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May 16, 2012
Judge urges city, unions into arbitration in turnaround dispute
The first court appearance in the union lawsuit to halt hiring decisions at 24 turnaround schools ended with the judge telling the city and unions to resolve their dispute out of court. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis urged the city and teachers and principals unions to resolve their contractual disputes through arbitration, rather than litigation. If the two sides would agree to let an independent arbitrator hear their case, then she would not need to rule on the unions' request for an injunction to halt hiring at the schools. Union and city lawyers both said they wanted to resolve the dispute quickly because schools would be harmed if hiring decisions are not made well before the end of the school year. "If you're both saying you need the arbitrator as soon as possible, an injunction would not be necessary," Lobis said. "If what you're saying is really sincere, then you'll get it to the arbitrator as quickly as possible." After conferring this afternoon, city and union lawyers accepted Lobis's suggestion. The two sides are meeting tonight to select an arbitrator and meeting dates, with the goal of resolving the legal questions about teacher and principal staffing at the turnaround schools by early June.
May 15, 2012
DOE's argument for lawsuit focuses on potential hiring delays
City lawyers have filed their response to a union lawsuit that seeks to derail plans to move forward on 24 school closures. Both sides are due in court tomorrow to argue their case about whether a temporary restraining order on the closures should be extended. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the Department of Education from following through on its decision last month to "turn around" 24 schools at the end of the school year. The plans include the replacement of up to 50 percent of the teaching staffs at the schools. Lawyers for the principals and teachers unions filed the lawsuit last week, and the DOE agreed to halt all hiring until Wednesday's hearing as part of the restraining order. As we reported last week – and as the city's response below argues – one problem the city has with the motion is that further delay to its plans could "cause disruption" to the hiring process.
May 11, 2012
Turnaround schools' job postings offer window into city's plans
The city might have agreed to temporarily halt hiring decisions at turnaround schools because of a union lawsuit, but it is still moving forward with other massive changes for those schools. This week, the Department of Education announced new names for the 24 schools set to undergo the overhaul process and continued making leadership changes in them. It also posted job descriptions that will be used to decide which teachers are picked to return in the fall. The job postings could be the most crucial step toward shaping what the schools will look like in September. That's because of a requirement of the 18-D process, the process embedded in the city's contract with the UFT that the city is trying to structure rehiring. (The union's lawsuit argues that 18-D does not apply to the turnaround schools.) Under turnaround, every teacher at each of the schools will be "excessed," but all who want to may reapply for their jobs. 18-D mandates that replacement schools hire back, in order of seniority, at least half of the teachers who apply from the previous school — provided that they are qualified. The job postings are where those qualifications are set. Principals of the turnaround schools, who have been attending weekly planning workshops, devised them and union officials reviewed them before they were posted, a union official said.
May 9, 2012
Officials: Temporary stay on turnarounds could derail process
City officials are fretting that even a temporary halt to hiring at 24 turnaround schools will weaken their ability to carry out a key piece of the improvement strategy for those schools: recruiting top-quality teachers. On Tuesday, when the Department of Education agreed to halt hiring in the schools for at least a week during the first round of a union lawsuit, officials said no hiring would be happening yet anyway. But they are worried about what would happen if Judge Joan Lobis grants a temporary restraining order extending the freeze, as she did two years ago when a union lawsuit over school closures came before her. If that freeze extends into June, officials say it could hurt the schools' chances of attracting and retaining the most qualified teachers in the applicant pool. When the judge decides whether to grant a temporary restraining order, she will weigh the likelihood that the unions' case has merits — but not the merits themselves — and also the likelihood that a delay would harm the schools. Department officials seem likely to argue that the schools would not be able to recover from a slowdown because teachers may not be able to hold out until June if they receive other job offers before then. But the request for a restraining order is not unexpected: The UFT vowed to sue almost as soon as Mayor Bloomberg announced the turnaround plans in January, and seeking a temporary restraining order is the first step in many legal fights over school policy.
May 8, 2012
Hiring halted in turnaround schools as legal battle takes shape
Responding to a lawsuit filed by the city teachers and principals unions on Monday, the Department of Education pledged today not to make any hiring decisions about 24 schools slated for "turnaround" for at least a week. Under the turnaround process the city is trying to use, all of the teachers at the schools would be "excessed" and then at least half — but very likely more — would be hired back by a committee of administrators and union representatives. After the city school board approved the turnarounds late last month, the city planned to convene the committees quickly and set them to work. But under a stipulation agreement registered today in State Supreme Court, the department said it would refrain from telling teachers at the 24 schools that they had been cut loose — or rehired. The committees will begin considering candidates but can make no offers until after a judge rules on the unions' lawsuit, which charges that the turnaround process violates their contracts with the city. According to the agreement, the department must respond to the unions' claims by Friday. Then the unions will respond to the department's defense by the end of the day on May 15 before the two sides argue their cases before a judge the following day.
May 7, 2012
UFT and principals union file suit to stop “turnaround” closures
Principals Union President Ernest Logan and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew announce lawsuit over turnarounds. After months of charging that the city's controversial "turnaround" plans reflected an over-reliance on closures to improve schools, the UFT and city principals union are making an about-face. In a lawsuit filed today in State Supreme Court to halt the plans, the unions argue that turnaround doesn't amount to closure at all. That means, they argue, that no process exists in their contracts to guide staffing changes under the federally prescribed school reform strategy. The suit means that three and a half months of heated public hearings and fiery rhetoric is likely to come down in court to a single question: Does giving a school a new name and identification number make it a new school? The city's answer is yes. Under turnaround, 24 schools would close and reopen immediately with new names, many new teachers, and, in many cases, new principals — but the students would stay put. The city is using existing procedures for school closures to smooth things along — in essence collapsing an established multi-year closure process into a single moment. That includes using a clause in the UFT's contract with the city to guide rehiring at the schools. But union officials charged today that not much would change under turnaround. "These are not really closures and therefore they cannot use the contractual procedures that apply to closures," said Adam Ross, the UFT's top lawyer, at a press conference today about the long-promised lawsuit. "The only thing they're changing in these schools is the identification number. It's the same students in the same buildings doing the same things."
May 1, 2012
With "turnaround" now approved, a high school looks forward
Nico Ryan, a junior, (second from right), shows community members his winning design for a competition sponsored by the Partnership for Student Advocacy. Juniors at the High School for Graphic Communication Arts have a lot on their minds this month. They are putting the finishing touches on photography and graphic design projects, planning their study schedule for Regents exams, and signing up for the SAT. The handful of students who met this morning to show off posters they designed for a local advocacy organization did not rank the school's impending "turnaround" high on their list of worries. As hundreds of students and teachers rallied around the city to protest the Department of Education plan — approved last week — to abruptly close, reopen and rename 24 schools this year, Graphics remained virtually silent. City officials floating closing Graphics last year but backtracked on the idea after large groups of students and graduates made their case for the school's future at a tense meeting with DOE officials. But at its turnaround hearing this spring, just 32 people signed up to speak, compared with nearly 200 at some other schools. Lantigua Sime, a longtime assistant principal at the Hell's Kitchen Career and Technical Education school, said the students have already accepted the turnaround and moved on. "You didn't see any protests, you didn't hear any noise here because we're moving forward," Sime said. "Anyone who is on the bus is on the bus. Anyone who isn't is already waiting for their next one."
April 27, 2012
The day after: What we learned at last night's turnaround hearing
A teacher from Lehman High School testifies at Thursday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting. The panel voted to close and reopen Lehman. Here are seven things you should know about last night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting, in case you don't have time to read the live-blog we maintained for more than six hours as the panel weighed whether to approve "turnaround" closure plans for 24 schools. 1. There's a new form of school closure in town. Usually, when the Department of Education decides to close a school, it embarks on a multi-year process of phasing out the old school and phasing in a new school, or multiple new schools, in its place. The department has used this process well over 100 times in the last decade and has said it results in stronger student performance. This process is what the panel okayed in February, when it signed off on plans to close or shrink 23 schools. Turnaround is a little different. It speeds up the process so phasing out and in happen at the same time, essentially overnight. It remains to be seen whether years of transition or rapid change can be judged to be more effective at boosting student achievement. The city turned to turnaround this year to make schools eligible for federal funds. But if the city determines that turnaround has advantages over phase-out, the city could use it again in the future. 2. But turnaround isn't really as new as Mayor Bloomberg made it out to be. On the dais, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that a panel resolution to prohibit turnarounds was inaccurate because it stated that the reform initiative was unknown in New York City. In fact, Walcott said, the city has used turnaround before – but to a lesser extent. They also have never called their reform efforts turnaround, a term that comes from the Obama administration's school reform vocabulary list. What they have done is close low-performing schools and open new ones in their place that serve all of the same grades and students. When that has happened, in some elementary and middle school overhauls, the principals of the new schools have been bound to hire from the old schools' staff in accordance with the same clause in the city's contract with the teachers union that the city is invoking in the turnaround schools.
April 26, 2012
Live-blogging the PEP: 24 "turnaround" closures on the agenda
We're stationed right now at the Prospect Heights Campus in Brooklyn, where the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote tonight on two dozen school closure proposals. It's not the usual venue for a contentious panel meeting — the longest meetings have all been held at Brooklyn Technical High School — but the closures are also not the usual type. Instead of phasing out the schools and slowly opening new ones, the city is proposing to close the schools at the end of the year and reopen them immediately according to a federally prescribed school improvement strategy known as "turnaround." Under the city's proposals, which have elicited intense opposition, the schools would get new names, new teachers, and, often, new principals. For an overview of the controversial policy at the heart of tonight's meeting, check out our two-part primer. And stay tuned for up-to-the-minute coverage of the panel meeting, which Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned earlier today could go late into the night. 11:58 p.m. And it's over: All of the turnaround closure votes are done and have passed. Between February and today, the panel has approved 44 school closures to begin or take place this summer — far more than in any previous year. The panel still has to vote on 17 proposals about school space usage, 10 involving charter schools. They are proceeding quickly through the votes. 11:54 p.m. A teacher from John Dewey High School has broken out in tears behind reporters. According to the thin crowd of teachers who shout the tally after each vote, those who vote yes are "puppets" and those who cast no votes are "heroes." 11:48 p.m. Eight to four is the pattern of the night. The seven mayoral appointees who are present tonight are voting for each turnaround plan, as is the Staten Island borough president's appointee, Diane Peruggia. The four other borough presidents' appointees are voting against each proposal, in a reprise of the vote count from school closure hearings in February and last year. One teacher has taken to shouting, "Let's count ... is it eight?" each time a vote is tallied. Other audience members are joining in the chorus. 11:46 p.m. The voting has begun. The panel members dispatch with Queens representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj's resolution against turnaround quickly, voting 8-4 against it.
April 26, 2012
City withdraws "turnaround" plans at two high-profile high schools
Students crowded the auditorium at a public hearing last week at Bushwick Community High School. When the Panel for Educational Policy meets tonight to consider dozens of proposals for school “turnaround,” two high schools with a host of a heavyweight supporters won’t be on the agenda. Bushwick Community High School and Grover Cleveland High School were among 26 schools that the department had proposed to close and reopen — with new names and new teachers — in an attempt to win federal school reform funds. Department officials had said the schools needed radical interventions to help them improve. But today the officials said they had determined after listening to public comment and reviewing performance data that Bushwick and Cleveland didn’t need major changes after all. The schools “have demonstrated an ability to continue their improvements without the more comprehensive actions that are clearly needed at 24 other schools," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. The about-face comes weeks after the department yanked seven top-rated schools from the turnaround list and just hours before the panel’s scheduled vote. It also comes after the schools received intense political and community support and, in the case of Bushwick, media attention.
April 25, 2012
Unraveling three and a half months of "turnaround" twists: Part II
Immediately after Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to "turn around" dozens of struggling schools, Department of Education officials began laying the groundwork to implement the complex and politically charged process. Planning is well underway, and it is likely to ratchet up after Thursday night, when the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the proposals to close and reopen the schools with new names and new teachers. Approval is virtually assured, because the panel — whose majority consists of mayoral appointees — has never rejected a city proposal. Yesterday, in a first post about turnaround's past, present, and future, we looked at how the process landed on the panel's agenda. Today, we are summarizing what we know – and what we don't — about what is likely to come next. What will happen to the teachers at the schools? All teachers will have to reapply for their jobs. Under the 18-D process outlined in the city's contract with the union, each principal and a team of teachers chosen by the principal and the union will set hiring guidelines and hire back at least 50 percent of the teachers from the old school who apply and are qualified to work in the new one. Federal turnaround requirements call for the schools to replace at least half of teachers who have been on staff for more than two years, suggesting that the rehiring might have to achieve exactly a 50 percent replacement rate. But city officials have said they are not setting a rehiring quota for turnaround principals.
April 25, 2012
For skeptical parents, 'turnaround' principal change brings hope
Vivian Selenikas, right, sits with Long Island City High School principal Maria Mamo-Vacacela, left, at the school's closure hearing. Last week, hundreds of parents, teachers, and students crowded Long Island City High School's auditorium for a hearing about the school's planned "turnaround." On Tuesday evening, just a dozen parents attended a meeting to hear directly from the Department of Education's latest pick to run the revamped school. Gathered in the school's band room, they learned that Vivian Selenikas, the proposed school leader, speaks four languages (English, Spanish, Greek and Italian. They found that she started her career in the 1980s as a Spanish teacher at Richmond Hill High School, another school on the turnaround list. And they learned that she believes careful curriculum planning will lift Long Island City out of a slump of low attendance (the rate last year was 80 percent) and poor city progress report grades. They also learned that Selenikas is not afraid to stand up and cha-cha. When the school's cheerleading coach led parents through impromptu dance exercises at the end of the Parent Association meeting, Selenikas joined in. As a Queens network leader, Selenikas is no stranger to the large high school on Broadway, which required help from her and other Department of Education officials last year to resolve massive scheduling problems. "It's important that someone who knew the community and knew the needs of this neighborhood helped to move the school forward, should the decision be made that Long Island City will no longer be Long Island City," she said. But many parents say they are worried that the city is not planning adequately for turnaround. Some say they are wary of the abrupt leadership change, which would be the third in less than four years. The current principal, Maria Mamo-Vacacela, came under fire last year for overhauling most students' schedules two months into the academic year.
April 24, 2012
Unraveling three and a half months of "turnaround" twists: Part I
Since Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to "turn around" dozens of struggling schools during his State of the City speech in January, the city has hammered out specifics while holding two rounds of raucous meetings at each of the schools that could be overhauled. Meanwhile, community members, politicians, and union officials have argued against turnaround at rally after rally — even as the city's plans evolved. On Thursday, they will air those arguments one more time as the Panel for Educational Policy — which has never rejected a city proposal — sits down to hear public testimony and then vote on 26 turnaround plans. In two posts, we will summarize how the city got here, what turnaround entails, and what could happen after Thursday. First, some recent history: What exactly is turnaround, anyway? Turnaround is one of four federally prescribed school overhaul strategies that cities can adopt to qualify for School Improvement Grants. The SIG program was developed to entice states and school districts to improve the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan committed to funding overhauls. The program has gotten mixed reviews across the country but still has sent school districts into a frenzy trying to win scarce funds, which can amount to millions of dollars per school for three years. If districts want the funds, they must select one of the four strategies for each school on the list. They can close the schools and disperse their students; partner them with nonprofit groups or turn them into charter schools under "restart"; add new resources and programs under "transformation"; or choose turnaround.
April 24, 2012
Grant spurs big changes in tiny Center
Part 3 of a series examining the effort to turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools, with snapshots of three Colorado campuses.
April 24, 2012
SIG dollars flow as school budgets cut
Part 3 of a series analyzing the nation's effort to improve its lowest-performing schools looks at SIG dollars in light of education funding cuts
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