soundoff

As details become clear, responses roll in to evaluations deal

We’re still piecing together what Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s teacher evaluations announcement today means for the state — and, even more bafflingly, just what the city and United Federation of Teachers have agreed to.

But the complex nature of today’s announcement hasn’t stopped education stakeholders from around the state from sounding off about it. We’ve compiled reactions to Cuomo’s announcement from unbridled exuberance to measured optimism to — in the case of the UFT President Michael Mulgrew — cynicism about what is likely to come next.

From Dick Iannuzzi, head of New York State United Teachers, which agreed on a new evaluations framework with the state:

Teachers support high standards and accountability for our profession. We believe today’s agreement is good for students and fair to teachers. It includes two principles we believe are essential. First, a child is more than a standardized test score. While there is a place for standardized testing in measuring teacher effectiveness, tests must be used appropriately. Secondly, the purpose of evaluations must be to help all teachers improve and to advance excellence in our profession. This agreement acknowledges those key principles. The settlement also reinforces how important it is for teachers to have a voice in establishing standards of professional effectiveness and in developing evaluations that meet the needs of local communities.

From State Education Commissioner John King:

The goal is and always has been to help students – to give them every opportunity to succeed in college and careers. To make that happen, we need to improve teaching and learning. We owe it to our students to make sure every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Today, the Governor’s leadership and his commitment to our students have helped us take a strong step toward that goal.

From UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

The UFT and the Governor have reached an agreement on an appeal process for New York City teachers that includes the kind of independent, third party component that the UFT has been seeking.

The appeal process will not go into effect unless and until Mayor Bloomberg negotiates agreements with the UFT for an overall teacher evaluation deal or for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants (SIGs).

I want to congratulate Governor Cuomo and NYSUT for their hard work in finding common ground on the statewide issues that separated them.  Their agreement recognizes that students are more than a test score. I also want to thank the Governor for his efforts to find a similar resolution for the issues that separate the UFT and Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor’s obsession with closing schools presents a significant barrier to us reaching that overall agreement.

From Ernest Logan, head of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators:

Today, the Governor’s office announced that an agreement has been reached between the State Education Department and education unions over a new teacher and Principal evaluation system. We thank the Governor for his leadership in pursuit of a fair and transparent evaluation system that acknowledges local collective bargaining.   We urge Commissioner King to bring all parties together here in NYC in an effort to avoid placing 33 schools into a ‘Turnaround’ mode that would arbitrarily close them down and quickly reopen them under new names.

 

From Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

This agreement is a significant improvement over the evaluation law passed in 2010. But our work is by no means over. The Regents have adopted a major education reform plan, and teacher and principal evaluations are just a part of that reform. Today is a good day, but the best day will be when we’ve fully implemented the Regents reforms and we’ve made sure all our students get the education they need to succeed in college and careers.

From Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who four days ago implored the city to come to an agreement with the UFT:

Governor Cuomo has brokered a historic agreement with the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers that puts our children’s education first. Once again we have proof that dialogue and good-faith negotiating deliver far more than posturing and threats ever could. The deal reached today preserves vital federal funding for struggling schools across the city and state, and puts in place a long-overdue system to fairly evaluate teachers. This agreement erases the Bloomberg Administration’s flawed rationale for closing 33 schools and firing half of their teachers—a plan intended as a threat to wring concessions from the UFT. The Mayor must immediately halt those plans and recognize that today’s historic announcement deserves the City’s complete support.

From Elizabeth Ling, the state’s director of Democrats for Education Reform:

In reaching this groundbreaking agreement on teacher evaluations, Gov.  Andrew Cuomo reminded us what it looks like when leaders lead. This is a complicated deal with lots of moving pieces, but the Governor skillfully pulled them all together and the end result is a pragmatic agreement that’s great for students. That it’s also a great deal for teachers, parents, and taxpayers is icing on the cake.  We long ago pegged New York as a ‘follower’ when it comes to education issues, but today our education and political leaders showed that the Empire State can, and should, be a pace-setter once again.

From Hannya Boulous, the director of an upstate reform group, Buffalo ReformED:

I commend Governor Cuomo for facilitating an agreement to create a transformative teacher evaluation system that finally pushes politics aside and focuses on the real objective of improving New York’s education system. Students have been forced to be a part of a system that was internally broken, as New York State outspends the rest of nation on education, yet is only ranked 38th in graduation rates. The Governor has cut right to the heart of the issue and helped those who have suffered the most: our students. A stronger and more effective teacher evaluation benefits both students and teachers, by clearing the path for improved instruction and professional development opportunities. This is the first big step in turning our schools around.

From Educators 4 Excellence, which outlined its dream teacher evaluation system last year:

Finally! This historic agreement will for the first time give classroom teachers the meaningful feedback they need to improve their performance and help their students achieve. This multi-measured solution is very much in line with what Educators 4 Excellence members proposed nearly a year ago and we’re thrilled our voices were heard. It offers the right combination of student test data, multiple observations and a fair and streamlined appeals process that creates opportunities for struggling teachers to get better. Governor Cuomo deserves enormous credit for breaking through the gridlock and delivering such a strong plan. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg for his commitment to giving teachers the tools they need to succeed and UFT President Mulgrew for recognizing how important this feedback is to his members. They all showed great leadership on the issue.

From the Columbia University leader of Students for Education Reform, Ashley Williams:

This new evaluation system will develop teachers to provide high quality instruction to all students. As both a recent classroom student and a future teacher, I am very confident that this system will improve the quality of teachers statewide and ultimately benefit student learning.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”