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April 9, 2013
On a school tour, education officials see Common Core success
PHOTO: Scott ElliottChancellor Dennis Walcott looked on in a sixth-grade math class at Brooklyn's Academy of Arts and Letters where the teacher listed all of the different ways students solved the same math problem, an emphasis of the Common Core. City and state education officials liked what they saw this morning when they stopped by the Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn to see how the new Common Core standards are being implemented there.
March 22, 2013
City schools budget still in flux, but rainy-day funds are restored
Principals who were in the final stages of a school-supplies spending spree might want to put their wallets away. Back in January, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals that they would not be able to save any of their school's funds from this year to use next year, a practice that allows schools to plan ahead in an uncertain budget climate. That gave the principals an incentive to spend down their last dollars this spring. But hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a state budget deal earlier this week, bringing the Department of Education's financial situation into clearer relief, Walcott announced that he had retracted the decree.
March 15, 2013
City schools poised to see funds restored in state budget deal
There is increasing confidence in Albany that much — though probably not all — of the state school aid forfeited by the city earlier this year will be restored when a final budget is submitted. Whether any aid would be restored seemed less likely a week ago. Several key New York City Democrats didn't immediately support the cause and the Bloomberg administration was not actively lobbying for it. But that changed this week, as negotiations to adopt a $136.5 billion budget got underway. The city ramped up its presence in Albany, and State Sen. Diane Savino, whose support has been courted by other Democrats, said today she was more optimistic that some funding would be restored. "There's going to be a solution ... that's not going to overly punish New York City children," said Savino, a Staten Island Democrat whose breakaway caucus controls the Senate along with Republicans. A source close to negotiations said that "at least some" of the $240 million lost by the city this year would be restored.
February 26, 2013
Four months after Sandy, education department waits on FEMA
Chancellor Walcott testifies at a City Council hearing on Hurricane Sandy recovery. Like many of the New York residents whose homes were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Education is waiting on the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Before the department can apply for FEMA funds to make repairs at a given Sandy-affected school, or to reimburse the department for funds already expended to carry out repairs, FEMA representatives must first make a site visit to the school. But in over four months since the hurricane hit, FEMA has visited only eight out of 50 schools. “We have the money to work on the schools,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, referring to the $200 million in emergency capital funds Mayor Bloomberg announced in November would go towards paying for repairs on schools damaged during the hurricane.
February 11, 2013
City's evaluation rollout plan ignores state's latest requests
The city Department of Education delivered a plan for how it will implement new teacher and principal evaluations to the state ahead of schedule today — but without giving state officials much of the information they asked for. According to a memo that Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent today to the state, the city plans to spend $23 million in the next six months preparing city educators for a new evaluation system. The memo is a response to State Education Commissioner John King's demand, made last month after the city and teachers union failed to agree on a new teacher evaluation system, that the city detail its implementation plans or lose state funds. The plan that Walcott delivered today is broader than the highlights that city officials released last week. In addition to dealing just with teacher and administrator training about the observation model the city is planning to use to assess teachers in action, the memo also explains how city educators will learn about some components of evaluations that must be based on student performance. It also delineates different training programs for teachers, principals, department officials and attaches a price tag to each one. But for the most part, the plan contains only the bare minimum of what city officials were told on Friday should be included in their implementation plan. In response to requests for guidance from the city, the state official overseeing review and approval of all evaluation plans, Julia Rafal-Baer, sent a chart to Chancellor Dennis Walcott with dozens of "key questions" whose answers do not appear in the plan the city submitted today.
February 8, 2013
At bus driver strike hearing, Walcott bats away council criticism
Chancellor Dennis Walcott takes questions from Robert Jackson during a City Council hearing on the school bus strike. Agitated City Council members spent more than two hours today grilling Chancellor Dennis Walcott about the city's refusal to restore job protections for school bus drivers or intervene in their nearly monthlong strike. The hearing took place more than three weeks into the strike on a day when many families' tenuous transportation plans were complicated by the start of a snowstorm. Attendance in schools for students with disabilities, which have been hardest-hit by the strike, fell from 76 percent on Thursday to just 50 percent today. Maria Uruchima, whose nightmarish commute includes 8 buses and 4 trains, said her son wasn't feeling well, "so I just kept him home because it's going to be crazy out anyways." Even before the inclement weather, at least 2,500 students who attend schools in District 75, which serve special education students with the highest needs, "were still home," Maggie Moroff, Special Education Policy Coordinator at Advocates for Children, said in her prepared remarks. For students that made it to school, Moroff said parents sacrificed hours of their work days to get them there and many students arrived late anyway.
January 29, 2013
Mulgrew faces legislators, as Walcott promises to revisit sunset
ALBANY — Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan kept her promise to question UFT President Michael Mulgrew with the same tenacity as when she interrogated Mayor Bloomberg on Monday. Nolan chastised Bloomberg for his role in New York City's failure to reach a teacher evaluation deal, which will likely cost the city $240 million in state school aid. Today, she told Mulgrew, "This is the fault of labor and management together." Nolan chairs the Assembly's education committee and usually sympathizes with the union on education issues. "It is unbelievable to me that this union, with its great history, could not negotiate this deal," Nolan added as she questioned Mulgrew, whose testimony before the legislature was supposed to be about the 2013-2014 state budget but focused instead on the failed evaluation deal and issues surrounding upcoming assessments aligned to new standards. Mulgrew and Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose testimony earlier in the day generated less confrontation, both told the legislature that they are open to resuming negotiations. Walcott even conceded that a misunderstanding could have fueled one major issue preventing a deal.
January 29, 2013
Bloomberg lists central budget cuts to accompany schools' hit
Following up on his promise to detail school budget cuts required by the collapse of a teacher evaluation deal earlier this month, Mayor Bloomberg today described how he plans to reduce costs in the Department of Education's central administration. The rest of the $250 million funding will cut come from schools, Bloomberg said during a press conference in which he announced the first city budget revision to reflect costs incurred from Hurricane Sandy. In addition to the cuts that Chancellor Dennis Walcott outlined in an email to principals on Monday, Bloomberg said he would restrict hiring centrally and eliminate vacancies in areas such as administration, human resources, budget, and help desk staff. He said the city would also cut non-personnel costs--the costs of running an office that don't include staff salaries--in administrative and field-based offices by 90 percent, and reduce spending on contracts for services such as youth development, professional development, and anti-bullying programs.
January 18, 2013
Walcott to principals: We rejected evaluation deal to protect you
Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals today that he was thinking about them when he rejected a teacher evaluation deal. Then he warned them that their schools could see budget cuts as a result. In his first communication with school leaders since months-long negotiations with the teachers union fell apart on Thursday, Walcott said the union had asked to be able to file more grievances over teacher ratings than a previous agreement had allowed. If the city had acceded to the union's request, Walcott said, principals would face union attacks over the data they collect from students, the way they communicate with teachers, and what they ask teachers to work on. "In the end, I could not agree to the UFT’s demands because they would have stripped principals of much of your existing authority," he said.
November 28, 2012
Even if deal on teacher evals is reached, logistical matters loom
Negotiations between the city and teachers union over new teacher evaluations appear likely to come down to the wire yet again. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would withdraw increased state aid from any district that does not negotiate a teacher evaluation system with its union by Jan. 17, 2013. As the deadline nears, state education officials have said repeatedly that they need weeks to review systems that are submitted for approval. Districts should submit plans by the first week of December, they have urged. Most districts have responded to the urgency. About 85 percent of New York State's 700 school districts have turned in at least the first draft of required teacher evaluation plans, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said today. In New York City, where $300 million in state aid is at stake this year, city officials say they feel confident that they will reach a deal before Cuomo's deadline, and union leaders say constructive discussions are back on track after a nearly monthlong hiatus following Hurricane Sandy. But both said there is significant ground yet to cover. Comparing the introduction of new teacher evaluations to a 26.2-mile marathon, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said on Tuesday, "We're at mile five, and our goal is to make this a long-distance run."
November 20, 2012
City raids February vacation week to make up time lost to Sandy
This year's midwinter vacation will shrink from five days to two to make up for school days cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy, city and union officials announced today. The city closed schools for five days because of the storm, and some particularly hard-hit schools were closed even longer. In addition to interrupting students' schooling, the lost time dropped the city below the 180 instructional days required to receive state school aid. Now, according to a city-union deal, students will attend school on four days they were supposed to have off: Feb. 20-22 and June 4. The February days had been part of a weeklong break that has been part of the calendar since 1990, and the June date had been scheduled as a "clerical day" for teachers and school staff. With four days added back to the calendar, the school year is now set to be 181 or 182 days, depending on what grade students are in. That leaves a slight cushion for snow days, but if more than one day is cancelled, additional makeup days will have to be identified.
November 19, 2012
Officials blanket Sandy-affected schools, where fallout persists
State Education Commissioner John King and City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott talk to a P.S. 47 administrator. At M.S. 53 on the Rockaway Peninsula, one student told Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch he was worried about taking the state tests after all the time he missed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Up a flight of stairs at Village Academy, Chancellor Dennis Walcott heard from a seventh-grader named Kimberly who lost everything in the storm. In a few weeks, she's relocating permanently to Rochester, said her principal, Doris Lee. And at a third visit at P.S. 47 in Broad Channel, an island that helps connect the Far Rockaway peninsula to the Queens mainland, Walcott asked about 20 fourth-graders if they knew what "FEMA" meant. Every hand went up. Another 12 schools damaged by Sandy reopened on Monday, bringing 5,400 more students back to their original classrooms from temporary relocations in other school buildings. During a visit to another Far Rockaway school, P.S. 43, Mayor Bloomberg celebrated the news and noted that of 65 schools originally rendered "non-operational" because of power outages, damaged boilers, and flooded basements, all but 18 are back up and running.
November 13, 2012
As schools stabilize, some students and supplies still missing
Council members Christine Quinn and Domenic Recchia hand out school supplies to students at I.S. 281 in Bensonhurst (Credit: William Alatriste) If today's attendance figures were a test of how well the city's schools are rebounding from Hurricane Sandy, as Chancellor Dennis Walcott said they would be last week, then the city scored a 91 percent overall. Even as 34 city schools remain unmoored from their damaged buildings, thousands more students showed up for classes today for the first time since the schools closed in October. At the same time, charitable efforts are shifting their focus toward replenishing those schools with basic supplies—most recently through a million dollar campaign, launched today, to supply students with backpacks and other supplies. The city's overall attendance rate is climbing, but schools in the areas that the hurricane hit the hardest are still struggling to fill their rosters. Of the fifteen schools that returned to their original buildings today, after relocating a week ago, Department of Education officials said about 77 percent showed up on average. And among the 37 relocated schools, two-thirds of students showed up—double the percentage from last week.
November 5, 2012
Schools reopen with low attendance, but officials are optimistic
Flanked by city officials, Mayor Bloomberg updated reporters on the hurricane relief effort from P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a South Brooklyn school that was damaged in the hurricane. Today marked the first day back to school for most city students, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed their attendance rate. But the figure he cited — 85 percent — didn't count the 75,000 students who weren't in attendance because their schools were temporarily closed, or hundreds of schools that did not report their attendance in time for his press conference. Despite lingering complications from Hurricane Sandy, including power and transit woes, the majority of students and teachers invited to return to school today for the first time in a week made it. And several buildings reopened this morning despite sustaining massive damages a week ago. For the site of his daily update on the city's hurricane relief effort, Bloomberg picked one of those schools — P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach, a southern Brooklyn school that flooded and originally seemed unlikely to reopen to students today. Flanked by other city officials, Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the number of closed schools is shrinking as more schools that were damaged or lost power slowly receive the repairs they need. On Sunday, buildings too damaged to reopen contained 57 schools; Bloomberg said that number is 48 today. And just 19 schools remain without power, he said, down from more than 100 over the weekend. One of the schools to which teachers will return on Tuesday is John Dewey High School, which Walcott cited last week as one of the most severely damaged in the city after an electrical fire during the storm. Department officials said the School Construction Authority had been able to install a generator and get Dewey's boiler to work, obviating a planned three-building co-location.
November 5, 2012
City lifts short-lived ban on letting charters open on Election Day
A screenshot from the website of Future Leaders Institute Charter School shows that the school had planned to hold classes tomorrow even though Department of Education schools are closed. It no longer has permission to remain open, following two back-to-back policy changes by the city. Reversing a decision made late last week, the Department of Education will provide school safety agents and other supports to dozens of charter schools that want to hold class on Tuesday. But the reversal came too late for some schools that had already canceled classes. On Friday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott decreed that no school housed in public space could remain open on Election Day because school safety agents were needed to fill in for other city workers pulled away to help with Hurricane Sandy relief. "For all schools in DOE space, regardless if you have applied/have a permit, no students may be in the building and no classes may be held on Election Day," Sonia Park, head of the department's Charter Schools Office, told school leaders on Friday afternoon. "Because of the storm, significant resources across the City will continued to be deployed for recovery efforts and therefore can not be available for schools in DOE buildings." The decision brought charter schools housed in district buildings into line with the rest of the city's schools, which were already scheduled to have the day off so that 700 schools could serve as polling sites. But it also snatched away a key element of the privately managed schools' autonomy: the right to set their own calendars. Dozens of charter schools were planning to hold classes to avoid a midweek interruption — particularly after Sandy caused them to miss five days of classes.
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