school advocates and also critics, such as sociologist Pedro Noguera and the public school teacher who directed a new movie that takes aim at the idea that charter schools can fix all educational ills. But perhaps as notable as who sat on the panel was who did not: a representative from the city Department of Education. Community Board 12 had advertised that Chancellor Dennis Walcott would speak on the morning's first panel, although DOE officials said Walcott had never agreed to appear.
May 19, 2011
P.S. 9 among six schools to start sharing space with charters
Parents supporting P.S. 9 and Brooklyn East Collegiate at last night's PEP meeting A contentious plan to move a charter middle school into Brooklyn's P.S. 9 was one of six co-locations approved at last night's school board meeting. P.S. 9 parents came to the Panel for Educational Policy meeting with a plan of attack against the city’s proposal to move Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School into the building. One by one, parents took their allotted time to point out specific aspects of the plan that they said were impractical for both schools. They also drew attention to P.S. 9's own bid to expand into a middle school. Their expansion plan, however, was not up for consideration and the panel, which has never rejected a co-location proposal, voted to move forward with the space-sharing plan. Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education's deputy chancellor for portfolio planning, argued that Uncommon Schools, the charter organization that runs Brooklyn East Collegiate, has a strong record with middle schools.
May 18, 2011
Teachers union lawsuit takes aim at 22 school closures
For the second time in two years, the city teachers union is suing to stop the Bloomberg administration from closing schools and opening new ones in their place. The union's lawsuit, which it filed along with the NAACP and a host of elected officials and parents, challenges plans to close 22 of the 26 schools that education officials hope to phase out this year. Last year, the union successfully stopped the city from closing 19 schools by persuading a State Supreme Court judge that the closures violated various requirements in the state's education law. These ranged from not following the law about public notification of hearing dates to failing to failing to map out the predicted impact of school closures. This year, the city took pains to follow public notification rules, beginning the process earlier in the year, and by last month, 26 schools had ended up on the chopping block. Perhaps as a result, the United Federation of Teachers' argument against closures this year is broader and more complicated. And unlike last year, the union is also seeking to prevent charter schools from moving into public school buildings, charging that the city did not prove the co-locations would be equitable. “The department continues to insist that phase-outs and closures of schools and co-locating untested schools is the answer, while depriving the remaining students in those designated, 22 schools of the resources to succeed academically,” said Kenneth Cohen of the NAACP at a press conference this morning. Chancellor Dennis Walcott — who said he learned about the suit not from UFT President Michael Mulgrew but from a reporter this morning — said he was "saddened" by the suit. As deputy mayor, Walcott decried the NAACP last year for its involvement in the school closure lawsuit because he said the group prevented the city from improving school choices. "We totally disagree with the union," Walcott said. "We have met the letter of the law and we will continue to meet the letter of the law as far as these schools are concerned."
May 17, 2011
Elimination of January Regents exams has principals fretting
A change in the state's testing program meant to close an $8 million budget gap could have far-reaching consequences for city students and schools, principals say. The Board of Regents voted yesterday to do away with the January administration of the state exams required for high school graduation. The tests will still be given in June and August. City school officials criticized the change, which had principals across the city lighting up their colleagues' e-mail inboxes with protests of the change. "The state shares our belief in high standards that prepare students for college — so it is somewhat disheartening that the Regents would make a decision that undermines the hopes of high school students who take courses and exams to graduate mid-year," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. In 2010, about 360 students used January exams to graduate midyear, out of about 3,800 total midyear graduates, according to Matthew Mittenthal, a Department of Education spokesman. Under the new system, those students would have had to wait until June to try to graduate. But principals say those figures underestimate the effects of the change. Many students use the January dates to increase the number of times they take the Regents exams, which in turns increases their chances of passing in the long term. Students also use the January administration to spread out their tests and avoid burnout.
May 11, 2011
After massive leadership turnover, new deputies are named
A month after taking over a Department of Education hemorrhaging its leadership, Chancellor Dennis Walcott today announced a slew of high-level appointments. For two deputy chancellor slots, Walcott turned to veteran educators who made their careers in the city schools. David Weiner, a one-time city principal who is currently Philadelphia's chief accountability officer, will become deputy chancellor for talent, labor, and innovation. In that position, he will manage hot-button issues including labor relations and the city's Innovation Zone of schools experimenting with technology. The founding principal of PS 503 in Brooklyn, Weiner succeeds John White, who took over the Recovery School District in New Orleans at the beginning of May. A 30-year veteran of the city school system, Dorita Gibson will take on a newly created position, deputy chancellor for equity and access. She will supervise District 79, the network of alternative schools previously headed by Cami Anderson, who was named Newark's next schools chief last week. District 79 will still get a new superintendent, according to DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz. Gibson will also lead initiatives that "focus on ending long-standing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and directing supports to communities most in need," according to the city's press release. Some of those initiatives previously fell under the purview of Santiago Taveras, the deputy chancellor for engagement who departed for the private sector earlier this year. The appointments signal that Walcott is moving to stabilize the department, which has experienced rapid leadership change at the top since ex-Chancellor Joel Klein left at the end of last year. They also confirm Walcott's intention to continue policies established during Klein's tenure while also asserting new priorities.
May 9, 2011
City extends parent elections but doesn't heed calls to start over
Under pressure from elected officials and organized parents, the Department of Education is delaying elections for district parent councils until next week. For weeks, parent leaders have been simmering with anger over problems in the city's handling of elections for district Community Education Councils. They have charged that the city did too little to recruit candidates, turned away some eligible parents, and hid the names of candidates behind password protection. The criticism escalated today, as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio announced plans for a press conference Tuesday to demand that the city halt the elections, which they called "deeply flawed and undemocratic." At the same time, a group of parents, spearheaded by Mona Davids of the New York City Parents Union, filed today for a restraining order to halt the elections. This afternoon, the city announced it would delay the election proceedings by a week. "After reviewing concerns raised by parents and public officials about this year’s Citywide and Community Education Council elections, I have concluded that the process could and should have been handled better," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.
May 4, 2011
Borough president asks city to redo "flawed" parent elections
Following complaints from parents about this year's council elections, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is calling on the city to postpone the elections for a second time. Calling the process "badly flawed," Stringer said that a series of mistakes made by the Department of Education's Office of Family Information and Action had undermined parents' confidence in the elections for members of the Community Education Councils. In a letter sent to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Stringer asked that the city redo the elections. Walcott responded that the elections would take place, as planned, on May 7. "I cannot stress enough the importance of parent involvement in our schools and the Office for Family Information and Action will take all necessary steps to ensure that all of our parents have an opportunity to cast a vote in the CEC elections by May 7th," the chancellor said in a statement.
April 29, 2011
City panel votes to close three more schools, bringing total to 27
Three more schools will begin closing next year, following a vote by the citywide school board last night that brought the total of schools closed this year to 27. Members of the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close two transfer schools — Pacific High School and the Bronx Academy High School — as well as P.S. 30, an elementary school in Queens. A spokeswoman for the city's Department of education said that, including the decision to shutter Ross Global Charter School, 27 schools will begin closing next year. It was Chancellor Dennis Walcott's first panel meeting since Mayor Bloomberg named him to the post. Walcott said he hoped to change the tenor of the meetings by answering parents' questions and publicly debating policy issues at a deeper level than his predecessors did. Walcott began the meeting by walking down from the stage and into the crowd, where he promised parents, teachers, and students that he and his staff would respect them. "You will never hear me be disagreeable with you," he said. "The one thing we understand is these are emotional issues for you...the approach we’re going to take moving forward is be responsive to those issues even when we don’t agree." If audience members heard Walcott's plea for civility, they betrayed no signs. The boos and catcalls that have peppered panel meetings for months reappeared last night, as did animosity between charter school supporters and the district schools they will have to share space with next year.
April 27, 2011
Walcott announces new networks for phase-out schools
Several months ago as the citywide school board considered whether to close nearly two dozen schools, critics of the plan accused the city of turning its back on schools once they begin phasing out. Now, the city says it has a plan to help them. During a visit this morning to Paul Robeson High School — one of the schools that the Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out over the next three years — Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced plans to place all of the phase-out schools in the same networks. The change, which would take effect next school year, would mean that the new, as well as currently phasing out, schools would receive administrative and instructional guidance from the same set of people. Currently, schools are grouped into networks — called Children First Networks (CFN) — that provide resources ranging from professional development to budget writing. Phase-out schools have remained within the same networks before and after the closure decisions, even though their needs often change as their size dwindles. Under the new plan, schools like Robeson will leave their current networks and join new ones composed only of other schools that are phasing out. Typical networks have a staff of about a dozen people and focus on giving guidance to 25 schools.
April 27, 2011
Walcott tells principals he'll reduce their paperwork load
In his first policy speech earlier this month, new Chancellor Dennis Walcott extended an olive branch to teachers. Now he's reaching out to principals, telling them that simplifying their jobs is one of his top goals. "One of my top priorities is to free up more of your time so that you can focus on the critical tasks that directly improve student achievement," Walcott wrote in this week's Principals Weekly email, the first to contain a letter from him. While Walcott has said repeatedly that he plans to continue the school policies that Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein established, his note indicates a subtle — but meaningful — divergence. Klein considered principals the CEOs of their schools and emphasized their management responsibilities, many of which brought new paperwork requirements. Walcott's letter focuses instead on principals' role as instructional leaders. Walcott told principals he would starting working soon with their union and the groups that support them to "reduce even further the burden on your time of non-instructional tasks." Teachers and principals have complained in recent years about mounting levels of paperwork they are required to complete. A teacher who retired early in 2009 cited the mounting paperwork as a chief reason for her exit from the classroom. And research suggests that the burden of paperwork tends to fall most heavily on low-performing, high-needs schools, which compose much of the city's school system. Walcott's complete message to principals is below.
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