Two new teachers at Achievement First’s schools have a line on their resumes that makes them stand out from their colleagues: parent.
Charter schools tend to have younger teachers who do not yet have families, and often their teachers come from outside the communities where the schools are located. Both features have fueled criticism of charter schools as parachuting do-gooders into needy neighborhoods until they move on to other, more prestigious positions.
Achievement First’s new hires — a classroom teacher at one Achievement First elementary school and a teacher-in-training at another one — represent a tiny counterweight to those trends. The network has had its own parents work in its Connecticut schools, but the new hires are a first for New York City.
Having parents as teachers offers a unique referendum on school quality, according to Guerschmide Saint-Ange, who oversees parent engagement across the network.
“They get to tell us in a very official capacity if this is the type of school they want their kid to be in,” Saint-Ange said, adding that, like all teachers, the parents get to play a role in shaping policies at the school. ”Who better to give us guidance on that than a current parent?”
Louise Eason, a fourth-grade reading teacher, taught at I.S. 286 in Harlem before starting at Achievement First Apollo this year.
“I wanted to transition to work with elementary school students, and I thought what better place to start looking than where my own child goes to school,” she said. “I have great relationships with his teachers, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
About half of the people who work at AF Apollo are non-white, according to the network’s spokeswoman, Amanda Pinto. But few of the teachers are also parents, Eason said. And few have roots in the school’s East New York neighborhood, either.
“For our kids to have a role model that’s from the community that is a strong representation of a black woman that is college educated that is also a mother, that’s such a powerful experience for all our kids to have,” said Principal Jabari Sims.
A mile away, Geraldann Grubb works at AF Aspire as part of the network’s “teacher-in-residence” program, which trains aspiring teachers by having them support other classes for a year before being hired full-time. The program pays $25,000 a year and is geared toward “top college graduates … who want to explore a career in education,” according to the network’s website.
Grubb — whose two children attend AF East New York, where she has been the parent representative on the school’s board — doesn’t perfectly fit that bill. She found out about the job when AF Aspire’s founding principal approached her at a meeting of Families for Excellent Schools, an advocacy group that aims to train parents to become more politically active in education policy, especially when it comes to charter schools.
Before starting the program, Grubb taught in a city-funded universal pre-kindergarten program, where she said there was little opportunity to advance. At AF Aspire, which just opened this year, she said she aims toward one day being a principal or a special education coordinator.
But first, she said, she is adjusting to the steep challenge of classroom instruction.
“I was prepared as a parent to get the work and do it at home, but now it’s like you’re in the classroom and it’s a totally different ballgame,” she said. “It does become overwhelming, that’s a secret, but I love it.”
Grubb, who has some colleagues who also have children, said she thinks being a parent gives her a different perspective on how to teach.
“There are some times when teachers don’t have enough patience, and I’m like, ‘You can’t just expect that from a four year old. You have to assume they don’t know anything and just work with them,’” Grubb said. “It’s annoying to the teachers sometimes. They’re like, ‘Oh, Gigi, please.’ I’m like, no, trust me, you’re going to thank me later because the families are going to be happy and they’re not going to pull their kids from the school.”
Sims said it’s hard to tell whether students respond better to Eason because she’s a parent, but he did note that he hasn’t seen her struggle with any behavior issues yet — the students respect her, he said.
In addition to having her role as a parent strengthen her work as a teacher, working as a teacher makes her a better parent, too, Eason said. ”It makes it easier for me to spend time with my son,” she said.
Grubb said she is already encouraging friends and acquaintances to consider joining her as a teacher in training. “You know how I started,” she says she tells other parents. “I was a parent just like you.”
City schools ranged widely in how often their students took a controversial fast track to making up failed classes, according to new Department of Education data.
“Credit recovery” offers students the chance to make up failed classes without having to repeat the entire course, often through online assignments or packets of worksheets. The option was designed for rare occasions, but critics of the Bloomberg administration say pressure to boost graduation rates caused the practice to be abused.
Education officials countered allegations of abuse by citing the fact that credit recovery accounted for just 1.7 percent of all credits earned citywide in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years.
But that figure masked the fact that many schools did not have any students earn credits through credit recovery, while dozens relied heavily on the practice, according to the new data, made available for the first time in response to Freedom of Information Law requests.
A GothamSchools analysis of the data found that at schools that used credit recovery at all, one in every 40 credits earned, or about 2.6 percent, came through the practice.
About a quarter of city high schools — 129 — did not award any credits through credit recovery in 2012, officials said.
That same year, 39 schools awarded more than 5 percent of their credits through recovery. At nine schools — mostly transfer schools and schools that were closing — that figure was above 10 percent, according to the city data.
At Mott Hall V, a Bronx school that expanded to high school grades in 2010, nearly half of the credits earned by ninth-graders in the 2010-2011 school year came through credit recovery, a fact that its principal attributed to staffing issues and students who took advantage of the program.
“They had no problem failing courses when they should have been doing what they had to do,” Peter Oroszlany said of some students who enrolled in credit recovery.
Oroszlany, who founded Mott Hall V as a middle school in 2005, said his budget was stretched so thin when the school expanded that he couldn’t hire enough teachers to handle all the incoming freshmen. Some students, he said, earned credits through a credit recovery course before ever taking and failing a traditional class, in violation of longstanding regulations.
“I did not have enough funding,” added Oroszlany.
Oroszlany said he was able to add more teachers the following year, and the school’s credit recovery rate dropped to 26 percent — still the third highest in the city.
Though Mott Hall V was an outlier, dozens of high schools still had credit recovery rates above 5 percent, about triple the city’s average, the data show. Some of the schools are transfer schools, or schools the city was phasing out due to poor performance. Those schools, which tend to serve very high-need students, have less ability to require students to retake entire classes.
At Franklin K. Lane High School, for instance, which shuttered in 2012, more than one in four credits that year was earned through credit recovery. At Bronx Regional High School, a transfer school that serves overage students who have failed at other schools, 27 percent of credits in 2011 were awarded through the practice.
Some schools with high-need, low-performing students leaned much less heavily on credit recovery. At West Brooklyn Community High School, a transfer school, just 11 out of more than 2,000 credits awarded in 2011-2012 came through credit recovery.
Many of the schools that used credit recovery sparsely or not at all were selective schools, where students tend not to fall behind often. At Brooklyn Technical High School, the specialized school that by far awards the most credits each year of any city school, just 12 credits out of more than 70,000 were earned through credit recovery in the 2011-2012 school year.
Despite rebutting allegations that credit recovery had proliferated inappropriately in many city schools, Department of Education officials announced in February 2012 that they would crack down on the practice as part of a broad set of policy changes designed to guard against graduation rate inflation. The changes followed an audit of crediting and graduation data at 60 high schools.
Starting last year, students can’t make up more than three core academic courses through credit recovery. They also are required to attend 66 percent of the class they failed in order to be eligible to take a credit recovery class. And students can now take credit recovery classes only in the same year as they failed their course.
Although the new policies did not take effect until the 2012-2013 school year, many schools used credit recovery less often in 2012, according to the city data. Oroszlany said knowing that the restrictions were coming influenced his use of credit recovery at Mott Hall V.
Another person said that as a principal, he made changes to his credit recovery policies more to stay out of trouble and out of public scrutiny than in the best interest of his students.
“We felt that if we didn’t find ways to keep up we would get killed on the P.R.,” said the principal, who declined to give his name because he did not want to discuss department policy publicly. But he added that the new restrictions were important because the “rules were ambiguous and people created their own interpretation.”
Some schools saw their credit recovery rates rise in 2011-2012, lending credence to anecdotal reports that some schools were encouraging students to make up missed credits before the new restrictions took effect. The Preparatory Academy for Writers in Queens awarded less than 1 percent of credits through credit recovery in 2010-2011 but used the practice for more than 7 percent of credits the following year, for example.
Some educators have complained that principals used credit recovery to inflate their graduation rates. That’s what seems to have happened at A Philip Randolph High School, where graduation rates soared by 30 points in 2009. A guidance counselor at the school later told GothamSchools that she was instructed to enroll dozens of failing seniors into online credit recovery courses just weeks before the school’s graduation day so that they could earn their diploma on time. The principal at the school, Henry Rubio, resigned that year amid an investigation into the school’s credit recovery practices. In 2011 and 2012, the school’s credit recovery rates were well below the city average.
Critics of the Bloomberg administration say the school’s story has been all too common.
“In a good credit recovery program, students who need to catch up on material they haven’t mastered would work on solid research and writing assignments, or conduct experiments in a science lab,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “But once the DOE decided to count credit accumulation as part of a high school’s grade and a principal’s rating, in too many schools the answer to this problem was to have the kids spend a few hours plugged into a computer.”
This story was originally published on Sept. 23 at 11:19 p.m.
New York City charter school advocates are planning a reprise of their 2012 rally that drew thousands of parents, students, and teachers to City Hall.
That rally was spearheaded in large part by Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz — to the chagrin of some charter school advocates — and aimed to show the city that the sector is a potent political force.
Over the weekend, Moskowitz told the parents of her network’s 4,600 students that they should plan to attend another rally Oct. 8, weeks before the city’s mayoral election. Parents “must” plan to accompany their children to a march across the Brooklyn Bridge that will replace the first half of the school day, Moskowitz explained in an email message, which GothamSchools obtained.
“Your child’s education is threatened. Our very existence is threatened. Opponents want to take away our funding and our facilities,” she wrote. “These attacks are a real danger — we cannot stand idly by.”
Democratic mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has vowed to start charging rent to charter schools that occupy space in public school buildings. He has also called out Moskowitz specifically as receiving special treatment in getting public space from the Bloomberg administration. (Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate, would expand the charter sector.)
“There is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, okay?” de Blasio said in June. “There are charters that are much, much better endowed in terms of resources than the public sector ever hoped to be. It is insult to injury to give them free rent. They should have to pay rent. They have the money.”
Moskowitz has been a divisive figure in more than just politics. Most city charter schools did not take part in the 2012 event, with some charter advocates citing her involvement as a reason for sitting the rally out. Instead, Success and the city’s other large charter networks supplied almost all of the participants.
Moskowitz’s full message to parents is below. We’ll have more on the rally, including about who plans to attend, soon.
Your child’s education is threatened. Our very existence is threatened. Opponents want to take away our funding and our facilities. These attacks are a real danger — we cannot stand idly by.
This is an outrage: There are hundreds of empty classrooms all across New York City, and more than 1,000 district schools share space without a complaint. Yet our opponents want to penalize our success — and are proposing legislation to do so.
These issues are tremendously important. If we lose ground – literally, if we lose access to public space – we cannot fulfill our commitment to you and your scholar.
Which is why you – you and your scholar, your friends and relatives – must join us on Tuesday, October 8 to march with other charter parents across the Brooklyn Bridge.
What: Parent March across the Brooklyn Bridge in support of charter schools and parent choice!
When: Tuesday, October 8, 7:30am-11:00am. Buses will pick you and your scholar up from school at morning arrival, and you will be dropped off at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. We will delay the start of school until after the march.
Where: The march will start in Cadman Plaza, go across the Brooklyn Bridge, and end in City Hall Park (Downtown Manhattan). All families will then take a subway back to school after the march to drop off scholars for the rest of the school day.
Don’t let opponents of ed reform steal your children’s future. This is about your child, your choice. Your voice must be heard. We must show public officials that parents will fight for the right to choose excellent schools.
Founder and CEO
Success Academy Charter Schools
When the city announced last week that a kindergarten admissions website would link to the charter school application, it took a small first step toward unifying charter and district school applications. But there appears to be little local enthusiasm for a fully unified enrollment process—something that many of the nation’s other large school districts are working toward with urgency.
In Denver, parents can apply to every charter and district school through one form and a single process. In New Orleans, the same is possible, with the exception of some of the city’s highest-performing charter schools. Newark is well on its way, as is Chicago, and similar discussions are taking place in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
But while there hasn’t been any significant movement on that front yet in New York, city officials have indicated it’s a long term goal. “Eventually, we plan to streamline the application process to allow parents to apply to many types of public school programs in one place – be they district, charter, gifted and talented, or otherwise,” department spokesman Devon Puglia said.
Pushing for an integrated enrollment system could help cement charter schools’ place in the city’s school system at a time of political uncertainty for the charter sector. But city charter school advocates have indicated that they are focused on other issues.
“It’s something that I think people have an interest in, but it’s not something on the immediate horizon,” James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said.
New York hasn’t jumped on a unified system for a number of reasons, according to a number of current and former education officials: The city’s charter sector isn’t seen as large enough to justify the effort, charter school laws would need revision, charter school operators aren’t eager to turn over control of enrollment to a central system, and many feel the existing Common Charter School Application goes far enough toward easing access for parents.
The case for unification
Unified enrollment systems, which could expose more students and parents to charter school options, have been boosted by the support of Walton and other foundations that focus on school choice, including the Gates and Dell foundations. The ability to create a single ranked list of preferences of district and charter schools with common deadlines can make things easier for parents, who otherwise must keep track of different application requirements, wait for results from different charter lotteries, and monitor a traditional district enrollment process.
Ranking schools also means that each student receives a single offer from the school they’ve ranked highest that they get into, eliminating the inefficiencies and wait lists that arise from some students receiving multiple offers.
Centralizing admissions would also neutralize a prominent criticism of charter schools: that they do not serve the same students as district schools. Sharing an admissions process would make charter school admissions practices more transparent and would mean that their applicant pool is not limited to students with savvy parents.
A combination of those principles have prompted universal district-charter enrollment systems in Denver and New Orleans, the two big cities that have implemented unified application systems. Both were created with significant input from Neil Dorosin, the man who designed New York City’s high school admissions process and then ran it for four years. His organization, the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, is now the chief architect of unified enrollment systems nationwide.
“Kindergarten Connect is absolutely a step in the right direction,” Dorosin said. “The danger of Kindergarten Connect is to say, this is really good, we can stop there. There is more work to be done.”
For charter schools, less autonomy
In New Orleans, the unified enrollment system called OneApp now allows parents to apply to all of the schools in the Recovery School district and the traditional public schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board. But the Orleans Parish charter schools, which include many of the city’s top-performing schools and can selectively admit students, have resisted joining and won’t be required to until they renew their charters—for some, not until 2021.
Paymon Rouhanifard, superintendent of the small district of Camden, N.J. who intends to introduce the prospect of a unified admissions system for 2015 enrollment, said that the arguments against opting out of a unified system are the same everywhere. “Autonomy in the selection of students isn’t and shouldn’t be as necessary to drive student gains as autonomy in areas like staffing and curriculum,” he said, though he acknowledged that districts haven’t always executed changes to admissions policies smoothly.
It’s not always an easy sell for charter school operators who already have more applicants than they can serve, according to Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, which has supported Chicago’s efforts to create a unified system for district and charter schools.
“The most pithy opponent would say, we don’t have a demand problem, we have a supply problem … Enrollment’s fine for us,” Broy said. “In the longer term, we’ve said that the movement will benefit from having a more transparent process.”
Merriman agreed that a centralized system can provide helpful transparency and eliminate well-connected parents from gaming the system. “We know that happens and goes on in New York City,” he said. “So there’s absolutely that advantage, and on the other hand it can look like a huge black box. While you are able to control and create greater fairness and accuracy of access, it’s very bureaucratically controlled, and you want to check on that and see if it’s doing what it’s advertised to do.”
A unified enrollment system would require amendments to charter school law in New York, which mandates individual school lotteries and sets the first possible day for those lotteries as April 1, well after the city’s admissions processes have begun.
It would also need a major commitment from the city’s charter school sector, since New York City would not be able to require charter schools to change their enrollment procedures.
In Denver, launching the unified system meant getting every last charter school on board, one by one. “They had to be be reassured that Denver Public Schools could actually manage it so they wouldn’t screw up their brand,” recalled Mike Kromrey, executive director of advocacy group Together Colorado and a member of the initial coalition pushing for unified enrollment. “It was an enormous amount of work done by DPS. And to be honest, some old fashioned pressure … all the big funders of charter schools like Walton were in there from the beginning, and they probably put some pressure on their schools.”
When and whether any of those changes will come in New York is an open question.
“I don’t disagree with the overall assessment of the folks in Denver, with whom I’ve talked with repeatedly about the potential of a unified enrollment system,” Merriman said. “But that said, it would require a change in state law (always extremely difficult to get); and moreover, with a new mayor (and chancellor) coming in, we are for the time being focused on other and more immediate issues, such as funding and access to public school space.”
And asking legislators to reconsider charter school law could backfire, since some legislators are unfriendly to the charter school sector. In 2010, when legislators agreed to more than double the number of charter schools allowed to operate in New York, they added red tape for charter operators as well.
The enrollment tipping point
Department officials who have left New York have been involved in creating unified enrollment systems in other districts where charters are even more prevalent. Rouhanifard left the city’s Office of Portfolio Management in 2012 to become a top deputy in Newark, where he pushed for a unified enrollment process. Newark’s superintendent Cami Anderson left New York in 2011 and has made it a signature issue.
“I think it starts to make sense in communities where you start to have a sizable number of charter schools,” said Carlos Perez, CEO of the New Jersey Charter School Association. “It’s that critical mass.”
Almost 20 percent of public school students in Newark and more than 20 percent in Camden attend charter schools, compared to 5 percent of students in New York City.
Newark has already created a centralized application system for some of its district schools, and the district’s discussions with charter operators—who aren’t obligated to participate—are now in “full swing,” according to Gabrielle Wyatt, the deputy director of strategy and innovation at Newark Public Schools. Acknowledging that some issues, like dealing with mid-year transfers, are thornier than others, the district has split the dealmaking into three parts and is asking for charters to opt in to them separately.
Wyatt said they’re confident enough that charters will opt in to say that a unified application will be released in January. Perez was cautious in his predictions, though. “I think just like anything that’s new, you’re going to have some that are early adopters and some that take a wait-and-see approach,” he said. “Some people still watch movies on VHS tapes.”
The remaining questions
As districts around the country continue hashing out their own plans, all eyes are still on Denver and New Orleans. The Center on Reinventing Public Education is now conducting a study on those systems with $500,000 from the Walton Family Foundation to provide information to other districts.
It’s not clear from current research whether the unified enrollment systems result in a more equitable distribution of high-needs students. Initial reports show that the new processes haven’t come without their headaches, though.
A study of the first year of the universal application process in New Orleans found that it actually added to parents’ level of confusion. Many misunderstood how the application worked and how they should fill it out. “While parents wanted the ability to choose a school, the act of choosing among limited options produced a range of emotions,” according to the study. “For many, the stress and anxiety was coupled with a feeling of powerlessness.”
In Denver, an analysis of the SchoolChoice program found that it worked efficiently, with over two-thirds of students matched with their first choice, though concerns have been raised about the need to improve outreach to Latino families.
“We believe the evidence shows that there’s more equity, it’s easier to understand, and it’s also been a sort of nudge toward parents thinking about their school more,” Kromrey said.
Cities across the country are working toward something similar, even if New York isn’t. “It’s one of those good ideas that is starting to gain momentum around the country,” Perez said. “It’s helpful not being the first one.”
A disgraced former principal whose academic fraud drew personal condemnation from Chancellor Dennis Walcott is picking up city paychecks again after successfully escaping the city’s efforts to fire her.
The Department of Education moved to fire Lynn Passarella after an investigation found that she fudged academic records, misused funds, and falsified student transcripts as principal at Theatre Arts Production Company middle and high school.
But more than a year after charges were filed, an arbitrator ruled that termination was an “excessive” penalty — even though he agreed that Passarella, a 17-year tenured employee of the school system, had indeed committed much of the misconduct that investigators found and should not be allowed to lead a school.
In her defense, Passarella argued that she was set up to fail by an accountability system installed under the Bloomberg administration.
The case spotlights an issue that has long frustrated department officials, who argue that labor laws protect school employees from being fired for even the most egregious misconduct. While much of the scrutiny has focused on a small number of teachers accused of sexually inappropriate behavior who remain on the city’s payroll, the Passarella case shows that the legal process also affects educators found to have misbehaved in other ways.
“I find it unacceptable that an arbitrator would overrule us, but again that’s the way the law is designed and it shouldn’t be that way,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today, shortly after learning of the decision. Walcott has lobbied state legislators to give the chancellor the power to fire school employees accused of sexual misconduct only.
A report of the city’s probe into TAPCO was released in March 2012 and marked the close of a tumultuous era for the South Bronx school under Passarella, who opened the school in 1999. The school received high praise for overcoming long odds en route to earning 90 percent graduation rates and a top score on the city’s progress reports. The school’s marks earned Passarella $40,000 in bonuses through the Bloomberg administration’s performance pay program.
But the investigation challenged the school’s success story. Students received class credits regardless of their work, attendance sheets were tampered with, and an erasure analysis of state tests revealed that a high rate of answers were changed from incorrect to correct, investigators found.
Walcott was so disturbed by the findings that he stripped Passarella of her pay and, in unusually strong words, publicly pledged to seek her termination.
“The behavior uncovered in this report is dishonest and disgraceful, and shows a blatant disregard for principal responsibilities,” Walcott said at the time.
But the city’s efforts to fire Passarella were unsuccessful. The arbitrator, a neutral hearing officer assigned to review the legal case, determined in June that Passarella should remain on the department’s payroll at her old salary of $145,493, although he ruled that the department was justified in removing her from her position at TAPCO.
“[Passarella] still has a great deal to offer the NYC DOE, albeit not in the position of school principal,” the arbitrator, Joel Douglas, wrote in his ruling. He even cited TAPCO’s city scores and Passarella’s performance bonuses, both based on the fraudulent data, as evidence of a past record of success that should not be overlooked.
A spokeswoman for the Council School Supervisors and Administrators, the principals union representing Passarella, defended the decision.
“When a neutral arbitrator heard all of the allegations, he felt that a dismissal was unwarranted,” the spokeswoman said. “We agree with his decision.”
City officials said Passarella is currently a member of the “Absent Teacher Reserve,” the pool of educators who do not have permanent positions, and is working on finding a job within the department. She works in a Bronx office where her former school’s network is housed.
Several calls and messages to the phone number for Passarella’s office were not returned. But according to testimony provided in the arbitrator’s report, Passarella said that she quickly got in over her head at TAPCO, which opened as a middle school and expanded to include a high school.
She also argued that she was “the first victim of the principal empowerment theory,” according to the arbitrator’s report, a reference to the accountability model developed by Chancellor Joel Klein that gave administrators more power over how their schools are run in exchange for greater academic accountability. Passarella’s interpretation of this model was that “a principal should have virtual free rein in attempting to meet school objectives,” the report says.
“I didn’t avail myself to the nuts and bolts of the organizational pieces of running the school,” she told the arbitrator. “That was an oversight.”
The city teachers union formally endorsed Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio this afternoon, putting a finishing touch on a delicate post-primary process that included a secret meeting at the the union’s headquarters over the weekend.
The endorsement comes two days after de Blasio’s closest rival and the union’s original pick, Bill Thompson, conceded in the Democratic primary. Made with little of the fanfare that accompanied the union’s decision to back Thompson in June, the endorsement also shifts the focus of the mayoral race fully onto the race between de Blasio and Republican nominee Joe Lhota.
De Blasio spoke to teachers who make up the union’s Delegate Assembly at UFT headquarters shortly after they voted on a resolution to give him their endorsement. He then appeared with President Michael Mulgrew and about a dozen supporters at a staid press conference in a building next door.
De Blasio credited Mulgrew for brokering the concession agreement with Thompson, which took place at UFT headquarters on Saturday night. Mulgrew said the conversation between the primary rivals was not contentious.
“In the end, the decision was made that what was in the best interest of the city was to unite the Democratic party to make sure that a Democrat becomes the mayor of New York City and not the Republican nominee,” Mulgrew said.
“On Monday, you saw a result of that conversation,” he added.
De Blasio aggressively sought the union’s endorsement earlier this year but was passed up in favor of Thompson, who was seen as having a clearer path to victory.
In the lead-up to the primary election, the union focused most of its campaigning efforts on supporting Thompson, spending $2.6 million on communications and advertising for his candidacy.
But occasionally, tension with de Blasio surfaced as he shot to the top of polls in August. First, Mulgrew mocked de Blasio’s unsuccessful pursuit of the union’s endorsement after de Blasio made comments about being unencumbered by union interests when it comes time to negotiate new labor contracts. De Blasio compared himself to Mayor Bloomberg to characterize his independence to bargain with the teachers union.
Mulgrew, in response, said, “I am surprised he would have found our endorsement such a potential threat to his independence, particularly since he was on my calendar so many times earlier this year, many of our staff members thought he had an office in our building.”
Mulgrew also joined Thompson’s supporters in criticizing de Blasio’s plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, a proposal that would require approval from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Today, Mulgrew signaled that he remained skeptical of de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes, even as he said he appreciates de Blasio’s promises.
“It’s getting it done is really what the vision and the goal here is,” Mulgrew said of de Blasio’s proposal. “We’ve been hearing about all day pre-K for 40 years and no one’s figured it out and he is saying he is completely committed to getting it done.”
A lot of attention was placed on the union’s failed endorsement, with suggestions that it would hurt its relationship with whoever occupied City Hall next. But de Blasio suggested that it would be water under the bridge moving forward.
And Mulgrew said that even though the union did pick the winning candidate in the primary, it had influenced the election results and would do so in the general election as well.
“The members know that where we endorsed Mr. Thompson and where he ended up was … very positive,” he said. “He moved up quite a bit and I was very proud of the work our union has done.”
De Blasio said that as a parent whose two children attended public schools (his now-famous son Dante attended M.S. 51 in Park Slope and now goes to Brooklyn Technical High School) the support from teachers meant more than a political notch in his belt.
“Chirlane and I have just the deepest appreciation for the dozens and dozens of teachers who took Chiara and Dante by the hand over the last 14 years and supported them, uplifted them, were there for them in so many ways,” de Blasio said. “We have had an extraordinary experience just as parents seeing just how good the teachers of this city are in every sense.”"I think this support today strengthens our political coalition that will allow us to make the changes we need.”
When Moses Ojeda graduated from Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education High School three decades ago, he quickly learned he was not prepared for the real world. Now, as the school’s principal, his driving motivation is to prevent students from experiencing the same thing.
Ojeda has spent nearly 25 years at Thomas Edison, as a student, teacher, assistant principal and now as its principal, making him an anomaly in a system where administrators often take over schools with which they have no connection. Today, Ojeda has used his unique perspective to bring the school up to speed by updating its technical programs and academic standards.
As a high school student, Ojeda studied in the business equipment machine repair program, which included learning to fix electronic typewriters. But when he graduated in 1993, he said he wasn’t prepared for the job market because no one was using the electronic typewriters any more.
“If I had gone into the industry, I wouldn’t have gotten a job,” he said.
But he decided to go in a different direction after the teacher who ran the machine repair program, Alexander Bell, asked Ojeda to help him teach his classes. Ojeda loved helping other students, and Bell encouraged him to attend a five-year teacher training program — Success Via Apprenticeship, run jointly by the city, the City University of New York, and the teachers union — where he could be certified to teach technical subjects.
The program required students to complete six-month internships and when it came for Ojeda to do his, he returned to Thomas Edison and worked with Bell to get rid of the electronic typewriter repair program and replace it with a computer repair program, which Bell continues to oversee today.
After he finished his degree, Ojeda worked as a teacher at Thomas Edison for 10 years and later as an assistant principal for four years. In that time, he found other ways to update the schools’ programs.
He saw how the computer industry was beginning to build its own networks, so he helped bring in a new CISCO networking class, which teaches students how to network buildings with routers and switches. When he noticed that e-commerce was becoming more popular and everyone wanted a webpage, he convinced the principal at the time to add a web design program. Now, he wants to partner with a solar energy company to revamp the electrical installation program that is shrinking because students are more interested in the school’s information technology programs.
Above all else, he said, his goal is to ensure that the school and its graduates are relevant by understanding industries’ needs.
But when Ojeda took over as principal a year ago, he faced a whole different set of challenges. When he spoke to colleges and employers, they told him that Thomas Edison graduates often had weak communication skills and lacked creativity. The school was already beginning to work on aligning its curriculum to the new Common Core standards, but Ojeda took the efforts a step further, requiring all teachers to issue more writing assignments and assign two research projects during the year. He asked librarians and English teachers to help the entire staff implement the new standards.
“So many kids hide behind the computer, texting and e-mailing. They feel more comfortable communicating that way,” Ojeda said. “When they get in front of someone they’re shy, they don’t have those skills, they’re losing that. You need that in the real world.”
In English classes, students had to write argumentative essays based on books they were reading. In a technical class, a student wrote a comparative essay about the difference between Wifi and Bluetooth technology. And in a physical education class, students learned how to read and understand each category on a nutrition label.
“Now not only are CTE students ready for the job force, they’re college ready as well,” Ojeda said.
Adding more challenging academic assignments was more work for teachers and students, and Ojeda said some pushed back on the changes. But he insisted that teachers embrace the new standards, he said.
“In the beginning, teachers felt like, you want me to be an English teacher? I barely have time to get through all the curriculum,” he said. “But now they realize competitions want that, and being aligned with the Common Core will also help them with their teacher evaluations.”
Ojeda talks about competitions a lot. Under his leadership, all 12 career and technical education programs compete in some type of competition, whereas before only a couple did. Ojeda proudly talks about a recent Thomas Edison school senior who was offered a $40-an-hour CISCO internship after beating out competitors with college degrees, and last spring, when the school’s two-person web design team won first place in the state’s Skills USA competition.
“Why am I so big on them? There’s the motivational factor. It motivates kids to be top of the class,” he said. “It’s also a way for me to measure myself against other schools city wide, state wide and nationally. If we’re not coming in the top 10 then we’re not doing something right. … We have to stay on the cutting edge.”
At every turn, Ojeda is trying to give students as much hands-on, real world experience as possible. With the robotics program, usually only seniors received hands-on training while everyone else was doing electronics theory.
“That can be boring,” Ojeda said. “I always put myself in their seat. If I’m in a classroom and I’m bored, I’m going to tell that teacher, I don’t mean no disrespect, but you lost me a few times, and if you’re losing me with the knowledge I have of CTE, then you’re losing them.”
So Ojeda decided that beginning in the 10th grade, students would be able to begin working hands-on with the robots. Last year the 11th-graders, with just three weeks to prepare for a national robotics competition, placed 17th out of 65 in the competition.
As an assistant principal, Ojeda also expanded the automotive shop program from one year to three after teachers told him they didn’t have time to do anything more than teach students to detail cars. Last spring, senior Shazim Nasim won first place in a national collision and refinishing competition. He was also named the salutatorian and received a full-ride to a Boston technical college that focuses on auto mechanics.
“The program used to be looked down upon, but now it’s highly respected,” said Barry Roopnarine, who teaches automotive collision and refinishing.
Ojeda credits much of his success today to Bell, his former teacher and current colleague.
“One thing I was taught by Mr. Bell when I was a student was in life, make sure you pick a career that you love, because if you don’t love your career, you’re going to dread waking up Monday mornings,” Ojeda said. “That always stuck with me. I love my job.”
Marc Sternberg, the Department of Education official who has spearheaded controversial school closures and co-locations since 2010, is leaving the city to oversee education philanthropy at the Walton Family Foundation.
Starting next month, senior deputy chancellor Sternberg will be Walton’s executive director of K-12 strategy. Walton’s education agenda focuses on promoting choice and competition, and includes creating charter schools, promoting school choice, and improving teacher quality. The foundation spent more than $158 million on education initiatives last year, and this year has made sizable gifts to Teach for America and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst nonprofit.
Sternberg’s departure comes as his division of the Department of Education has set in motion a bevy of plans to take effect after Mayor Bloomberg leaves office.
The department has asked the Panel for Educational Policy to sign off on dozens of new schools and space-sharing arrangements to begin in 2014 or beyond. But those plans could be in jeopardy regardless of the panel’s vote this year, as Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor, has said he would cancel any space planning that the department does between now and the end of the year that he deems negative for schools.
Sternberg’s level of involvement in those changes — which map closely to Walton’s priorities — over his final few weeks at the department remains unclear. A department spokeswoman said Sternberg had consulted with the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board to ensure that his ties with Walton would not compromise planning that takes place now.
“Marc sought advice from the COIB and conformed his conduct to that advice so there is no conflict,” said spokeswoman Erin Hughes. She said Sternberg would not be part of discussions before the Panel for Educational Policy when the appointed body votes on the proposals next month.
More broadly, Sternberg’s portfolio at the department is directly in de Blasio’s line of fire. Sternberg oversaw opening and closing schools and was instrumental in identifying space for charter schools to expand in public school buildings. (After a state Supreme Court judge gave a light to a set of school closures in 2011, he invited colleagues at the department to celebrate at a happy hour.) In addition to pushing back against the city’s immediate space plans, de Blasio has said he would charge rent to charter schools if elected, which could make it difficult for many of them to continue operating inside city-owned buildings.
The city’s top two other deputy chancellors oversee initiatives that are more likely to continue under a new mayor. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky supervises academics and school accountability, while David Weiner oversees teacher evaluations and labor negotiations.
Sternberg was promoted to senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy just this April after serving as deputy chancellor for portfolio planning since 2010. He became a teacher through Teach For America, and before joining the department he started and was principal of the Bronx Lab School and spent a year working under U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Sternberg becomes the first deputy chancellor at the Department of Education to leave with the Bloomberg administration’s term nearing its close. Other top officials moved on earlier in Bloomberg’s third term, particularly during the rocky period after Joel Klein resigned as chancellor and was replaced briefly by media executive Cathie Black.
Sternberg’s last day at the department is Oct. 4, and he’ll start at Walton’s Washington, D.C. office on Oct. 28. Saskia Levy Thompson, who is currently a senior advisor to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, will take over for him at the Department of Education. Before joining the department’s central administration, Levy Thompson was an author of a 2010 research study that found benefits to the city’s small high schools. She began her career as a kindergarten teacher at P.S. 110 in Manhattan.
“Our loss is the Walton Family Foundation’s gain and I am excited that Marc will continue his work around providing high quality school options for families across the country,” Walcott said in a statement.
This story has been corrected to reflect Saskia Levy Thompson’s current position at the Department of Education.
ALBANY — When Principal Alonta Wrighton wanted to open up P.S. 11 a week earlier than normal to prepare teachers for a year of big changes, red tape blocked her.
First, Wrighton said, she needed a permit and $2,200 to pay to keep the school open longer than normal.
And then she still couldn’t require her staff to show up, since the week before Labor Day was not among the training days listed in the city’s contract with the teachers union.
Both issues inhibited city schools’ ability to implement the Common Core standards, Wrighton said during a panel discussion of educators at Monday’s Board of Regents meeting in Albany.
“[Professional development] should be looked at as a given,” Wrighton said. “I should not have to use my budget to open up my building early and train my teachers.”
Wrighton’s concerns were among many raised by the five educators invited from around the state to speak about the challenges that continue to face schools in the second year of the standards’ rollout. Her request for more required training time reflected a contract issue between the city and the United Federation of Teachers, but it also illustrated the depth of support that educators say is needed to successfully transition to the Common Core.
State Education Commissioner John King said time for teacher training would be a crucial issue for the next New York City mayor to tackle when he sits down with the teachers union next year.
“I think one challenge, when contract negotiations happen for the New York City UFT contract, will be to look at the question of professional development and how much time is set aside, how are costs covered, and those kinds of questions,” King said.
Monday was the first meeting for Board of Regents, which sets policy for the State Education Department, since the school year began. It also came a day before the Regents policies are set to come under scrutiny at the first of four hearings that State Sen. John Flanagan has called to take a critical look at how teacher evaluations and Common Core have rolled out since last year.
The panel discussion at the Board of Regents meeting wasn’t as contentious as the hearings are expected to be, but several educators did echo criticism that’s been lodged since last year.
“We’ve got to find a way to slow down where we can slow down,” said Mike Ford, superintendent of Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District, a rural school district with many low-income students.
Ford said his teachers were “flying blindly” in preparing for the state tests and he urged state officials to release test items as a way to help guide what to teach. Officials have declined the request in recent years, though they released a small selection of items from this year’s tests, the first to be tied to the Common Core, over the summer.
While several of the panelists said they used the state’s Common Core curriculum web site, EngageNY.org, to source curriculum materials, they also said the site still did not have enough resources for all grades and subjects.
Angelique Johnson, who runs one of the state’s 125 teacher centers, which offer professional development services to teachers, said that her budget is a fourth of what it was just a few years ago. She said that teacher centers could be an important way to provide training to teachers on Common Core, but said that budget cuts were a restriction.
Former Francis Lewis High School Principal Musa Ali Shama said he is concerned that high schools would see the same dramatic declines that elementary and middle schools experienced this year once the Regents exams are aligned to the new standards.
The annual standards provide a framework to guide how to develop curriculum modules and lessons that build on each other over time, beginning in the earliest grades. Shama argued that since this year’s ninth-graders, who will take a new Common Core-aligned math test this year, did not benefit from years of the standards, they will unfairly receive low grades.
“You would hate to hear that only 30 percent of your students are prepared for college,” said Shama, who is now overseeing principal evaluations for the city Department of Education.
Wrighton suggested that her school’s math test results this year bore out Shama’s argument. P.S. 11′s third graders, who entered kindergarten when P.S. 11 fully adopted the new math standards, significantly outperformed students in higher grades, bucking a statewide trend.
Wrighton credited her school’s math specialist, Rasheda Rand, and Rand’s content expertise — Rand was a math major in college — as a reason for her school’s strong math scores.
Wrighton said that hiring restrictions in the city limited principals’ ability to bring on the people they need to reach the new standards. Out of 50 candidates she interviewed over the summer, she said just four were ones that she’d consider hiring.
Principals need the opportunity to hire the “best, smartest and brightest minds,” Wrighton said, “not just warm bodies, not just certifications and diplomas.”
The Regents will turn their attention to teacher preparation today during their higher education meeting.