Tag Archives: uft

Seven Queens high schools close their doors for good


| brennison@queenscourier.com

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The final bell rang for the seven Queens Turnaround high schools as the last students passed through the doors of what the city graded as failing institutions.

Wednesday, June 27, marked the final day of class for August Martin, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown, Richmond Hill and William C. Bryant after the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close the schools in April. Seventeen other high schools around the city have also closed.

Under the Turnaround model, the schools will reopen in the fall under a new name with half the staff possibly replaced.

“I guess I’m happy that I’m the last graduating class of this high school but at the same time it’s disappointing because we’re not coming back and half of these teachers are not coming back at all,” said Newtown senior Adianes Dalle, fighting back tears. “I tried my best to keep it open… There’s no point in coming to visit because [the teachers] are not going to be here.”

The state’s Education Department approved the closings on Friday, June 22, saying they met New York’s requirements.

“I’m disappointed that I’m not going to finish my career here,” said Bryant teacher Mike Sherwood, who has been at the school for 20 years.

The Queens schools shutting their doors were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) on an evaluation system.

Flushing teacher Robert Pomeranz called the Turnaround “a trick by renaming and renumbering.”

“Next year, the new school won’t have statistics that will count for another three years. It is a trick by the mayor and his flunkies.”

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city was eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

That funding has been provisionally approved by the state pending the outcome of arbitration.

“My conditional approval of these plans is contingent on the NYC DOE’s ability to meet the relevant staff replacement requirements, ongoing consultation and collaboration with stakeholders,” state Education Commissioner John King wrote in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

The UFT filed a lawsuit in May saying the method of replacing teachers at the turnaround schools violated their contracts.

An arbitrator will determine if the DOE has properly staffed the turnaround schools.

If the arbitrator decides against the DOE — which says it is properly following the guidelines in the teachers’ contract — the department may revisit and consider additional staff from the closed school in order to receive SIG funds. The DOE said that the fact that the state education commissioner approved the closures will be brought the arbiter’s attention.

Though the federal funding is important to supporting the new institutions, the spokesperson said, the main mission of the turnaround plan was developing a strategy to improve student achievement.

Committees composed of representatives from the UFT and DOE will make the decision on whether former teachers meet the qualifications at the new school.

The final decisions on hirings cannot be made until after the arbitrator’s decision, the UFT said, which the union expects soon.

“No final personnel decisions involving these schools can be made until the arbitrator rules on the UFT’s contention that these are not really new schools,” a UFT spokesperson said.

— Additional reporting by Chris Brito

UFT sues to prevent school closings


| mchan@queenscourier.com

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The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) are hoping to “turnaround” the city’s decision to close 24 schools in court.

The organizations filed suit today in State Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction until issues surrounding the Department of Education’s (DOE) Turnaround plan can be resolved through arbitration, UFT officials said.

Under Turnaround, 24 city schools — including seven in Queens — will close at the end of the semester and reopen under a new name in the fall. While non-graduating students at each school will be guaranteed a seat, teachers will have to reapply for their jobs, according to the DOE. If 50 percent of the former teachers reapply, at least that amount will have to be rehired.

“These ‘sham closings’ are an attempt by the DOE to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan in a joint statement.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) — made up of five representatives chosen by the borough presidents and seven others who are selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg — voted 8-4 to close the schools on April 26.

The mayor’s appointees and the representative from Staten Island — which had no schools on the list — voted for the Turnaround plan, while the other four voted against the measure, according to published reports.

“We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements,” the statement said.

According to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, preparations have already been made to open the new schools in September, including training leadership teams and holding meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. He said the lawsuit “could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Walcott said in a statement. “Our strategy of replacing failing schools has led to major gains in achievement and graduation rates, and we pledge to extend that progress no matter what special interest groups try to obstruct it.”

The seven closing Queens schools are August Martin, Bryant, Flushing, John Adams, Long Island City, Newtown and Richmond Hill High School. They were all on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and were receiving federal Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the UFT on an evaluation system.

By instituting the Turnaround model — a program which does not require teacher evaluations — the city will be eligible to apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

According to UFT and CSA officials, unless the DOE agrees that it has improperly identified the 24 schools, the issue will go before an independent arbitrator.

 

Turnaround proposals submitted for eight Queens high schools


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Elected officials are refusing to “turn” the other cheek on the city’s plan to overhaul a number of high schools throughout the borough.

The Department of Education (DOE) has submitted proposals to Turnaround eight high schools – Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City, Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams – resulting in the closure of the school at the end of the academic year and its reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012, along with the replacement of 50 percent of the faculty.

In total, 33 schools across the city have been designated for the Turnaround model, but each current student will be guaranteed a seat in their reopened school.

Local leaders, parents and teachers have all expressed outrage over the DOE’s plans, emphasizing the destructive influence this will have on students.

“This is a slap in the face to all of the teachers and students who have been working hard to keep [these schools] on the road towards greatness,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a graduate of Bryant High School. “I think pulling the plug is the wrong way to go. The students feel pride in their school, and if you close it, you are saying it is a failure. I think that’s the wrong message.”

Van Bramer, who called the city’s tactics “draconian,” also noted that a new principal was installed in Bryant in September, giving the leader less than a year at the school.

Other legislators have argued that politics should be left out of the classroom.

“The DOE should realize this proposal does not factor how such an extreme overhaul of Bryant and L.I.C high schools would affect attending students and how they learn,” said Senator Michael Gianaris. “Children’s education should supersede political posturing.”

DOE officials said the city lost significant federal funding when an agreement on teacher evaluations could not be reached with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

By deciding to Turnaround the schools – a program which does not require teacher evaluations – the city can apply for up to $60 million in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding from the state.

“When we did not get an agreement with the UFT by January, we lost out on money from the state,” said DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas. “That’s one of the reasons behind this – we want to try to salvage as much of those funds as possible. We also see this as an opportunity for these schools to get better, improve their culture, improve their school program, improve their staff and become much better schools.”

The DOE’s proposal will be voted on by the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), a committee composed of 13 members assigned by the five borough presidents and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on April 26.

According to Thomas, if the Turnaround proposal is approved by PEP, the department plans to move forward regardless of funding.

“This is being done because of the mayor’s ego, and not because of any inability of the UFT to negotiate,” said Ken Achiron, the UFT chapter leader of L.I.C. “The mayor walked away from the table and refused to negotiate. I think this is a disaster for the children and school system. This mayor is doing more damage than the fiscal crisis of 1975.”

Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C. for 16 years, believes the plan has hurt students and educators alike.

“I think this will severely disrupt the students’ education,” she said. “If the goal is to improve education, this is the worst thing they can do. Teacher morale is low, and it should be clear that Bloomberg is trying to remove teachers.”

Down the Drain? Flushing High School fights to remain


| smosco@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Steve Mosco

After more than 100 years of reading, writing and arithmetic, Flushing High School now faces its toughest test of all.

Legislators and education advocates gathered in front of the school to protest a possible Turnaround, which would effectively eliminate Flushing High School as it is currently constituted.

“Over the past few years, Flushing High School has improved,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky at the protest on February 24. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but closing the school and replacing the principal and staff with multiple layers of educational bureaucracy is not the solution.”

Stavisky, who worked as a substitute teacher at the school before her election to the State Senate, was joined by Assemblymember Grace Meng and Councilmember Peter Koo, as well as representatives for the school, the United Federal of Teachers (UFT) and the NAACP.

The protest was sparked after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to replace about half of the teaching staff at the 33 city schools, including eight in Queens, identified as struggling by the state. These 33 schools are in a federal improvement program because of low test scores and graduation rates.

A spokesperson representing UFT president Michael Mulgrew said that Bloomberg’s push for Turnaround stems from a disagreement between the mayor and the teacher organization.

“We are here today in support of not only Flushing High School, but all the schools the mayor is holding hostage,” Mulgrew’s spokesperson said. “It is time the mayor put our children and our school’s first, and end the political grandstanding that has now gone on for far too long.”

Flushing High School, and the other 32 schools listed for closure, had recently received the OK from the Department of Education (DOE) to implement reform models aimed at reversing troubling trends. According to the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators Ernest Logan, the DOE isn’t giving these reforms the time to take hold and make a difference.

“All of these schools, including Flushing, had rather recently embarked on new reform models with the blessing of the NYC DOE,” said Logan. “For the DOE to now abruptly reject those schools’ efforts, without examination of their progress, is arbitrary, capricious and insensitive to children and families.”

DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas said that Flushing High School received a “D” on its most recent progress report, with an “F” on the student performance section. He also said that graduation rates at schools serving similar populations are significantly higher than at Flushing.

“We understand the passionate feelings these issues evoke on all sides, but these proposals represent an opportunity to provide our families with new, high-quality schools that will do better by students, and ultimately that has to be our priority,” said Thomas.

Thomas also said that the DOE cannot afford to let underperforming schools linger while a teacher evaluation deal is hammered out and implemented. He said the turnaround plan keeps the best parts of the existing school, including its highest quality faculty, while creating a new program, new school culture and a different and better environment for students.

 

Queens teacher had ‘pattern of inappropriate conduct’


| smosco@queenscourier.com

A teacher who had “shown a pattern of inappropriate conduct,” but was allowed to teach anyway, has been charged with sexually abusing two young boys on multiple occasions at P.S. 174 in Rego Park.

Wilbert Cortez, a 49-year-old computer teacher at William Sydney Mount School, was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual misconduct against a child and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

“These are serious accusations in which a school teacher – who should serve as a role model to students – is instead accused of using his position to gain access to children for his own gratification,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “Schools should be safe havens where students are protected from harm. These are disturbing allegations that, if true, require punishment.”

According to the criminal charges, between September 2010 and June 2011 Cortez allegedly rubbed the groin and buttocks over the pants of two young students. He pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse and endangering charges in Queens Criminal Court on February 16 and was released after posting a $50,000 bail bond.

Perhaps most disturbing is that a city investigation in 2000 found that Cortez had shown “a pattern of inappropriate conduct” at a school in Brooklyn. The report concluded that the teacher slapped two students on the buttocks on several occasion. A letter of discipline was placed in Cortez’s file – however, six months later he was transferred to P.S. 174.

In response to the incident, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited the school on February 17 to meet with officials and assure parents that he plans to make it easier for principals to get disciplinary records of anyone vying for a position at city schools.

“I am appalled by the allegations against Wilbert Cortez,” said Walcott. “No adult who inappropriately touches a student, in or out of school, belongs anywhere near the children we are responsible for protecting. I will do everything in my power to ensure that individuals like Mr. Cortez can be swiftly removed from our classrooms as soon as allegations surface – and be barred from teaching in our schools if those charges are substantiated.”

A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers said “we do not comment on current investigations.”

 

A classroom is for learning


| editorial@queenscourier.com

What is the Department of Education (DOE) doing?

Administrators at the city’s public school system are seemingly asleep at the wheel, allowing teachers to run amok — WITH OUR CHILDREN.

In the past week alone, two teachers — who are supposed to be role models for our youth — were busted, one for inappropriately touching two boys, the other for a ruse that involved having her class send cards to a prison inmate.

What is going on? We are absolutely outraged at the lack of oversight by the DOE and United Federation of Teachers (UFT)!

In the first case, computer teacher Wilbert Cortez, 49, had already been accused and investigated for slapping students’ buttocks during the 1999-2000 school year. All he received at the time, however, was a disciplinary letter in his file.

Why was he not fired? Why was he allowed in a classroom again? Why did the DOE and UFT permit more incidents to occur, knowing that Cortez had already been accused?

Since the investigation into the second case, in which Cortez was accused of — and later arrested for — touching the genitals of two boys, more victims — at least seven — have come forward.

And what’s worse is that Cortez is not alone — he is reportedly the third city school employee this year to be arrested for the sexual abuse of students.

The classroom should be a place of studies and safety for students, NOT SEX!

And what about Corona teacher Melissa Dean, whose class wrote cards — to her jailed boyfriend, convicted of gun possession and whose laptop contained sexually explicit images of children?

Dean did not have permission from school administrators — or parents — for the project. Where was the oversight?

But instead of being fired straightaway, she was put on desk duty and allowed to keep her $75,000-a-year job, at least for the time being.

This is ridiculous! Nowhere else, in no other field or place of business, is such conduct tolerated!

Teachers are the key to our children’s present and future, and should be respected as such. We know there are very good, committed, caring teachers out there, and it is truly a shame that these “bad apples” can cast a pall on the rest of the bunch.

So wake up DOE and UFT — get rid of the bad apples, for the sake of the children.

 

UFT opposes mayor’s merit pay for teachers


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes the skinny on retaining top teachers is handing them a fat check.

During the mayor’s State of the City speech, he outlined a plan that would reward teachers rated as “highly effective” in consecutive years with a $20,000 salary increase.

“Our teachers deserve that — and so do our children,” the mayor said.

The plan, along with his offer to pay off up to $25,000 in student loans, the mayor says, will help the city recruit and secure first-rate teachers.

On its most recent report card, The National Council on Teacher Quality gave New York a D+ on its ability to retain effective teachers.

The report pinpoints the weaknesses in the state’s ability to keep top teachers as not discouraging districts from basing salary schedules solely on years of experience and advanced degrees and not supporting performance pay or additional compensation for relevant prior work experience.

“We will continue to improve our schools for our 1.1 million students by recruiting, rewarding and retaining the best educators, and providing students with the support they need to thrive,” Bloomberg said. “Our administration is not going to stop until there is a great teacher in every classroom and a great school in every neighborhood.”

The United Federation of Teachers believes the mayor has his head in the cloud when it comes to merit-based pay.

“The mayor seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education, the one where reality doesn’t apply. It doesn’t do the kids and the schools any good for him to propose the kind of teacher merit pay system that has failed in school districts around the country,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “If he’s really interested in improving the schools his administration has mishandled, he will send his negotiators back to the table to reach an agreement on a new teacher evaluation process.”

The teacher’s union and the city have been at an impasse in negotiations since the end of 2011 over evaluations of teachers.

The UFT has proposed a system that would be expanded from satisfactory/unsatisfactory to four categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.  The mayor is looking for a system that allows ineffective teachers to be removed from the classroom more easily.

If the two sides cannot come to an agreement on a negotiate teacher evaluation system by 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo can withhold his proposed four percent increase in school aid.

Funding for failing schools suspended


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Federal funds for the city’s failing schools are on the line following negotiation deadlocks between the city and the union.

Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. announced on January 3 that he has suspended “School Improvement Grant” (SIG) funding throughout the state. The $60 million in SIG grants would have provided “adequate resources” — including extra instructors and materials — for the city’s lowest-performing schools.

“Sadly, the adults in charge of the city’s schools have let the students down,” King said. “This is beyond disappointing. The failure to reach agreements on evaluations leaves thousands of students mired in the same educational morass. Until the grown-ups in charge start acting that way, it won’t be a very happy New Year for the students at the SIG schools in the city.”

The suspension came shortly after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote to King, declaring disagreements in several key negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) regarding teacher evaluations.

In order to receive the funding, Walcott and the UFT had five months to agree to “implement a comprehensive and meaningful teacher evaluation system” for the state’s 44 failing schools.

However, the two parties clashed on ideas “almost every step of the way,” Walcott said in a statement, including basic negotiations over appointing arbitrators to handle cases.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have the best teachers in our classrooms. Unfortunately, the union is more interested in setting up procedural roadblocks to protect the very worst performing teachers,” Walcott said. “This disagreement — regarding both policy and principles — leads me to conclude that we will not be able to come to an agreement on a fair and progressive teacher evaluation system.”

According to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, the agreement — that has not yet been reached — must focus on creating a process to help teachers improve their performance by providing them with feedback on the specific classroom issues that need to be addressed, among other resources.

“Teachers look forward to the opportunity to improve their practice. If the DOE’s major focus is on penalizing its employees for their perceived shortcomings rather than to devise a process that will help all teachers improve, it is doing a disservice to the schools and the children they serve,” Mulgrew said.

Several struggling schools in Queens could suffer from negotiation stalemates, including The Law, Government and Community Service High School in Cambria Heights, which was the lowest scoring school in the borough and falls in the bottom 6.7 percentile of city high schools.

Other low-performing schools like Flushing High School, Richmond Hill High School and August Martin High School in Jamaica received a “D” during the most recent progress report, as well as Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village and Pan American International High School in Elmhurst.

P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott faces closure by DOE


| brennison@queenscourier.com

One Queens public school faces a permanent summer vacation after finding itself on the Department of Education’s (DOE) list of schools slated for closure.

P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott in Far Rockaway received an “F” on the most recent progress report released in September.  The school is joined by 18 other schools around the city that may shut their doors for good.

“This announcement represents another stunning failure of DOE management. Rather than doing the hard work of helping struggling schools, the DOE tries to close them, making sure that the hardest-to-educate kids end up concentrated in the next school on the closure list,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “It’s playing three-card Monte with children’s lives and education. It’s wrong, and if our attorneys find that the DOE is violating state law in this process, we’ll be seeing them in court.”

The final decision will be made by a Panel for Educational Policy vote in February.

Three other Queens schools — Law, Government and Community Service High School, P.S. 181 and Peninsula Preparatory Academy — were on the original DOE list of 47 schools at risk of closing.

Schools targeted for closure will be phased out and replaced, not closed down completely.