Tag Archives: United Federation of Teachers

UFT throws its backing behind Addabbo in SD15


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

Citing his record in both the city council and Albany, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and a number of elected officials rallied for State Senator Joseph Addabbo as the incumbent seeks re-election in November.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with Joe because of the work that he has done on the behalf of the community,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, outside of P.S. 62 The Joseph P. Addabbo School, named for Addabbo’s late father and long-time congressmember. “When he was in city council [he was] always making sure that the schools had a voice through his district and his leadership.”

This year was the first year in the last four that the school system had an increase in funding, said Mulgrew — who credited the increase to Addabbo and others in the senate.

Addabbo said moving forward in the senate, he planned to combine his experience as a father of children in the public school system with his experience in office dealing with a weak city budget in 2002, and a weak state budget in 2009.

“Now that I’m a father, a father of two in the public school system, I totally look at schools in a different way,” Addabbo said, adding he wanted to use “that experience as we go forward to make sure our students have the best technology available, the best classroom size available and the best teacher available.”

State senators and assemblymembers from throughout Queens, as well as assembly candidate Nily Rozic, spoke on Addabbo’s record of saving and increasing funding for schools in both the state and the city.

Assemblymember Mike Miller said he saw Addabbo as a mentor in the state legislature and highlighted Addabbo’s record of supporting funding and bills to better education.

“I’m here today to lend my support to my colleague and my friend Senator Addabbo,” Miller said. “He’s a leader on many of the issues that we all support; he’s been a leader of our community.”

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.

 

Supporters rally around Bryant High School


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Michael Pantelidis

Students and teachers of William Cullen Bryant High School came out in force to show they give a “hoot” about their school.

Bryant – whose mascot is an owl – is in danger of being “turned around” by the Department of Education (DOE), resulting in the closing of the school at the end of the academic year and reopening under a different name in the fall of 2012. The Turnaround model also involves the replacement of up to 50 percent of the school’s more than 200 educators, but all current students and incoming ninth graders who have applied and been matched to Bryant will have a seat in the new school.

Over 100 elected officials, faculty, students and parents attended a rally prior to a DOE public hearing at the school, located at 48-10 31st Avenue in Long Island City, on April 4 – voicing their displeasure with the city’s plan by chanting “Save our school. Keep Bryant open.”

“[Bryant] shouldn’t be saved because of its history. It should be saved because of what’s happening here today,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, an alumnus of Bryant. “You have over 3,000 kids, many of whom are the children of immigrants – 20 percent of students are English language learners and 34 percent of students are eligible for free lunches. Firing over half the teachers and opening up a new school, there’s no way that doesn’t disrupt the lives of these kids and cause a rupture that would be really difficult to heal.”

A number of teachers and students also spoke at the rally, including Bryant Student Body President Sotiria Zouroudis.

“We are like a family here, and if they fire the teachers then this family is broken. We don’t want to see that happen,” she said.

Teachers at Bryant expressed concern that the DOE is working against the school, rather than with it.

“I think this is terrible and it is demoralizing students and teachers,” said Georgia Lignou, a history teacher at Bryant. “The DOE has been undermining this school for years. They keep claiming the Turnaround is not going to be disruptive to the students, but I think it is going to be very disruptive – already it is disruptive because the students feel they’re in a school that is not good.”

Despite the outrage most have shown towards the Turnaround model, some parents believe adjustments are necessary.

“The kids can only be affected in a good way – [the Turnaround] is not affecting them in any other way,” said the parent of a Bryant freshman who preferred to remain anonymous. “The school will be here in September, the kids will come in, they will have an opportunity for 50 percent new teachers, a new way of teaching, more funding and different programs. This is a school that needs change.”

DOE Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez said the department “stands behind” current Bryant principal Namita Dwarka’s leadership and believes she is the “right person to be the proposed new leader of the proposed new school.”

Rodriguez also said the DOE is aiming to improve the educational quality at Bryant – which had a four-year graduation rate of 57 percent last year, below the citywide rate of 65 percent. Bryant also received an overall grade of “C” on its 2010-11 annual progress report, with an “F” on student performance, “D” on student progress and “B” on school environment. According to Rodriguez, Bryant was showing improvement on certain Regents Exams, and the school ranked in the top third in the city in graduating students with disabilities within four years.

“By closing W.C. Bryant and replacing it with a new school, we are seeking to rapidly create a school environment that will prepare for success in college, work and life,” Rodriguez said. “The new school will build on the strongest elements of W.C. Bryant, and it will also incorporate new elements in order to create a rigorous culture for teaching and learning.”

Bryant is on the state’s list of Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) schools, and was receiving a significant amount of Race to the Top funding before negotiations broke down between the city and the United Federation of Teachers (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. Bryant would be eligible for $1.8 million in supplemental federal funding.

Dermot Smyth, the Queens political action coordinator for the UFT, believes Mayor Michael Bloomberg should return to negotiations with the union and cease “this nonsense with these schools.”

“With all the publicity surrounding these schools, how many parents are going to want to send their kids here next year,” he said. “This has a domino effect of affecting every neighborhood in this borough in a negative way. The mayor has created a dark cloud over these schools – one of suspicion – which is unwarranted and untrue.”

Initially, 33 schools across the borough were designated for Turnaround, but the DOE recently removed seven schools from the list after discovering they had report card grades of “A” or “B.” Smyth says the city’s actions prove their plan has “no educational justification whatsoever.”

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 Bloomberg, on April 26.

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.”

Teacher evaluations shed light on effectiveness


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Grades given by the Department of Education (DOE) show more than 500 teachers may have failed to effectively educate their students.

According to published accounts, the DOE’s Teacher Data Reports have identified 521 English and math teachers who produced the smallest student gains between 2007 and 2010.

The reports, which use a value-added approach to illustrate how much progress individual teachers helped students make in reading and math over the course of a year, also classify 696 instructors as aiding children towards the biggest achievement gains over the same four-year period.

Roughly 12,000 teachers in grades four through eight were assigned ratings during the 2009-2010 school year – some based on their performances dating as far back as 2007.

In an op-ed piece, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the reports “valuable tools” in identifying teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, but warned against using the data as the sole instrument by which to measure an educator.

“The data is now two years old, and it would be irresponsible for anyone to use this information to render judgments about individual teachers,” wrote Walcott. “Teacher Data Reports were created primarily as a tool to help teachers improve, and not to be used in isolation.”

Walcott continued by stating that the reports “don’t tell the full story about a teacher’s performance,” and they include instructors “who don’t even work in our schools anymore.” The chancellor also acknowledged that many teachers’ performances may have changed since the data was assembled.

While the rating system is no longer utilized by the DOE, similar calculations will account for 20 percent of a teacher’s rating – with the remaining grade composed of other measures, such as classroom observations – in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently-established statewide teacher evaluation program.

Despite the protests of hundreds of school faculty and parents, the data reports were released after several media outlets filed Freedom of Information Law requests and the state’s courts ruled the DOE was “obligated” to make them available.

United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew, who was against the release of the Teacher Data Reports, believes the ratings to be highly inaccurate.

“The Teacher Data Reports are based on bad data and an unproven methodology with a huge margin of error,” Mulgrew said. “They are not an accurate reflection of the work of any teacher. Their release is particularly inappropriate in view of the fact that the DOE has already announced that they will be discontinued and replaced with a statewide program.”

The UFT noted the rating system has error margins as high as 54 out of 100 points – meaning a top scoring teacher may be below average or an educator deemed subpar could be among the best. The federation also said some teachers were rated on subjects or students they did not teach, and one educator was given a score for a year she was on maternity leave.

Many teachers have objected to the release of the reports, claiming they will be unfairly judged based on inaccurate statistics.

“If the public wants to see what we do in the classrooms, then an outside agency – not the UFT, not the city – should come in and observe and rate the teachers,” said one Queens educator. “There are a lot of factors that go into education, and these ratings aren’t enough to judge a teacher by.”

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a citywide advocacy group campaigning for smaller classes, believes the reports could be disastrous for the teaching profession as a whole.

“I think the releasing of the data is indefensible,” said Haimson. “I think it has the potential of wrecking the teaching profession. I don’t think anyone would go into teaching knowing this kind of data could be released, that is both unfair and unreliable and could put them at the mercy of the tabloids for being publicly shamed and denounced.”

Based on the data, media reports have also suggested the best ranked schools have the highest percentage of top rated teachers, while the struggling institutions have many instructors with below average marks.

Kids made cards for inmate


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

The Department of Education (DOE) is determined to dismiss a teacher who had her fifth grade students send Christmas cards to a felon caught possessing child pornography.

According to a report issued by Richard Condon, the city’s special commissioner of investigation, Melissa Dean, a 31-year-old educator at P.S. 143 in Corona, had her students send handmade holiday cards to John Coccarelli, her friend and alleged boyfriend.

Coccarelli, who is currently serving a one-to-three-year sentence for carrying a loaded firearm and violating an Order of Protection, was charged in 2008 with one count of “possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child” – a floppy disk with roughly 30 sexually explicit photos of underage children – according to the Nassau district attorney’s office. In addition, approximately 20 sexually explicit images of underage children were found on Coccarelli’s laptop. He was ultimately not convicted in relation to the charge.

Dean did not ask permission from students’ parents or the school, and officials claim the teacher encouraged the children to write personal information on the cards, including their names and addresses. The teacher also printed the name of each student on the back of their card.

“You are sending the names and addresses of children to a penitentiary to go to a prisoner, but that doesn’t mean they won’t end up going to other people,” said Condon. “It unnecessarily endangers these children.”

The report also claims the teacher included cards from her and her daughter with the bunch, signing hers “Wifey.”

Despite Dean’s efforts to reach her “hubby,” the cards were intercepted by a correctional officer in charge of security at Groveland, who then called P.S. 134’s principal.

When questioned by the principal, Dean admitted to being friends with Coccarelli and believed her gesture was “a nice thing to do.”

Based on documentation from Groveland, Dean has called Coccarelli 327 times and visited him on 11 different occasions during his sentence thus far – with their latest meeting occurring November 19.

The Courier was unable to reach Dean for comment.

According to a spokesperson for the DOE, Dean has been reassigned out of classroom, and the department is seeking her termination.

A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) declined to comment, citing that the investigation was ongoing.

Upon conducting interviews with Dean’s students, officials learned the teacher told the fifth graders their cards would be sent to patients in hospitals, lonely people without families or the homeless.

“We recommend that she be terminated,” Condon said. “We found that she did not get any of the parents’ permission to send these cards, she misled the children about who these cards were going to and put the children’s names on the cards. She did not have the right to do that.”

The incident has outraged many parents across the borough, who are now calling for Dean’s discharge. “The teacher should be fired immediately,” said Jose Membreno, whose granddaughter attends an elementary school in Corona. “When it comes to a child, it’s inappropriate. A child will listen to an adult, and the teacher knows why he was behind bars. This shows me that the teacher herself might have a problem.”

Additional reporting by David Beltran

Agreement on teacher evaluations reached


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

With the governor’s clock ticking, the state Department of Education (DOE) and the teacher’s union put politics aside and placed education first, reaching an agreement on how to grade the graders.

The two sides reached a deal to create a new teacher evaluation system on February 16 – hours before Governor Andrew Cuomo’s imposed deadline – concluding more than a year of negotiations centered on how much weight student test scores can hold in the rating systems passed into law in May of 2010.

“Today’s agreement puts in place a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement,” Cuomo said. “This agreement is exactly what is needed to transform our state’s public education system, and I am pleased that by working together and putting the needs of students ahead of politics we were able to reach this agreement.”

The deal, which follows through on a commitment to install an effective evaluation system as a condition of the $700 million granted through the federal Race to the Top program, aims to give significant guidance to the state’s 700 school districts – which must now devise a plan to implement the system.

“Teachers support high standards and accountability for our profession. We believe today’s agreement is good for students and fair to teachers,” said New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi.

Under the plan, 60 percent of a teacher’s grade will be based on “rigorous and nationally recognized measures of teacher performance,” including classroom observations by an administrator or principal. The remaining 40 percent will be based on student academic achievement.

In total, there will be four possible rating categories – ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective – but a great deal of work is left to be done regarding how grades will be determined.

Cuomo also announced that an “expedited and streamlined appeals process for the New York City School District” was reached and will go into effect on January 17, 2013 if the city and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) agree to an overall evaluation system. The two parties have been deadlocked in discussions regarding how teachers can appeal a poor rating.

“This is very good news for the 1.1 million school children of New York City – and it will benefit students for generations to come,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It will help us to create a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation system that will ensure that teachers who are rated ‘ineffective’ can be given the support they need to grow – or be moved out of the classroom.”

If the city and UFT are unable to reach a settlement, they risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in school aid. However, Bloomberg is confident a deal will be reached and says the two sides have come to an agreement with Cuomo’s approval.

According to the mayor, the settlement on teacher evaluations will not affect the decision to close or phase out underperforming schools across the city – eight of which are high schools in Queens.

“[The] agreement recognizes that students are more than a test score,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “I want to thank the governor for his efforts to find a similar resolution for the issues that separate the UFT and Mayor Bloomberg. Chancellor Walcott’s asserted that the city needed to close 33 School Improvement Grant (SIG) schools because there was no agreement possible on an appeals process for teachers. That process has now been laid out for the SIG schools. Despite this agreement, Mayor Bloomberg still seems determined to close those schools.”

 

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.”

 

Eight high schools to ‘Turnaround’


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

The city’s failure to successfully negotiate with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) may spell doom for more than half a dozen high schools across Queens — including the subtraction of half their educators.

Due to the inability of the two parties to come to an agreement regarding teacher evaluations, the Department of Education (DOE) has moved eight high schools — Flushing, William Cullen Bryant, Long Island City (L.I.C.), Newtown, Grover Cleveland, August Martin, Richmond Hill and John Adams — into the School Improvement Grant Program known as Turnaround.

Turnaround involves the closure and immediate reopening of the school under a different name, along with the replacement of the principal and 50 percent of the teachers. The schools, which are state-designated Persistently Low Achieving (PLA), were initially slated for Transformation or Restart, which do not involve closure and are less severe programs with regards to expulsion of faculty.

“A school’s performance is judged on multiple measures, and when there has been important progress but there is also significant room for improvement, we believe students will benefit from intervention,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “This is an opportunity to assess and keep what is working and also bring in a new wave of talent that will be able to build on the progress already made.”

As part of the Turnaround program, school-based committees will be formed to assess and replace half the teaching staff based on merit — replacing the least effective teachers and keeping the best. Each school will be reopened by the fall of 2012, and every current student will have a seat in their respective school.

In total, 62 schools from across the five boroughs have been assigned to one of the DOE’s intervention programs.

Of these, 18 schools will be phased out over several years by not accepting any new students and officially closing after current classes graduate.

Five will close at the end of the current school year in June, forcing current students to transfer. Six will lose their middle school grades but stay open as either high schools or elementary schools only, and the remaining 33 schools will close in June and reopen immediately with a different name.

P.S. 215 in Woodmere has been slated for phase-out, and the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, a charter elementary school in Rockaway Park, is also lined up for closure.

Since negotiations between the DOE and UFT failed, the city’s School Improvement Grants (SIG), which are used by 27 of the 33 schools designated for Turnaround, has been suspended by the state. The city, however, is hopeful its actions will once again make it eligible to receive the funds.

“The unfortunate thing is that we see this as the mayor playing politics with our schools, and they are holding these PLA schools and their communities hostage,” said James Vasquez, Queens district representative for the UFT. “The turnaround model has no educational value other than the mayor’s unwillingness to come to an agreement in negotiations. We have been and continue to be open to negotiations.We are not the ones who walked away from the table, they were. In the end, these school communities are the ones who will suffer.”

Vasquez says the city abandoned negotiations roughly 36 hours before the state’s January 1 deadline. He claims the mayor opposes the state’s new holistic evaluation approach — which the UFT supports — and is searching for a scapegoat for the precarious situation in city schools.

Despite the distraction, some teachers are concentrating on their students, attempting to prevent the ambiguous situation from causing a digression in their education.

“A lot of things are in motion and we’re sorting out what it means,” said Debra Lavache, a teacher at Flushing High School. “We’re just focusing on the students. We still have students to teach.”

The majority of students, parents and faculty have expressed tremendous outrage regarding the city’s plans, furious that the students’ education is being placed in the middle of a bureaucratic war.

“We have worked around the clock to try and improve the school,” said Mirit Jakab, an English and Theatre teacher at Grover Cleveland High School. “Many parents and kids are very disappointed. This is tearing our community apart. It is a shame that what seems to be politics is hurting our kids.”

Other teachers believe the Turnaround will do more harm than good.

“I think the city has not given us enough support to implement structural changes that would help the students achieve. It is designed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to fail,” said Maria Karaiskos, an English teacher at L.I.C. High School. “The worst thing you can do is implement this Turnaround model, because what will turn around is the students, and they will go back home. They will turn their backs on education.”

Students at L.I.C. echoed their teacher, emphasizing the lack of excitement and energy most will exhibit while attending the “turned around” school.

“I think this is a terrible idea,” said Amara, a 17-year-old senior. “This is only going to psychologically harm the kids and teachers. Rearranging the system is going to make students get used to a whole new set of teachers. It will drive us away from learning.”

Barbara Loupakis, who graduated from L.I.C. in 1987 and currently has a daughter in 10th grade at the school, believes the Turnaround is the latest example of the city not prioritizing education

“This year things have been going crazy,” Loupakis said. “First there were not enough teachers. A lot that they had were substitutes because they didn’t want to spend money to hire teachers. They have books that are over 20 years old. My daughter brought home a book that my husband had. We don’t have money to give new books and now we are firing teachers? My daughter is not going to want to come back. Because of these changes, these kids are not going to have the spirit and drive to get up in the morning. Bloomberg is sending a message to these kids that they are nothing.”

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.