turnaround turnaround

Confusion reigns at schools affected by arbitrator's hiring rule

The Department of Education has replaced the schools' websites with new ones reflecting new names.

Nearly a week after an independent arbitrator ruled that teachers cut loose from 24 “turnaround” schools could have their jobs back, confusion reigns at the schools.

The city’s turnaround plans involved closing the schools and immediately reopening them with new names, new leaders, and many new teachers. But an arbitrator rolled back those plans last Friday when he ruled that the schools could not replace teachers using its chosen strategy.

Shortly after the arbitrator’s decision, teachers at the schools received a celebratory email from the United Federation of Teachers, which had sued the city over the hiring procedures in place at the schools.

Earlier this week, the city filed suit to get the arbitrator’s decision overturned, and a judge is likely to consider the case early next week.

For now, the Department of Education has suspended the hiring committees that had been meeting to consider teacher candidates, according to teachers union officials.

But during the disjointed first week of summer vacation, it has given teachers and principals no guidance about how they can reclaim their positions, according to officials of the unions that represent both sets of educators.

And at least one interim principal who seems likely to be bumped by the arbitrator’s decision is reporting for work as usual.

At Long Island City High School, Vivian Selenikas, whom the city had chosen as the new school’s principal, was in her office shortly before noon today. “I am the interim acting principal. I will be here today,” Selenikas told GothamSchools.

Until last week, Long Island City’s principal was Maria Mamo-Vacacela. But the Department of Education picked Selenikas, who had been working as a network leader supporting the school, to lead its turnaround efforts. Under the terms of the arbitrator’s decision, which the city and unions agreed to in advance, Mamo-Vacacela may return to the school if she wants to.

At the school’s graduation ceremony last week, Mamo-Vacacela’s impassioned speech suggested that she was not leaving willingly. “Everyone thinks that Long Island City High School is going to die and not be reborn,” she said. “We will not let 30 years pass until Long Island City High School as five continuous words exists again.”

Today, Selenikas said that her reform plans had not changed since the meeting in April where she introduced herself to Long Island City families. But she did say that her staffing plans were now up in the air. “Hiring is one of the items under review,” she said.

Asked whether she had received guidance about whether she would remain at the school, Selenikas said, “I’m telling you all I know.”

The confusion is evident down to how the city is branding the schools. Schools that were open last year have had their Department of Education websites shut down and replaced by pages for the schools slated to replace them. A search for Lehman High School turns up only a page for Throggs Neck High School at the Lehman Campus.

But at the same time, a Lehman teacher reported, the school has stopped using stationery with the Throggs Neck name. Last week, memos about the summer session that’s now underway had used the new name, but official communication now comes on Lehman letterhead, the teacher said.

The city had scheduled meetings with the teachers and principals union for first thing this week. But it canceled those meetings Monday morning as city lawyers prepared legal action.

A main agenda item would have been to figure out a mechanism by which teachers displaced from the schools could reclaim their positions, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said last week. Several principals are entitled to return their schools in addition to Mamo-Vacacera, as well.

Another issue that needs to be worked out is whether principals of the schools will still be partially exempt from hiring restrictions that require most additions to teaching rosters to come from within the system. Because the city considered the replacement schools new schools, it was allowing them to bring on as many as 40 percent new teachers. Now principals don’t know whether the people they’ve offered jobs to will be able to join their staffs, even if their hiring wouldn’t conflict with an excessed teacher taking his or her job back.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.