Leo Casey

teacher talent

New York

Top UFT official to leave for union's Washington, D.C. think tank

United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo Casey at a public hearing about Opportunity Charter School's charter renewal in November. A top United Federation of Teachers official who has been the union's leading intellectual voice in recent years is heading south. But he won't be going as far as Florida, a common destination for union members who retire. Instead, Leo Casey, the vice president of academic high schools since 2007, said today that is taking a new position this fall as the director of the Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C. The institute is a research arm of the American Federation of Teachers, the national union to which the UFT belongs. In his role at the UFT, Casey has been both an intellectual and a seasoned activist. He has represented the union on various panels, forums, and debates on education policy and blogged prolifically for the union's news and opinion site, Edwize. But he has been just as comfortable protesting at public hearings, where he was known to deliver fiery speeches against school closures, co-locations, and other policies that the union opposed. In moving to the Albert Shanker Institute, a progressive think tank focused on education and labor policies, he will focus on research. Casey, a city teacher for 27 years, said that he hoped his legacy at the UFT would be of pushing against school reform that is driven by non-educators. "I think one of the most important things that has driven my time at the UFT is to provide a voice for classroom teachers and that far too much of education policy making today is in the hands of folks who don't understand what it's like to teach," Casey said. AFT President Randi Weingarten, a close friend and former colleague who helped hire him as a board member on the Shanker Institute, called Casey "an exquisite choice."
New York

From Buffalo, a warning for local consensus on absent students

The city and teachers union aren't anywhere close to settling on new teacher evaluations. But if and when they do strike a deal, they might have to revisit a point of agreement. Leo Casey, a teachers union official, told me recently that before negotiations broke down in December, the city and UFT had agreed that only students with a minimum attendance rate should be counted in teachers' scores. Exactly what that rate would be was still up for discussion, Casey said, but everyone agreed on the basic principle that if students aren't in class to learn, it's not fair to hold teachers responsible for their learning. It's an outlook that teachers at schools under threat of closure have shared over and over. At Washington Irving High School, teachers protesting the city's ultimately successful closure proposal argued that the school would have much stronger performance data if  the city excluded the school's many "long-term absences" from its progress report calculations. It's also a point that united Buffalo and its teachers union as they negotiated a new teacher evaluation system earlier this year for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants. In February, they settled on a system that would exclude chronically absent students from the student growth portion of evaluations. But the State Education Department rejected that portion of their compromise. In the rejection letter, Education Commissioner John King explained that Buffalo's evaluation system would have applied the attendance provision to the 20 percent of evaluations that the state controls, and that's not allowed. But another problem, he wrote, was that the provision could be abused.
New York

John Dewey HS principal removed as city preps for turnaround

Barry Fried, the longtime principal of John Dewey High School, was removed from the Brooklyn school suddenly this morning, according to several teachers at the school. It was not immediately clear whether Fried's removal was related to "turnaround," the federally prescribed reform process that the city has proposed for Dewey and 32 other struggling schools. Turnaround requires principals who have been in place for more than a few years to be replaced, and the city has started informing principals at some of the schools that they would be removed at the end of the year. But Fried's departure happened abruptly, suggesting that the city might have had more immediate concerns. Department of Education officials did not respond to requests for details about Fried's departure today. At a faculty meeting this afternoon, Kathleen Elvin was introduced as the school's interim acting principal. Elvin was the founding principal of a successful small high school, Williamsburg Prep, and most recently trained teachers assigned to schools undergoing less agressive overhaul strategies. She is likely to help engineer staffing and programming changes at the school through the turnaround process. The change, according to people familiar with the school, was sorely needed — but comes after too long with subpar leadership. “Principal Fried sits in his office all day and can’t control the students,” City Councilman Dominic Recchia, a 1977 Dewey graduate, said at a public meeting earlier this year, according to the Brooklyn Daily. “This principal should have been gone years ago. The school could prosper but it needs new leadership.”
New York

City alters Regents grading, credit recovery policies after audit

The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools. The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations. At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests. Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.) Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere. Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements. The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
New York

Once at odds, union and charter school team up to fight closure

United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo Casey at a public hearing about Opportunity Charter School's charter renewal For months, Opportunity Charter School CEO Leonard Goldberg fought to keep the teachers union out of his school. On Monday, he welcomed them into his auditorium with open arms. At a public hearing to discuss the school's future Monday evening, United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo Casey and other UFT officials joined Goldberg and his newly unionized staff to push back against the possibility that Opportunity could be closed. The school's charter is up for renewal this year and the city has cited it as one of six charter schools whose performance is so weak that they could lose their right to operate. The partnership between the school's leadership and the union would have seemed inconceivable just a couple of months ago when the two sides were locked in a legal battle over whether the school's teachers should be able to join the UFT. Union officials and teachers accused Goldberg of retaliation after he fired more than a dozen teachers shortly after they voted to unionize at the school in March. Goldberg refused to acknowledge the teachers' union vote, prompting a hearing with the state's Public Employee Relations Board, which eventually ruled that the teachers could use the UFT as their bargaining agent. The union has also filed a grievance over the firings. All of that was apparently water under the bridge during Monday night's meeting, which two officials from the DOE's charter schools office attended. Goldberg said he was happy to have the union's support and UFT officials said the school should stay open.
New York

Teachers win money, lose protection in new Green Dot contract

Teachers at Green Dot New York Charter School are getting a raise, a bonus, and a little less job security. These are some of the modifications that are set to appear in a two-year renewal of Green Dot's landmark contract with the United Federation of Teachers. Green Dot offered its teachers a 28-page "thin contract" a year after the school opened in 2008, leaving out many of the work rules and policies – including tenure and seniority-based layoffs – that are found in the bulky union deal with the Department of Education. That contract expired in August and Green Dot and union officials have spent the last few months hammering out a new version. It was tentatively approved by board members on Sept. 26, but details of the contract had not been shared with teachers until this week. In a statement issued today, the chief negotiators, Leo Casey, a UFT vice president, and Gideon Stein, who serves on the school's Board of Trustees, shared details of the contract. Under the new terms, the staff will receive a 3 percent raise each of the next two years, amounting to what will be 20 percent above the current salaries in the Department of Education. Last year's teachers will also receive a $2000 bonus because of the school’s high performance. The school’s first students are now seniors so graduation data isn't available, but 95 percent of students have passed the Regents exams they have taken, according to the Green Dot web site. "The teachers and other staff are being paid more in recognition of being part of a very successful school," Stein said. In one concession, teachers will no longer be able to use an independent grievance process in their first year. Instead, they can be fired any time during their first year for any reason. Once the first year is complete, any grievance would return to being handled by an independent arbiter.
New York

After opting in, KIPP staff vote themselves out of teachers union

KIPP New York City's logo, from its web site. Middle school teachers at a KIPP charter school in Brooklyn asked the state this week to let them split from the city teachers union, more than a year after teachers at the same school voted to unionize. The union plans to fight the decision, saying that a group of teachers remain committed to becoming United Federation of Teachers members. Sixteen staff members signed the petition to break from the UFT. The petition was spearheaded by a guidance counselor named Dameon Clay, his attorney said. Staff who signed the petition include classroom teachers as well as social workers, the dean of teaching and learning, an operations manager, and the office manager. I couldn't reach any of the teachers for comment, but Lyle Zuckerman, the attorney representing Clay, said the decision was a judgment about how the teachers could best help themselves and their students. "I think they've come to the conclusion that their goals and the educational mission of the school is just going to best be served by them having a direct relationship with the school's administration," Zuckerman said. When they first voted to unionize, teachers at KIPP AMP said they wanted to “create a more sustainable culture so that we can better serve our students and reduce teacher turnover.” At least three teachers who had formed the initial organizing committee at the school are now signing the petition to break from the union. One is Kashi Nelson, a classroom teacher who also sends her daughter to KIPP AMP and who explained her reversal to Alexander Russo last year.
New York

Teachers union sent scripted questions to City Council members

Council Member Simcha Felder displays one of the cue cards a teachers union representative handed him. At today's education committee hearing, City Council members took turns questioning Department of Education officials on the rise of charters schools. Their questions were passionate, specific, and universally accusatory. They may have also been scripted. Just before the hearing began, a representative of the city teachers union, which describes itself as in favor of charter schools, discreetly passed out a set of index cards to Council members, each printed with a pre-written question. One batch of cards offered questions for the Department of Education, all of them challenging the proliferation of charter schools. "Doesn't the Department have a clear legal and moral responsibility to provide every family in the city guaranteed seats for their children in a neighborhood elementary school?" one card suggested members ask school officials. "Isn't the fundamental problem here the Department's abdication of its most important responsibility to provide quality district public schools in all parts of the city?" another card said. (View more of the cards in a slideshow here.) Several council members picked up on the line of thought. "Shouldn’t we aspire to have every school in the city good enough for parents to feel comfortable sending their children?" Melinda Katz, a Council member from Queens, said in questioning school officials. "I remember when Joel Klein became the chancellor," the committee chair, Robert Jackson, said. "Back then, he used to talk about making every neighborhood school a good school where every parent would want to send their children. I don’t hear him talk about that anymore." Asked about the cards, union president Randi Weingarten provided a statement saying that she regretted the tactic. "We are often asked by the council for information and ideas about various issues. Additionally, when I am available, I often respond to what others testify to. In this instance, I was in Washington and couldn’t be at City Hall," she said in the statement. "I am proud of the testimony we gave today, but I regret the manner in which our other concerns were shared."
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