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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 10, 2012
Judge rules that city must reinstate staff at turnaround schools
Lawyers for the UFT spoke to reporters about the union's short-term court victory outside of New York State Supreme Court today. Legal battles between the city and the United Federation of Teachers are typically long, drawn-out affairs. Not today. In just 40 minutes this afternoon, Judge Joan Lobis of the New York State Supreme Court made up her mind about the city's request to suspend an arbitrator's ruling in the UFT's favor while she considers the city's formal appeal. There will be no restraining order, Lobis ruled. That means that hiring and firing decisions that have been made at 24 struggling schools that the city was trying to overhaul will be reversed. The Department of Education will have to reinstate hundreds — and possibly thousands — of teachers and administrators cut loose from the schools as part of the "turnaround" process. "They no longer have an excuse for not complying with the arbitrator's award," Ross said about the city. Asked by reporters about the education department's immediate plans for allowing the teachers to reclaim their positions, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said, "Talk to the law department." The city's top lawyer, Michael Cardozo, said in a statement that he was confident that Lobis would side with the city as the case moves forward. The hearing was a first step in the city's appeal of a ruling handed down two weeks ago by an arbitrator who found that the city's hiring and firing decisions — a key aspect of the Department of Education's turnaround plans — violated the city's contract with the teachers union.
July 9, 2012
Phase one of Stuy HS cheating inquiry ends in canceled scores
It's summer break, so Stuyvesant High School students probably weren't listening to the radio at 7 a.m. today. But if they were, 69 of them would have found out from Chancellor Dennis Walcott that they will have to retake the end-of-year Spanish exams they took last month. That's the number of students that Department of Education investigators concluded had received exam questions in advance via a text message from a classmate. Walcott announced during an appearance on the John Gambling Show that also touched on the schools thrown into limbo by an arbitrator's ruling last month and the Department of Education's new focus on college readiness. The first phase of the investigation, conducted by the department's internal Office of Special Investigations, looked only at student behavior and meted out punishments, including some suspensions, according to the city's discipline code, Walcott said. The next phase, he said, is to look at whether Stuyvesant's principal, Stanley Teitel, and his staff followed the appropriate protocol after learning about the cheating on the city exams. "We have to look at the process," Walcott said. "Once the allegation was made, what happened after that?" Teitel sent a letter to parents June 20 alerting them to the cheating and informing them that students suspected of cheating would lose some privileges, such as the right to leave campus for lunch. But the city did not find out about the cheating allegations for nearly a week after that letter went home.
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 5, 2012
Confusion reigns at schools affected by arbitrator's hiring rule
The Department of Education has replaced the schools' websites with new ones reflecting new names. Nearly a week after an independent arbitrator ruled that teachers cut loose from 24 "turnaround" schools could have their jobs back, confusion reigns at the schools. The city's turnaround plans involved closing the schools and immediately reopening them with new names, new leaders, and many new teachers. But an arbitrator rolled back those plans last Friday when he ruled that the schools could not replace teachers using its chosen strategy. Shortly after the arbitrator's decision, teachers at the schools received a celebratory email from the United Federation of Teachers, which had sued the city over the hiring procedures in place at the schools. Earlier this week, the city filed suit to get the arbitrator's decision overturned, and a judge is likely to consider the case early next week. For now, the Department of Education has suspended the hiring committees that had been meeting to consider teacher candidates, according to teachers union officials. But during the disjointed first week of summer vacation, it has given teachers and principals no guidance about how they can reclaim their positions, according to officials of the unions that represent both sets of educators. And at least one interim principal who seems likely to be bumped by the arbitrator's decision is reporting for work as usual.
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 29, 2012
Arbitrator rules for unions: Turnaround firing, rehiring reversed
Principals union president Ernest Logan and UFT president Michael Mulgrew announce their lawsuit over turnaround in May. An arbitrator has ruled that the city's plans to reform 24 struggling schools by shaking up their staffs violated its collective bargaining agreements with the teachers and principals unions. The arbitrator's decision adds a new and abrupt twist to months of uncertainty at the schools. It also guarantees that the city cannot claim more than $40 million in federal funds that the overhaul process, known as "turnaround," was aimed at securing. The turnaround rules require the schools to replace half of their teachers, and the city was trying to use a clause in its contract with the teachers union, known as 18-D, to make that happen. In recent weeks, "18-D committees" told hundreds and possibly thousands of teachers and staff members at the schools they could not return next year. Under the arbitrator's ruling, all of those staff members are now free to take their jobs back. The decision is a shocking blow to the Bloomberg administration, which turned to turnaround in January in a bid to win the federal funds without negotiating a new evaluation system with the United Federation of Teachers.
June 28, 2012
Graduation ceremonies are bittersweet for ‘turnaround’ schools set to reopen with new names
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 22, 2012
State attaches several strings to city's bid for "turnaround" aid
Three months after the city asked the state for federal funds to fuel school 'turnaround' efforts, the state has responded — with a resounding "maybe." In a letter released late Friday, State Education Commissioner John King said the way the city plans to overhaul 24 struggling schools meets the state's requirements. But he said he would only hand over the federal funds, known as School Improvement Grants, if the city meets steep conditions. To meet some of those conditions, the city would need to come out ahead in arbitration with the teachers union over collective bargaining rules at the 24 schools. It must also prove that community members were looped in on the city's planning process. The arbitration, which covers a dispute over whether the city may use a process outlined in the teachers union contract for schools that close and reopen (called 18-D), is set to end next week. If the union comes out ahead, hiring and firing decisions at the schools would be reversed and, according to King's letter, the city would not be able to collect the SIG grants, which total nearly $60 million. Earlier this year, King said he saw the city's proposal as "approvable." But he stayed quiet as the city signaled it would not force schools to adhere to a central requirement of turnaround set by the U.S. Department of Education: that they replace at least 50 percent of their teachers. King's letter today says the city must meet the federal government's staffing requirements. State turnaround advisors say "the percentage matters," SED spokesman Dennis Tompkins said over email. "18-D is the mechanism to achieve the required percentage."
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.
June 12, 2012
Job interviews—and protests—continue at 'turnaround' schools
Teachers Kevin Kearns, (right) and others protest the turnaround plans in front of Department of Education headquarters. With the 24 turnaround schools deep into the hiring process, a small handful of teachers gathered in front of Tweed this afternoon to show their opposition despite the rain. Protesters from John Dewey High School Lehman High School grimly described their uncertain futures. But they did not renew any pleas to Department of Education officials to stop the turnaround. They were joined by several teachers from Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, which the city placed on its original list of turnaround schools but later removed. Marian Swerdlow, the FDR union chapter leader-elect, said she and several colleagues turned out this afternoon to show their support and register opposition to all school closures. She stood stone-faced in front of the DOE headquarters in a United Federation of Teachers rain poncho, holding a crumpled sign that read, "the turnaround model is all wet." The city cannot make any final hiring decisions at the 24 schools, which are closing this summer and immediately re-opening under the reform model known as 'turnaround.' But hiring committees made up of city and teachers union officials, school administrators and parents in each of the schools have been busily conducting back-to-back interviews with teachers hoping to keep their jobs.
June 4, 2012
Saved from "turnaround," Grady faces new threats to existence
Grady Principal Geraldine Maione stands in front of a mural painted by students in a "transformation"-funded arts program. In a normal year, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School would be preparing to enroll a ninth-grade class of about 350 students. But this hasn't been a normal year. The high school directory distributed to eighth-graders in September listed the school as having a "D" on its city progress report, even though Grady's 2010 grade would be updated to a B in October. In December, the school's federal funding was cut off after the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations. The next month, Mayor Bloomberg surprised school staff by announcing that Grady would be one of 33 schools to close and reopen under an overhaul program known as "turnaround." Then, in April, after months of raucous protests and appeals to the state's top education leaders, Grady was yanked from the turnaround list, along with six other schools that had top grades on their city progress reports. The school would open this fall as usual. Except that it won't. Grady has just 150 students on its ninth-grade roster for the fall, and fewer students means fewer dollars to spend — in Grady's case, about $3.5 million. Officials at Grady are planning to cut teachers loose, cancel after-school programs, and dismantle some of the supports that Principal Geraldine Maione said helped the school improve enough to stay open. No longer will there be after-school clubs in robotics and chess, and teachers won't be able to be paid to work an extended-day program for students who want to take additional courses in music and dance. With a career and technical education focus, Grady has never been able to offer a full complement of arts courses, so the clubs offered students a rare chance for a rounded education, Maione said.
May 25, 2012
Turnaround arbitration to take place with uncharacteristic speed
Arbitration that will determine whether the city can move forward with its plans to "turn around" 24 struggling schools is set to take place with uncharacteristic speed. Earlier this month, the teachers and principals unions sued to stop the turnarounds, charging that the city's plans violated their contracts. A judge who was assigned to hear the lawsuit urged the two parties into arbitration, and the two parties agreed because it is important for the schools to have clarity soon about how to assemble their teaching rosters for the fall. Arbitration can sometimes take months. But when the city and unions yesterday finalized the detailed terms under which arbitration will take place, they emphasized speed. According to their agreement, the two parties will meet with the arbitrator on three dates in June, starting June 7 and ending June 26. But if other dates open up, they'll meet sooner, and they will meet in the early mornings and late at night until a resolution is reached. They are even asking the arbitrator to minimize the time spent on transitions between witnesses. The agreement also offers more details about what could happen after the arbitrator makes his decision.
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