SUNY charter institute director to depart for New Orleans

(Photo courtesy Chartock)
(Photo courtesy Chartock)

The executive director of the State University of New York’s charter authorizer, Jonas Chartock, is leaving to lead a New Orleans-based teacher training program as it expands around the country, SUNY officials announced today.

Beginning in January, Chartock will head up the “Leading Educators” project. The group currently runs a professional development program in New Orleans aimed at keeping strong teachers in the classroom by grooming them for leadership positions that don’t take them away from students.

UPDATE: Chartock just weighed in with more details on the program. He will be charged with expanding the program around the United States, though he said that the group hasn’t yet finalized the first school districts and charter school chains where the program will initially grow. The national expansion won’t necessarily mean replicating the New Orleans program exactly as it is now, Chartock said, and part of his job will be to adapt the model for teachers in other school systems.

The program in New Orleans is currently part of New Leaders for New Schools, the Manhattan-based group whose co-founder, Jon Schnur, served as an advisor to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but will become an independent non-profit, Chartock said. The “Leading Educators” program is modeled after a similar teacher training program launched in the United Kingdom by Jay Altman, who now runs a charter network in New Orleans.

Chartock, who has led SUNY’s charter authorizer since 2008, saw the institute through this spring’s battle over raising the state’s cap on charter schools. He will also be leaving at a challenging time for charter schools and their authorizers, which are adjusting to revisions to the charter law.

Chartock is set to finish his work at SUNY in November, and SUNY officials said today they intend to launch a national search for his replacement.

SUNY Charter Schools Institute Director Tapped to Lead National Non-Profit Focused on Teacher Leadership

Albany – SUNY Trustees Chairman Carl Hayden and Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher congratulated Jonas S. Chartock on his exemplary leadership as he announced his departure from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to develop an innovative non-profit organization.  Chartock will step down from his role as Executive Director of the SUNY Charter Schools to become the Chief Executive Officer of New Orleans based Leading Educators, an organization focused on supporting and developing teacher-leaders as change agents to ensure high academic achievement for every student. Chartock will lead the organization’s national expansion.

Chartock, 35, is a nationally recognized authority on education reform, school choice, and the professional development of quality teachers. Chartock has led the Charter Schools Institute with distinction, making quality improvements to Institute practices, expanding the Institute’s collaboration with state and national charter and educational organizations, and refining and executing the authorizing policies of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

Chartock will leave the Institute on November 15, 2010 and will assume his duties as Leading Educator’s first CEO on January 10, 2011.

SUNY will begin a national search for Chartock’s replacement.

“Jonas has led SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute with integrity and an unbeatable energy and enthusiasm for doing this work of charter authorizing right,” said SUNY Board Chairman Carl T. Hayden.  “He has successfully navigated the Institute through challenging times, all the while continuing to seize new opportunities for moving the organization to the next level. He will be greatly missed.”

“It comes as no surprise that Leading Educators would turn to SUNY as the source for its first CEO” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “I know Jonas will bring the expertise and innovative thinking he demonstrated at the Charter Schools Institute to his new role. We will miss him and wish him all the best.”

Prior to joining the Institute, Chartock was the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Charter School Policy Institute (CSPI) in Austin, Texas, a position he held since 2005. At CSPI, Chartock led a high quality, web-based policy and research enterprise dedicated to better understanding the concept of school choice. Prior to joining CSPI, Mr. Chartock served as Executive Director of Teach For America in Houston, Texas, where he was responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of over 500 first- and second-year teachers. He began his professional career as a teacher through Teach For America in the Compton Unified School District in Compton, California.

Julie Mikuta of NewSchools Venture Fund and a board member of Leading Educators, said, “We are thrilled that Jonas will lead the expansion of Leading Educators. This innovative organization will help schools keep the strongest teachers in the field, by effectively training them to lead other teachers in their schools to produce high levels of student achievement. Jonas brings a rare combination of skills and experiences that will enable Leading Educators to serve teachers and school systems nationwide.”

“This is a most exciting and bittersweet transition,” said Chartock. “SUNY has more than earned its reputation as a national exemplar in charter authorizing and it has been my privilege to lead this dynamic organization.  I hope to continue my support of the Institute and all of the wonderful people I met in my time there in my new role, dedicated to creating teacher-leaders for the benefit of all public schools.”

The National roll-out of Leading Educators is a partnership with Absolute Return for Kids, Teaching Leaders U.K., New Leaders for New Schools, NewSchools Venture Fund, and FirstLine Schools.

“I am excited to work to bring to scale a unique program that develops and retains our best teacher leaders in order to help more teachers significantly raise student achievement in their classrooms and across their schools,” explained Chartock.

Mr. Chartock is an Ed.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, with an anticipated degree date of spring 2011. He holds an Ed.M. in School Leadership from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education; an M.A. in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University; and a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Newark Enrolls

After changes and challenges, Friday’s deadline to enroll in Newark schools finally arrives

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
A student fills out an information sheet at Central High School's booth at the citywide school fair in December.

Newark families have just a few hours left to apply to more than 70 public schools for next fall.

At noon on Friday, the online portal that allows families to apply to most traditional and charter school will close. After that, they will have to visit the district’s enrollment center. Last year, nearly 13,000 applications were submitted.

The stakes — and stress — are greatest for students entering high school. Each year, hundreds of eighth-graders compete for spots at the city’s selective “magnet” high schools, which many students consider their best options.

This year, those eighth-graders have to jump through an extra hoop — a new admissions test the magnets will use as they rank applicants. District students will sit for the test Friday, while students in charter and private schools will take it Saturday.

That’s news to many parents, including Marie Rosario, whose son, Tamir, is an eighth-grader at Park Elementary School in the North Ward.

“I don’t know nothing about it,” she said. District officials have been tight-lipped about what’s on the new test, how it will factor into admissions decisions, or even why introducing it was deemed necessary.

Students can apply to as many as eight schools. Tamir’s top choice was Science Park, one of the most sought-after magnet schools. Last year, just 29 percent of eighth-graders who ranked it first on their applications got seats.

“I’m going to cross my fingers,” Rosario said.

Students will find out in April where they were matched. Last year, 84 percent of families applying to kindergarten got their first choice. Applicants for ninth grade were less fortunate: Only 41 percent of them got their top choice, the result of so many students vying for magnet schools.

This is the sixth year that families have used the online application system, called Newark Enrolls, to pick schools. Newark is one of the few cities in the country to use a single application for most charter and district schools. Still, several charter schools do not participate in the system, nor do the vocational high schools run by Essex County.

Today, surveys show that most families who use the enrollment system like it. However, its rollout was marred by technical glitches and suspicions that it was designed to funnel students into charter schools, which educate about one in three Newark students. Some charter critics hoped the district’s newly empowered school board would abolish the system. Instead, Superintendent Roger León convinced the board to keep it for now, arguing it simplifies the application process for families.

Managing that process has posed challenges for León, who began as schools chief in July.

First, he ousted but did not replace the district’s enrollment chief. Then, he clashed with charter school leaders over changes to Newark Enrolls, leading them to accelerate planning for an alternative system, although that never materialized. Next, the district fell behind schedule in printing an enrollment guidebook for families.

Later, the district announced the new magnet-school admissions test but then had to delay its rollout as León’s team worked to create the test from scratch with help from principals, raising questions from testing experts about its validity. Magnet school leaders, like families, have said they are in the dark about how heavily the new test will be weighted compared to the other criteria, including grades and state test scores, that magnet schools already use to rank applicants.

Meanwhile, León has repeatedly dropped hints about new “academies” opening inside the district’s traditional high schools in the fall to help those schools compete with the magnets. However, the district has yet to hold any formal informational sessions for families about the academies or provide details about them on the district website or in the enrollment guidebook. As a result, any such academies are unlikely to give the traditional schools much of an enrollment boost this year.

District spokeswoman Tracy Munford did not respond to a request Thursday to speak with an official about this year’s enrollment process.

Beyond those hiccups, the enrollment process has mostly gone according to plan. After activating the application website in December, the district held a well-attended school fair where families picked up school pamphlets and chatted with representatives. Individual elementary schools, such as Oliver Street School in the East Ward, have also invited high school principals to come and tell students about their offerings.

American History High School Principal Jason Denard said he made several outings to pitch his magnet school to prospective students. He also invited middle-school groups to tour his school, and ordered glossy school postcards. Now, along with students and families across the city, all he can do is wait.

“I’m excited to see the results of our recruitment efforts,” he said. “Not much else is in my control — but recruitment is.”


Jubilation, and some confusion, as Denver schools begin their post-strike recovery

PHOTO: Eric Gorski/Chalkbeat
Lupe Lopez-Montoya greets students at Columbian Elementary School on Thursday after Denver's three-day teacher strike.

Lupe Lopez-Montoya got the text message at 6:15 a.m. The strike was over, the colleague who’d been keeping her up to speed on news from her union told her.

And so as district and teachers union officials celebrated their deal at the Denver Public Library, Lopez-Montoya on Thursday resurrected her regular commute to Columbia Elementary School, the northwest Denver school where she’s the longest-serving tenured teacher.

For the past three days, Lopez-Montoya had stayed out of school as Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association sparred over how teachers in Denver are paid. She still had unanswered questions about the future. But first, it was time to greet students.

One girl ran across the sidewalk to give a hug. “Ms. Montoya’s back,” she shouted, burying her face in the teacher’s side.

Lopez-Montoya began to welcome students into the building. “Line up and you can go get breakfast,” she told one boy. “I’m happy you’re here today.”

The moment kicked off what was a not-quite-normal day in Denver schools. With a deal coming just an hour before some schools were due to start for the day, teachers and families had little time to adjust their plans. The district also had too little time to reopen early childhood classes that have been closed all week; those will reopen on Friday, officials said.

Building principals got an email around 7 a.m. telling them that the strike was over and that many teachers would be coming back to work. In some buildings, central office staff and substitutes who had been filling in for teachers were already on site when teachers returned to work. And some students who commute long distances didn’t get the word in time to go to schools.

By early afternoon, about 81 percent of teachers in district-run schools had shown up to work, and about 83 percent of students had, according to Denver school district spokesman Will Jones.

In the parking lot outside Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, a west Denver elementary school, teachers still clad in the red of their cause gathered in the parking lot to walk in together. Asked what the mood was, reading intervention teacher Denise Saiz said, “Relief!” and her colleagues responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

“We’re really excited to get back to the kids,” said fifth grade teacher Emily Mimovich.

While strike participation was high at the school — it was founded with support from the state and local union as a teacher-led school — the teachers said they did not believe there would be hard feelings between those who walked and those who didn’t.

“We have such a good relationship,” said Reyes Navarro, who teaches Spanish to kindergarten and first-grade students. “We understand that you have to do whatever is right for you.”

Parents also said they were eager to have their children get back to school.

Sarah Murphy, who has a third-grader and a 4-year-old preschool student, said this morning was a “bit of a scramble, albeit a welcome one.” She had both children signed up for a day camp at the University of Denver and was unsure if she should send them to school or to camp because she wasn’t sure teachers would be back at school. Then she got word that camp was canceled for both children — but Denver Public Schools preschools are still closed.

“We were left trying to figure out what to do with our ECE4 since they were still closed,” she wrote to Chalkbeat. “We know how hard this has been on everyone, but this morning proved that the ECE program was the hardest hit, short notice every step of the way. We very much look forward to tomorrow when both are back in their normal school routines.”

Not everyone returned to school. Some teachers said they needed a day to collect themselves after an emotional experience. Judy Kelley, a visual arts teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, said she and many of her colleagues live too far away from the school to get there on short notice.

But the majority of teachers who went back to work Thursday describe positive experiences returning to their schools. Ryan Marini, a social studies teacher and football coach at South High School, called it the “best day” in 17 years of teaching.

Suzanne Hernandez, a first-grade teacher at Westerly Creek Elementary in Stapleton, said she and other teachers gathered to walk into school together at 7:45 a.m.

Teachers thanked the subs from central office who were in the building. They headed back to their roles in central offices.

Early in the morning, Hernandez sent a message to her students’ parents to let them know teachers would be back in school. The reaction from students as she greeted them was “overwhelming,” she said.

With the help of paraprofessionals who had prepared lessons, Hernandez said teachers were able to jump right back to where they left off last week.

As far as Valentine’s Day, that celebration will be pushed back until Friday afternoon, she said. For now, teachers are having their own celebration, happy to be back in the classroom.

“I think if there’s any sort of effect from the strike, it’s been a positive one,” she said. “It’s been a very unifying experience.”

Allison Hicks, a teacher at Colfax Elementary, said returning teachers were greeted with hugs, music, smiles and tears.

“After finding out an hour ago we were going back to work, I scrambled home to get ready,” she wrote to Chalkbeat. “I am exhausted, but so excited to be back with my students. This day won’t be normal, but knowing I did my part to put my students first is the best feeling to have.”

Kade Orlandini, who teaches at John F. Kennedy High School, said most of the teachers are back in her building, despite the short notice.

“Teachers were ready, and we are jumping right back into instruction,” she wrote. “Attendance seems lower than normal, but students who are here are ready to learn. The atmosphere in the school is very positive all around.”

What was your experience going back to school? What other questions do you have? Take our survey

Chalkbeat’s Ann Schimke, Erica Meltzer, and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting to this article.