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November 21, 2013
After city pays millions in SESIS overtime, complications remain
Special education teachers say it's a common feeling: the students are gone for the day, and it's time for the real work to begin. But if they need to record something on a student's Individualized Education Program, it's probably too late. Early efforts to curb overtime payments have now become policy, as the Department of Education reminds principals to keep staff members out of SESIS—the online system that tracks special education students—after the school day ends unless the principal has committed to pay for that time. The reminders were spurred by arbitration that ultimately cost the city $41 million in belated overtime to teachers and staff whose after-hours work violated union contracts. For months, some principals have been looking for ways to give teachers more time during the day to work with the notoriously glitchy system (made more frustrating by slow school Internet speeds). But teachers and principals say that serious problems remain, as students' information is now updated more slowly, data entry takes time away from student interaction, and some teachers continue to work without pay. "Is that the reality? Of course it's the reality," said Carmen Alvarez, the UFT's vice president for special education, of the continuing issues. "Do I like it? No. Did we tell it to the DOE three years ago in writing? Yes."
June 12, 2012
Council hearing sheds dim light on special education reforms
Leroy Comrie, a councilman from Queens, speaks at NYC Parents Union rally before the city council hearing. After months of waiting to hear the results of a pilot program for the city's special education reforms, many advocates hoped they would finally get some answers today at a City Council hearing. But when Department of Education officials sat down to testify, there were few revelations. It's not that the DOE was witholding any new information. It was just that no such data yet existed, said Laura Rodriguez, the outgoing Deputy Chancellor of Special Education. Rodriquez said they had so far collected data for only a couple of measures – such as attendance and the rate of movement of students with special needs into general education settings – and that they hadn't focused on other key metrics. Advocates say that other important measures of success include suspension rates and parent surveys.
June 8, 2009
Special ed advocates wary after news of Harries's departure
Just months after adjusting to the news that a schools official with no special education experience would be reviewing the city's special education offerings, advocates for children with disabilities are now reeling from another shakeup: The news that the official, Garth Harries, is leaving the city. The announcement today came after a months-long "listening tour" intended to teach Harries about the issues facing teachers and families of children with special needs. On the tour, Harries heard from anxious parents who explained from their point of view the nuances of an extremely complicated system. "The special education community has invested a lot of time in bringing Garth up to speed," said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York (where I used to work). "I hope all that time will not be lost."
June 8, 2009
Joel Klein says he's not planning to be the next official to leave
Chancellor Joel Klein. (GothamSchools via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/28995913@N07/3412026378/##our Creative Commons Flickr##) A string of departures by top school officials is fueling speculation that Chancellor Joel Klein could be the next to go. But in an interview today, Klein laughed off the possibility. He said the departures — four since January — are actually evidence that his prescription for changing urban schools is catching on. The latest official to leave is Garth Harries, the management guru who is in the middle of restructuring the city's special education offerings. Harries announced today that he has accepted a job at the New Haven school system starting in July. A teachers union vice president, Carmen Alvarez, said the exodus signals that even bigger changes could be brewing at the top. "Read the tea leaves," she said in an interview today. "People don't leave like that unless there's another change in the air." Some have speculated that Klein's departure could be part of a deal that preserves the mayor's control of the city schools: The head of the unpopular-amongst-elected-officials schools chancellor in exchange for continued power for the mayor.
June 4, 2009
Randi Weingarten under fire for mayoral control position
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) A group of parent activists and union members is expressing anger with teachers union leader Randi Weingarten, telling her that she has dropped the ball in fighting for checks to the mayor's power over schools. The frustration began with a May 21 New York Post column, in which Weingarten indicated that she is open to allowing the mayor to continue appointing a majority of members to the citywide school board. A union task force recommended in February that the state legislature reverse that majority as a way to strengthen the board, known as the Panel for Education Policy or PEP. Weingarten's Post op/ed dismayed some members of her own union. "I was quite disappointed and angry, actually," said Lisa North, a teacher who sat on the union's task force to consider revisions to mayoral control. North said the task force never seriously considered recommending that the mayor keep his majority of appointments, and so when union delegates ratified the committee's final recommendations, she expected Weingarten to promote them. "The delegate assembly is supposed to be the highest authority of the union, and it voted for it," she said. In an interview today, Weingarten acknowledged that people have reached out to her with concerns about her position, including her own union members. "I did get a couple of e-mails from members saying, 'Why are you doing what you're doing?'" she said. She said that she empathizes with those concerns. "I totally and completely understand and concur with the frustrations that many have that this mayor and this chancellor have not listened to and respected enough the voices of those who go to our schools, their parents, and those who teach them," she said. But she also said that she has to weigh concerns about checking the mayor's power against the reasons she supported giving the mayor control in 2002. "It's always been a balance of stability, cohesion, and responsibility, which is what mayoral control brought us, and modifying it to create sufficient checks and balances and transparency," Weingarten said.
May 15, 2009
City's top special ed official will leave at school year's end
The head of the city's special education division has announced that she is stepping down at the end of the school year, a surprise move that comes at a time when a top-to-bottom review of special education is underway. Linda Wernikoff said her decision to retire is not related to the review or the changes its conclusion could bring to her department. "I think I've had a wonderful 35-year career here and I'm very proud of the work that we've done," she told me. "Now I think it's time that I need to try new things." Under Wernikoff's leadership, the Department of Education has focused on reducing the proportion of children who are in special education-only classes, and the graduation rate for students with special needs has inched up, although it still remains quite low. Wernikoff, who began her career in 1974 as a speech teacher, told me she had no specific plans yet for her future, but she said, "Whatever I do will continue to be advocating for students with special needs." People that I spoke to today said Wernikoff's departure will be a blow for the special education community.
April 26, 2009
Different kinds of critics will discuss mayoral control today
A flier from the discussion on mayoral control in Brooklyn today at 3pm. I apologize for the horribly short notice, but please try to stop…
March 16, 2009
At critical moment, Merryl Tisch takes helm of state school board
PHOTO: Chalkbeat ColoradoMerryl Tisch, sitting next to teachers union vice president Carmen Alvarez at the Manhattan Assembly hearing on mayoral control. (##http://www.flickr.com/photos/28995913@N07/3265349782/##GothamSchools##) Merryl Tisch, a former first-grade teacher and member of one of the city's most philanthropic families, will head the committee that oversees the state public schools, the Board of Regents, state officials just announced. The other Regents elected Tisch to the title today at a critical moment for state education efforts. The Education Department in Albany is launching an internal restructuring, and the Regents are searching for a new commissioner to run the department. Commissioner Richard Mills, who had served 14 years in the job, presiding over an ambitious raising of graduation standards, announced his plans to retire last year. The current Regents chancellor, Robert Bennett, of Buffalo, said he would step down from the position 10 days ago. Tisch has been vice chancellor of the board since 2007 and served on the board since 1996. Her term as chancellor begins April 1. Though Tisch has been a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg, she has also occasionally criticized him and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein. She told the Times last year that she disagreed with Klein's request for looser regulations on state funds. "Nobody appointed him czar," she said. She also testified to a committee that mayoral control of the schools, which Bloomberg strongly supports, should be curtailed. I reported her testimony, which was originally secret, at the New York Sun Yet Tisch's plans for the state's public schools, which she laid out in a long statement accepting the new position, sound many similar notes to the Bloomberg administration's work in New York City. It also echoes the Obama administration's plans for education.
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