Displaced Teacher Dance Begins
by Melissa Bailey | Jul 14, 2014 12:30 pm
Posted to: Schools, Newhallville, West Hills, School Reform
Twenty-nine teachers are leaving Lincoln-Bassett and MicroSociety schools—some voluntarily, some not—to make way for slated overhauls of low-performing schools. Where will they go next?
That question emerged at the end of the school year, when principals received a list of displaced teachers who by union contract are guaranteed jobs somewhere in the district. The list includes 29 teachers from Lincoln-Bassett and MicroSociety, the latest low-performing schools to be tapped for “turnarounds,” where principals replace at least half of their staffs.
By union contract, none of these teachers will be out of a job. The district has agreed to place them somewhere. The question is where—and how to make those teachers successful.
The process has troubled some principals at non-turnaround schools, who collectively must accept and support teachers who were not successful in other environments.
Versions of this displaced teacher dance have taken place since 2010, when the district tapped Brennan/Rogers and the Urban Youth Center to be the city’s first “turnaround schools” as defined by a new union contract. The landmark contract allowed New Haven to select a few schools each year as turnarounds, where the principal or outside management could choose which teachers got to stay or go. A key concession in the contract, which was heralded nationally for the way management and teachers collaborated on a reform plan: Teachers who were not hired back would be guaranteed jobs elsewhere in the district. The city has created five turnaround schools in that manner. (The contract established a separate process for identifying struggling teachers, first offering them help to improve, then terminating their contracts if they continue to under-perform.)
Lincoln-Bassett and MicroSociety schools are not official “turnarounds” in the sense of the union contract. The rehiring process was slightly different. But the result has been the same: The schools have replaced over half of their teachers, sending those teachers in search of other posts within the city. Lincoln-Bassett is replacing 20 of 27 teachers; MicroSociety is replacing 14 of 28 staff members.
Alex Oji, one of 20 teachers leaving Lincoln-Bassett, said being on the displaced teacher list holds a certain “stigma.”
“We have an X on our back,” he said.
Oji has spent his entire nine-year teaching career at Lincoln-Bassett, a pre-K to 6 school in Newhallville, where he lives.
After a blistering state audit that revealed low-rigor instruction, disorderly student behavior, high teacher absenteeism and a bitter division among school staff, Lincoln-Bassett won admission to the state Commissioner’s Network of low-performing schools, which get extra money in return for restructuring the school and accepting greater scrutiny. New Haven replaced the school’s principal, who had been there only one year, and launched a state-funded turnaround.
Unlike at previous city turnaround schools, teachers at Lincoln-Bassett didn’t technically have to reapply for their jobs. But New Haven dangled a $5,000 bonus for those who chose to reapply.
If they stayed, teachers would agree to new work rules, including a longer school day and school year and tougher consequences for scoring poorly on job evaluations. They would get a 10-percent increase in pay for the extra time. And they would commit to the school for three years.
In all, 11 teachers reapplied for their jobs, according to schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith. Another 11 asked to be transferred elsewhere. And five asked to stay but avoid re-interviewing for their jobs, which mean they opted out of the bonus and the three-year commitment.
The school’s new principal, Janet Brown-Clayton, interviewed teachers along with a panel of four other New Haven administrators. She asked them about how they’d help Lincoln-Bassett become successful, and about their “ability to embrace change.”
Because of the interpersonal problems in the building, teachers there didn’t get a final score this year. Instead, teachers self-assessed their strengths and weaknesses, with their instructional managers chiming in, too.
In the end, Brown-Clayton retained only seven Lincoln-Basset teachers from the school year that just ended. That includes two of the five who had wanted to stay without re-interviewing.
Julie Bergeron (pictured) was one of three teachers who had sought to stay at the school without re-interviewing but who were transferred to other schools anyway. Administrators have the right to involuntarily transfer any teacher to another placement, according to teachers union President Dave Cicarella. He said the district rarely does that.
Bergeron said the district handled the notifications poorly. Teachers waited a month to find out if they would keep their jobs at Lincoln-Bassett, then faced an abrupt announcement: They found out just two days before the end of the academic year that they wouldn’t be returning in the fall.
“It was sad, because some teachers were there 15 years or more. They had a few days to pack, and they had tons of stuff in their rooms. I thought it was very unprofessional,” she said.
Bergeron, who taught 2nd grade, said only one of six teachers in the 1st- and 2nd-grade hallway was retained. Some of those teachers’ students found out through their parents; others will find out when they return to school for the fall.
Bergeron just started at the school last year. She wanted to stay to take part in the turnaround and looked forward to extra support and resources. The incoming principal popped in to observe her teach right at the end of the year. It was the end of the day, at the end of a long year, and kids were “very rambunctious,” Bergeron said. The next thing she knew, Brown-Clayton told her to transfer to a different school.
Bergeron, who lives in Wallingford, said she’s now applying to jobs in several school districts. While she’s guaranteed work in New Haven, she’s not sure where she’ll end up.
She said she was surprised to see so many of her colleagues let go. “But at the same time,” she sees how the new leaders “want to start fresh, start from the ground up.”
MicroSociety, which is changing its name to the West Rock Authors’ Academy, serves 225 students in grades pre-K to 5 in West Rock. Exactly half of the 28 staffers are staying and half are leaving, according to Smith. Of the 14 who are leaving, nine are teachers, according to Cicarella.
MicroSociety’s turnaround is part of the federal School Improvement Grant program to pay for low-performing schools to replace staff, extend learning time and restructure the school. Principal Rosalyn Bannon interviewed each staff person. She had hoped to conduct the staff turnover without having to push anyone out. She ended up involuntarily transferring four teachers who had wanted to stay, according to Cicarella. He said she ran the process fairly.
The 33 teachers from Lincoln-Bassett and MicroSociety joined an overall list of 47 displaced teachers. Others landed on that list because they are returning from maternity leave, family medical leave, are ending a temporary stint filling in for another teacher, or wanted to switch schools for other reasons.
Bergeron said because so many teachers landed on the list, she doesn’t feel singled out.
Oji, meanwhile, said he feels that those on the list from Lincoln-Bassett are branded. Principals “don’t want to touch [us] with a 10-foot pole.”
Cicarella said that’s not true.
It’s a misconception to say that “the displaced teacher has to be a bad teacher,” Cicarella said.
Some principals, including Cheryl Brown at Ross/Woodward, have already looked at the list and scooped up candidates for their schools. The overall list included a high-ranking teacher who just didn’t want to be in a turnaround environment because of the longer hours, Cicarella said.
“The only time where you [could have said] I’m getting a bad teacher could have been in Year One” of New Haven’s new teacher evaluation system, Cicarella said.
New Haven in 2010 launched a new way of grading teachers based on classroom observations and teacher-set goals for how their students should perform.
Before then, Cicarella said, “we had a ridiculous evaluation system” that involved nothing more than “a couple of drive-by” observations of teachers. As in most of the country at that time, teachers were rated on a binary system, either effective or ineffective. New Haven introduced a five-point scale, from “needs improvement” to “exemplary.” New Haven was one of the first districts nationwide to start grading teachers on student performance—a trend that has now spread nationwide, prompted by federal pressure from the Obama Administration’s competitive grant programs and No Child Left Behind Act waivers. The initiative is based on the premise that the most important factor in a kid’s education is the quality of the teacher—and that that quality can be measured.
The movie Waiting for Superman, promoted by members of the school accountability movement, popularized the term the “Lemon Dance,” referring to the process by which low-performing teachers are shuffled around between schools.
Cicarella was asked about the concern, discussed privately among principals, that a version of that dance takes place in New Haven due to school turnarounds.
His response to principals: “Why don’t you tell your colleagues to do their job?”
If principals are using the teacher evaluation system properly, he argued, they should be working hard to help low-performing teachers improve—and firing them if they don’t. The teachers contract allows a principal to fire a tenured teacher after one year if he or she scores on the bottom of the five-point evaluation scale, and after three years if he or she fails to improve to “effective,” a three out of five. The system requires schools to give teachers plenty of notice: They have to warn teachers in November if they are on track to score on the bottom, or top, of the evaluation scale.
Principals with vacancies say they feel pressured to take teachers that failed in other environments instead of choosing another candidate they preferred. Sometimes that creates more turnover in an otherwise stable staff.
“Are they pressured to take them? Yes,” Cicarella responded. “People have to be placed.” But the teachers could be an asset to their new schools, he argued.
Six people on this year’s displaced teacher list quickly landed jobs in new schools, Cicarella said—a sign that principals wanted to work with them.
Superintendent Garth Harries agreed with Cicarella that displaced teachers can thrive in other environments.
“Fundamental to the turnaround idea is that we’re reinventing these school teams,” he said. There are a lot of perfectly fine teachers who just haven’t worked effectively” in their current assignments.
Harries and Cicarella conceded that Lincoln-Bassett is a special case. An internal audit last winter found that administrators there did such a poor job at implementing job evaluations that teachers’ scores couldn’t be trusted.
The failure to properly implement teacher evaluations meant struggling teachers didn’t get fired—and also didn’t get the help they required to succeed. Teachers at that school did not get the “opportunity for professional growth” that they needed, Harries said.
“There’s every reason to think that on a different team”—one without the adult division that took hold at Lincoln-Bassett—“those teachers will be on track to grow,” said Harries.
He was asked about principals’ concerns about being pressured to take teachers who had failed in other environments.
“There’s no question that displacing teachers is a difficult process,” Harries said.
The process raises the question of collective versus individual responsibility, he said. The teachers contract adds significant responsibility on individual teachers for how much their students learn. It also calls for a collective responsibility—shared between schools and school leaders around the district—to help teachers displaced from turnaround schools grow, he argued.
Meanwhile, Oji said he’s concerned about finding a new school that would be a good fit.
He said the district gave him only two leads on jobs. He interviewed at one and is awaiting response.
“Summer’s pretty much halfway over,” he said. “My concern is, where are you going to place me?”
He has spent eight years teaching kindergarten; he’s concerned he might be placed into a grade he has not taught before—and a totally new environment in another part of town, far from the community he has come to know.
He said he feels “set up for failure.”
Joining a new school is like “being the new kid on the block all over again.” Kids will respond with an attitude of, “Who are you. I don’t have to listen to you,” he predicted. “There’s no relationship. You’re rebuilding the relationship from the ground up.” He said the turnaround process is “chaotic for us as a staff, and also chaotic for children.”
“If we’re not going to be successful at a school where we’ve invested our time and energy for several years,” Oji said, “how are we going to go to a brand new school, a brand new neighborhood, brand new children, and a brand new staff—how are we going to be successful here?”
Lola Nathan, the soon-to-retire principal of Davis Street School, said turnaround teachers are not set up to fail.
“I’ve been the recipient of staff from turnaround schools,” she said. “It has worked.” When she received displaced teachers, she said, she made sure to support them “so that they get enough development.”
“I assess their performance to see if they’re a good fit, but I would certainly not pre-judge them,” she said.
Teachers naturally change schools and districts over the course of their careers, she noted.
“There may be a transition phase in terms of getting used to a new culture, a new professional learning community, new goals, and a new vision,” she said. “But as a principal, I think that it’s our responsibility to support teachers, whether they’re coming from a turnaround school or another school district.”
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Is there a reason that teachers who want New Haven Public Schools to invest in them don’t invest in New Haven?
If NHPS has an abundance of teachers who live in Wallingford and other places outside New Haven, it is a mass demonstration that they don’t want to be a part of the community where the students dwell. I say let them go and replace them with folks who elect to be part of the community.
I know of cities that have residency requirements for police and firefighters. I’d love to see it become some of importance with teachers as well.
Goodness gracious, @Theodora, this isn’t the USSR where housing and work are limited by the state.
If teachers want to work in New Haven, but can’t find a house in New Haven they want for a price they can afford, you’re suggesting they should find work elsewhere?
What does that actually solve?
I don’t agree with residency requirements for teachers especially considering the cost of living and availability of affordable housing in New Haven compared to other communities. Until we address those bigger issues, it makes no sense to require residency as a conditiin of employment. Perhaps give a few extra pointa on the application but not as a legal condition. Two things stand out:
1) NHPS seems to thrive on doing things at the last minute and in turn , creating unnecessary angst. School starts back in about 6 weeks. Just as this isn’t enough time to launch a new school (e.g. BTW), it’s also not adequate time to hire and properly acclimate teachers to a new school community. How can Principals effectively match teachers with mentors and correct the types of behaviors that led them to be transferred in the first place?
2) I’d love to see the NHI do an investigative report of the high number of school principals/administrators/etc who choose to educate their children outside of the district. Especially those who do live in the xity. That would seem to be more indicative of their failure to fully invest in the system they supposedly believe in.
The New Haven Board of Education does strange things!
Dedicated veteran teachers are treated disrespectfully. They are dismissed and transferred against their will because their students, for various reasons, many of which are beyond the teachers’ control, are failing to meet certain academic standards.
Today’s American public school wisdom is if students fail to achieve academically it is solely the teachers’ fault! The teachers are failures!
New Haven essentially brands and defames teachers like Alexander Oji as failures, forces them to transfer to other schools, and then expects them to be happy, dedicated, committed and successful after being treated so shabbily and unprofessionally!
What other profession is treated like this in America? The policies of the New Haven Board of Education and their pseudo-teachers’ union have actually ruined the careers of a lot of good, dedicated teachers, compelled others to go to other districts, and have forced a large number of people to consider careers other than public education.
A lot of educators are totally turned off by what the New Haven BOE and its union,( yes its union), have called “school reform.” They have engaged in a grand experiment with our children and the lives and careers of educators. What will they do when their grand plans fail to achieve the desired s results?
Maybe the people will have to transfer the Superintendent and dismiss some of the members of the board of Education.
The residency argument may apply to the young woman from Wallingford (who for all I know has lived in Wallingford all her life and would have no desire to move to New Haven though she has been working here—what is the problem in that?), but it’s completely not relevant to Alex Oji, who grew up in New Haven and attended New Haven public schools. He then attended Trinity College in Hartford and came back to New Haven and wants to give back to his community. He’s a good guy (my family knew him personally when he was in school with my daughter at Betsy Ross) and deserves a fair shake, as do many others who are doing their level best in a dysfunctional system where, it seems to me, principals are often given too much of the wrong kind of power.
I have said before many times and I will say it again.
The number one issue with our schools is the lack of school-wide, and consequently, proper learning environments.
Solve this issue and we all have a fighting chance to improve our youngster’s learning.
Of course, how do we do this?
First, it should be understood that there is a two-tier system in public school districts: one layer is the students, teachers and like staff and the other layer is the coaches, building and central office administrators.
The key is the financial incentives offered to the management layer. It far exceeds the salaries and benefits of the classroom layer. Hence, managements first priority is to protect its position or simply put: to cover their rear ends.
This results in administrators always blaming teachers for what they themselves are unable to do: create and maintain a proper school-wide learning environment. Administrators do not support teachers because if they do then they will no longer have scapegoats for the vagaries of life in our urban public schools. And, their jobs, 6 figure salaries and 6 figure pensions will be in jeopardy. Once you get a taste of the pretty good life, one is loathe to give it up regardless of who gets thrown under the bus.
The only way to change, in my opinion, is to invert the system and put top priority on the classroom level. Eliminate the administrative level and have teacher coalitions run the individual school buildings. Non-education business functions can be performed by low level business managers.
If this is done, I don’t think our kids will be any worse off and I think the creative impulse released by the collaboration of teachers, staff and parents will greatly benefit our kids.
And, the taxpayers will get a significant break as well.
Time for a paradigmatic change and not some Kool-Aid induced version of school reform—we need real and effective reform.
this is a true article but doesnt cover all of the aspects. Children are abused at lincoln bassett they are yelled at threatened and pushed/shoved and more. The adults are worse then the children. As for not living in new haven, the girl would probably not be able to afford a safe area. i remember the old article that the girl in the picture was in foster care and has lived in wtby new haven and many more places. she seems like a strong person to stick it out there for a year. If the staff acted as a better influence for the students then they would probably live in new haven since the newer generation would have respect and goals in their life to succeed. I had a child in bassett this year and it was insane i am glad i lucked out with having a great teacher for my child.—the one in the article…. go figure..
it is very unfourtunate that the blame is placed on the teaches of failing schools, not the child or home life. until the undyling issues are adressed eventually every school in new haven will be subject the a turn around. However no one will stand up and place the blame where it belongs
Public schools with typical urban problems like Lincoln-Bassett are not inclined to have a long waiting list of potential teachers due to the difficulty working there. There were numerous reports of violent assaults against teachers at Lincoln-Basset which the former administration, Superintendent and BOE did nothing about. The staff was divided, demoralized and depressed to a large degree by the failure of anybody in authority from the former principal to Mr. Harries to do anything about the problems at the school.
Shifting people around may make it appear to the public that the BOE is making an effort to “reform” the school, but any experienced educator and anyone with common sense knows that the social, economic and communal problems at the root of the lack of academic performance of many of these students will not be addressed or resolved by shuffling teachers around to different schools. The new teachers will face the same old problems. When a first grader gives one of the new teachers a black eye, will that new teacher be blamed? When 50 per cent or more students fail to study, fail to do home work, fail to pass a test, fail to take a test or fail to come to school each day, will those new teachers be threatened with transfers too because they failed to solve all those issues ?
My question to Mr. Harries and the BOE is this: if the new principal fails to get enough transferees to fill all the vacant positions in the school, over half the staff, will the BOE be compelled to ask teachers who were forced out to come back?
I really find it difficult to believe that all of those teachers, many of whom worked at Lincoln-Bassett for quite a long time, would be rated as poor teachers.
Are these teachers failures or scapegoats of a failing system?
@ Alfred, I am a big fan of your comments. I find them to be professional and always addressing the issue at hand. Your comments are right on target on this article. The BOE is just shuffling the cards and playing three card monti with the children of new haven. its a sad and tiresome game.
@ Theodora, Why would I want to live here and even send my kids to a failing school system. If it was not for the hospital and university this town would be Detroit.
Perhaps if the district had removed the prior administration ten years ago when everyone (teachers,central office,support staff, and parents) knew that Bassett failing every child we wouldn’t have this mess today.
How could you blame All the teachers? That’s just ludicrous… The neighborhood is struggling and in turn so are the kids. Let’s help our neighbors instead of blaming teachers!
Lincoln-Bassett and Microsociety are both failures in leadership- both from central office and at the building level. Central office allowed L-B’s previous administration to be non-compliant with adherance to curriculum, interventions and walk-throughs for YEARS. And where is the accountability for Micro’s principal? She has had 4+ years to make a change there. (with a fraction of the students and teachers most NHPS have) Where are the Directors of Instruction and the other high paid central office staff?
[Editor’s note: Micro’s current principal just started there in 2012.]
More emphasis needs to be placed on the social development of students. Very few schools use the Comer pathways. Many New Haven students have traumatic experiences and are expected to be able to focus on learning. Teachers are being forced to rush through lessons instead of listening to their students’ questions and responses. They are trying to pack in so much curriculum that they are ineffective. It’s quantity not quality. There is not enough in depth learning.
Students need to be able to experience more hands-on learning. They need to go on field trips and they need to really have recess so they won’t be obese and unhealthy. They need to be taught spelling, vocabulary, and cursive writing. We need to value the arts and students should learn science and social studies in the lower grades instead of waiting until they get in middle school. Private schools don’t place so much emphasis on standardized tests. New Haven tests so much there is not enough time to teach.
Look at the social climate first and the curriculum second. You can’t teach a child until you get his attention!
NHPS, like all school districts, runs on a cycle. It’s never a good time to shift teachers. If you tell them in the fall, “What! It’s the start of the school year, how could you?” If you tell them in the winter, “What! We’re in the heart of our curriculum, a switch now will ruin the year, how could you?” If you tell them in the spring, “What! It’s state testing season, this will totally throw off the students’ performance, how could you?” If you tell them in the summer, “What! It’s so late in the year, what took you so long?”
Check the teacher statements for any article where teachers were moved. It’s always a bad time.
@ john Tulin. Your so right no McMansion in new haven or are are forgetting about your mayors 10,000 sq foot home?
Also my town, which is Mc Mansions we have no murders, no law suits against an inept government, our police force is taking in yours, our kids graduate HS and go on to collage. So if is between a poorly run city that is financially and morally broke with no Mc Mansions, I would take the Mc Mansion ville.
For students at Lincoln-Bassett, why not try to incorporate Transcendental Meditation for the students. It would help them focus and deal with stresses outside of the school day. A few months ago, I read about a TM program at another school and the success from it.
“1) NHPS seems to thrive on doing things at the last minute and in turn , creating unnecessary angst. School starts back in about 6 weeks. Just as this isn’t enough time to launch a new school (e.g. BTW), it’s also not adequate time to hire and properly acclimate teachers to a new school community. “
Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic didn’t save it from sinking. Until the parents are held accountable this system is doomed to fail.
I have seen Mr. Oji in action in an after-school setting many times. He always struck me as a natural with the kindergartners. From what I have seen, any school would be lucky to have him.
As a proud New Haven educator the fact that this has happened once again, concerns me greatly. Why do other schools have to hold teachers from Lincoln Basset & Micro accountable. I also wonder why the principals of these schools are being rewarded and allowed to hire whomever they would like their colleagues do not have that luxury they must hire the teachers they have have let go. Who is making these decisions to pour all this money into schools that have less than 300 students. This dance of the lemons is avoidable & senseless!!
Rather than having a residency requirement for City teachers/workers, why not reward those teachers/workers who DO own homes and reside in them with a tax break, and further create a tax reduction incentive program for City teachers/workers to buy in New Haven?
Mr. oji….this is how new haven works…beware. My years in New Haven resulted in close to 10 changes based on school need. Teachers were always coming and those who stayed were moved to replace them. Few teachers had the privilege of mastering and staying with the grade they wanted. I started at third grade and was moved to eighth grade and many other grades in-between, talk about different developmental needs. I made the best of it but was never really the same teacher I was when I taught elementary.
And why are the so called expert administrators send in to Lincoln-Bassett?
Why inexperienced, new principals? Doesn’t make sense. Of course we know
the real answer to that if we have had the years in NHPS.
Mr. Payne makes excellent points but he will not be listened to. I really hoped Harries would make a difference but I see more of the same. How can a school loose 29 teachers. I’m sure their not all bad teachers but teachers who want out of that environment. I had a short stint at Celentano School in NH. I thought I was going to loose my mind. Teachers and security could not handle the kids. In my short time there I saw 2 teachers put on leave due to accusations made by students. It was a joke. The students knew they had the upper hand and used it to their advantage. In the meantime they were taught by inexperienced substitute teachers for $50 a day. LOL!
We have many good schools in NH but the poor ones are very much in need of support. But it has more to do with the poverty and lack of success of the residents that live there. I drove up Dixwell Ave. last week and wanted to cry. How can we expect success when living conditions and family life are so deplorable.
Bring in an experienced principal with a good track record in these turn- arounds and maybe then we can see a change. Until then expect the same.
posted by: Luv2teach on July 18, 2014 10:56pm
I am a teacher in another nearby inner city school district, and I cannot believe what is going on in New Haven. I hope for the sake of the children and the teachers, someone out there who has the power to stop these turnarounds will. No good can come from them, as has been pointed out by several of those who have commented. I wouldn’t be surprised if the principal(s) ends up having to call back many of the teachers they let go, because no good teacher elsewhere would ever take on a New Haven teaching position based on what has been published in this article and forum. The district will end up hiring brand new teachers who have no experience teaching and supporting children at risk, and the cycle of failure will continue to go on and on. This is really sad. If New Haven were able to find 29 “exemplary” rated teachers to spend one year at either of these schools, I’m sure the results would be no different than they have been until the problems noted by Mr. Payne and NewHaven06513 are addressed. My heart really goes out to the teachers being used as “scapegoats” and the parents and public who are being misled into thinking that replacing the core of the school’s staff will yield success. It won’t until the problems noted by Mr. Payne are addressed first.