Clemente Cleans House

Contributed PhotoAs 75 percent of teachers depart Clemente school, 22-year-old Larissa Spreng is moving to New Haven to teach her new students to be scientists at school reform’s newest experimental lab.

Spreng (pictured), a Teach For America member hailing from Ohio, is one of 10 new hires at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy, a “turnaround” (i.e. longtime low-performing) school being taken over by a private for-profit outside contractor.

The turnover comes as the school district embarks on a new experiment to fix a failing school. In May it hired New Jersey-based for-profit company, New Jersey-based Renaissance School Services, LLC, to manage the pre-K-8 school, which serves 538 students in the Hill.

Renaissance is the second outside entity, and first private company, to take over a city school as part of a reform effort that stresses managing schools differently according to how they perform.

Clemente, which has been on the federal “watch list” for failing schools for nine years, is one of two city schools to become a “turnaround” next year.

All 28 teachers had to reapply for their jobs if they wanted to keep working there. Half were asked back; only seven ended up staying, according to Renaissance CEO Richard O’Neill.

In a conversation Tuesday, O’Neill outlined his company’s two-month hustle to get up to speed on the school and determine who should stay. One answer had already been determined: Leroy Williams, Clemente’s principal for over 16 years, would leave the school. To determine which teachers would stay, the company hit the classrooms.

Melissa Bailey File Photo“We had a team of three people who were in and out of the classrooms over a matter of two days” in June, O’Neill said. Renaissance and some members of the building leadership then used a formal evaluation instrument that Renaissance came up with to rate how its teachers are performing.

All teachers were asked if they want to stay or go.

About 25 percent of the teachers decided on their own that they wanted to leave, O’Neill said. Renaissance determined another 50 percent were not a good fit for the school. That left them with 25 percent of teachers whom they wanted to keep—and who were willing to stay with the school through the changes.

“There were all sorts of good people who we wanted to stay but who decided to” work at other schools, O’Neill said.

Teachers who are leaving Clemente have been with the district for as many as eight, 14, 23, even 28 years.

“Some of us have been there for a very long time and were just looking for a change,” said one departing teacher, who declined to give her name.

The 21 teachers who are leaving the school are guaranteed jobs in the district. A personnel report released this week showed them scattering across the district to Bishop Woods, Worthington Hooker, Strong, Ross/Woodward, Nathan Hale, Hillhouse High and Troup schools.

Meanwhile, O’Neill and his staff are working to replace them. For the past four weeks, Renaissance has been making offers to teachers like Spreng to join the revamped school.

Road Trip

Spreng, just graduated from Miami University in Ohio in May. An aspiring geriatric doctor, she decided to take a break from the pre-med track to spend some time teaching in urban schools. So she applied to Teach For America, a national not-for-profit that aims to lure talented young people into urban and rural classrooms while offering an alternate route to teaching certification. (Click here to read about the district’s growing partnership with TFA.)

TFA accepted Spreng and placed her in Connecticut. Over the summer she went through a TFA training in New York City along with 700 other TFA “corps members.”

One July day, Spreng and 21 fellow TFA-ers piled into cars and headed east. They turned off the highway into New Haven’s Hill neighborhood and pulled up at school, which was built just one year ago. At the school, they went through an interview process that’s a bit different from other schools. Instead of first meeting with the school principal—Clemente doesn’t have a head of school yet, anyway—they spoke with some teachers.

O’Neill said he asked the teachers who are staying at Clemente if they’d like to volunteer their time over the summer to help rebuild the school staff. All seven obliged. Those teachers served to screen applicants through phone and in-person interviews; they then made recommendations to Renaissance about whom to hire.

So far, Renaissance has hired about 10 new teachers, who will remain in the unionized workforce. Some are in-district transfers from schools such as Co-op and Troup. Three are first-time TFA teachers; one is a second-year TFA member who taught last year in Rhode Island.

In lieu of a standard certification, TFA-ers attend a five-week summer training course to prepare for the classroom—then take classes during the school year to earn their Connecticut certification. They commit to teaching for two years, and have access to one-one-one coaching and teaching support during that time. The program aims to balance teachers’ inexperience with their energy, talent as well as the extra support.

During her summer training, Spreng got a taste of the urban classroom by teaching 8th grade science a summer school in the Bronx. At Clemente, she’ll be teaching 7th or 8th grade science, she said.

Spreng said she chose Clemente because “it really sounds like a positive environment,” and it’s a good time to join with the changes that are underway.

No More “Roaming The Halls”

Melissa Bailey File PhotoOne big challenge for Spreng as a new teacher: the school’s new effort at controlling student behavior in the classrooms and halls.

That’s the area where Clemente was struggling the most, said O’Neill.

“Discipline and behavior were clearly, uniformly seen by parents and faculty as very significant problems within the school,” O’Neill said.

He said when Renaissance first observed the school in the spring, kids were “roaming the hallways” without a hallway pass. There were verbal and sometimes physical assaults.

O’Neill said adults in the school community told him that “kids have been allowed to do whatever they want for years and that there were no consequences.” The behavior was interrupting kids’ ability to learn in class, O’Neill said. “Aberrant behavior” created “a lack of consistent and uniform good instruction,” he observed.

O’Neill said in the last month of school Renaissance “made inroads” in improving behavior by making discipline a top priority. He said Renaissance didn’t change the rules: “We simply had uniform and consistent enforcement of the existing discipline code within the building.”

Garth Harries, the city’s school reform czar, credited a new school leader with helping in that effort. Frank Costanzo, an assistant principal at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, stepped in as interim principal toward the end of the school year after the departing Williams went out on medical leave, Harries said.

O’Neill has said Renaissance plans to bring in a Positive Behavior Support system, in which kids are rewarded for doing good deeds—and have a clear set of consequences for bad behavior.

All the staff who’ve been hired so far will be sent next week to a Responsive Classroom training, which O’Neill described as “a way of addressing behaviors and creating a culture of respect.”

O’Neill said when discipline problems emerge, he expects there to be “a lot more interaction between head of school and students as well as with their parents and guardians” than there was last year.

Zero To 60

Harries applauded the company for involving teachers in hiring new teachers, and involving parents in screening applicants for the head-of-school job.

“Those are good and positive signs about the kind of team-building that is one of the greatest challenges with an outside organization going zero to 60 over the course of June to August,” Harries said.

“There is clearly a lot of work left to do,” Harries added. “The actual school leadership will be the most important.”

Renaissance plans to hire three administrators for the school: a principal, “achievement specialist,” and “operations specialist.” The three will be Renaissance employees, not part of the city’s union, with salaries totaling about $350,000. Beginning Aug. 1, Renaissance will pay their salaries and get reimbursed monthly by the school district for 125 percent of the cost.

O’Neill said Renaissance has made an offer to a woman to be the head of school and is waiting to sort out a “technical item” about the contract.

The achievement specialist, a position that doesn’t exist at other city schools, will bring “an increased focus on good instruction” and will use a lot of data, O’Neill said.

The new team aims to reverse a long-running trend of low performance: For the last nine years, Clemente has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, a federal benchmark on standardized tests. That means Clemente has sat on the federal failing schools list for the longest time of any of the district’s 43 schools.

O’Neill said Renaissance aims for the school to make AYP by the end of the first year by achieving what’s called “safe harbor.”

Just as at Domus Academy, the city’s first turnaround school to be run by an outside entity, Renaissance will be counting on some brand new, energetic teachers to make that happen.

Spreng said in her short time in the Bronx classroom, she’s developed one new tactic designed to change kids’ frame of mind: On homework assignments, her students write their names next to the prefix “Scientist.”

“I make my students feel like they’re scientists in my classroom,” she said, “getting them thinking about being inquisitive and asking questions. I think that’s really important—making them feel that they are capable of being scientists.”

Past Independent stories on Clemente:

School Board OKs Clemente Takeover
Fine Print Released On Clemente Deal
Illegal Meeting Aborted; Co. Starts Work, Anyway
City Secretly Plans School’s For-Profit Takeover
For-Profit Charter May Take Over Clemente
Two Schools Become “Turnarounds”


Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: MrsB83 on August 4, 2011  8:09am

Really?  Kids were allowed to roam the hallways, and the solution is to spend half a million dollars to fix that?  The principal should have been gone years ago instead.  What about teachers in the system now who are at other schools?  Were they offered a chance to teach there?

I think that this is a phenomenal waste of my tax dollars.

posted by: The fish. . . on August 4, 2011  8:45am

I’m reminded of the adage that the fish rots from the head up.  How many failures in the NHPS can be attributed to poor leadership?  Good plans are one thing, but when the wrong people are put into pivotal positions for carrying them out, they often fail. 

I wonder how many staff, students and parents believe that they have effective leaders in their schools.  I wonder how many staff, students and parents believe that they have effective leaders at the district level?

posted by: RichTherrn on August 4, 2011  9:01am

@MrsB, all NHPS teachers were given the chance to apply…

Larissa is part of a group of several Teach for America science teachers that we are happy to welcome to New Haven. TFA has provided our students, especially in middle school, with some energetic, quality science teachers, and I look forward to working with more of them.
-Richard Therrien
-NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: Noteworthy on August 4, 2011  9:13am

“...Renaissance first observed the school in the spring, kids were “roaming the hallways” without a hallway pass. There were verbal and sometimes physical assaults.”

Perhaps one of the litany of DeStefano spokespeople could address this ... It is no wonder that this school was on the failing list for 9 years - it seems the long time principal who should have been fired at least a decade ago, failed to do his job and neither did Mayo or the mayor appointed BOE including the hizzoner himself.

Isn’t it odd that these problems at Clemente are so obvious and yet the adults in charge did nothing? Why? And why not? How could you possibly waste our money and squander the future of all the children who passed through that school across more than a decade of failure? What drives people to allow that to happen and what drives those who are charged with oversight to look the other way and then have the gall to tell taxpayers and the public that “we are making progress” with each passing year?

posted by: anon on August 4, 2011  9:54am

@ Noteworthy, I believe someone labeled this behavior as the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for poor kids (who are mostly minorities in NH).

Not sure it was intentional on Mayor DeStefano’s part, but, if 10 years ago parents-voters were up in arms about the achievement gap in this state, this “reform” effort would have been well underway then. 

I just can’t understand why parents in this country do not realize that obtaining an education is one of “the great equalizers.” Hence the need to be more vocal and plugged in to what occurs in the public school. Not to excuse the responsibility of parents, but I am equally appalled that an ineffective leader was allowed to oversee the “future” of several hundred young people over more than a decade. Shameful!

posted by: Joe Hill on August 4, 2011  9:58am

Great. The solution to the inner-school problem is to hire a 22-year-old with absolutely no experience from the elitist Teach for America program—whose members parachute in for a couple of years to polish their resumes before they become investment bankers. In this bad economy, 18 percent of Ivy graduates have applied to this organization for positions.

Statistics are all over the map on retention rates among program participants, but most studies show that far less than 50 percent are still in the classroom after 5 years.

The organization’s own statements show that the program is a stopover for masters of the universe: “We believe that the best hope for ending educational inequity is to build a massive force of leaders in all fields who have the perspective and conviction that come from teaching successfully in low-income communities.

“Beyond these two years, Teach For America alumni bring strong leadership to all levels of the school system and every professional sector, addressing the extra challenges facing children growing up in low-income communities, building the capacity of schools and districts, and changing the prevailing ideology through their examples and advocacy.”

This also depresses the salaries of experienced teachers who are replaced by inexperienced ones working at beginner salaries.

We should take a lesson from Finland, which went from mediocrity in education in the 1980s to number one in the world on recent assessments. The key was to pay their teachers salaries commensurate with other professions and accord them with high social status and prestige.

I am not even saying that it is the fault of those who enroll in Teach for America. Many of them would become fine teachers were we able to follow the Finnish model and provide incentives for them to gain the experience to become master teachers. But two years in and out does nothing but downgrade the profession as a whole.

Let’s stop bashing teachers. Let’s make teaching a profession that attracts the best and the brightest for more than two years.

posted by: Marsha Browne Roberts on August 4, 2011  10:11am

for the children’s sake I hope this all works out. If this fails then Renaissance must be held financially accountable. I may be a cynic, but all this just before an election makes me very suspicious.

posted by: VD on August 4, 2011  10:21am

Isn’t it odd that these problems at Clemente are so obvious and yet the adults in charge did nothing?

^^exactly.  This statement also applies to many of New Haven’s schools.

I hope the students at this particular school will be better off outside the confines of NHPS leadership.  The bar is low.

posted by: goodluck on August 4, 2011  10:35am

Good luck to all the new teachers.  New Haven is only as good as our lowest performing schools/neighborhoods. It seems like a lot of the crime you read about in the NHI occurs in this neighborhood. Turning this school around would be a huge accomplishment for the neighborhood, and city.  Many thanks to the teachers/staff who are willing to take on this challenge.

posted by: clemente parent on August 4, 2011  10:36am

It is so unfortunate that the worst aspects of Clemente are always highlighted but not one media outlet was present for the science fair or learning fair where the positive aspects of Clemente were shown. Although, the test scores were in dire need of improvement, there were dedicated teachers and students who worked very hard. As a parent of a rising second grader, I’m ashamed at what is happening to Clemente and I’m saddened that my child’s teachers won’t be there in September and replaced by new, inexperienced teachers.  Dont forget, this is our future. Willl we get treating students like merchandise and not our future ?  And the fact that over 75% of the staff left and doesn’t want to be a part of this businesses plan, says alot.

posted by: Too Little ... Too Late on August 4, 2011  1:56pm

Very scary, that 25% of the experienced teachers chose not to stay. Quite a testament to the confidence that the teaching corp has in the new “arrangement”. Or maybe they were as embarrassed as I was that the Board of Education had to go outside and pay $$ Million to a private firm ...  to run this school. Not a single qualified Principal within the New haven stable of high priced Administrators. If I weren’t so cynical, I would be thrilled.

posted by: Tony Pellegrino on August 4, 2011  2:09pm

As a former NHPS teacher who has worked with many TFA teachers, I have nothing but positive things to say about them.  They were some of the smartest and hardest working teachers I worked with.  The idea that they are there just to polish their resumes is most definitely wrong.  Almost all of them were sincerely dedicated to the task of urban ed. In fact as a group I think they were more dedicated than most of the traditional public school teachers.  Furthermore the attrition rate of TFA teachers is pretty similar to people that come into public ed through the traditional pathway of teacher ed programs. About 1/2 of public school teachers quit in 5 years regardless of the way they come into the field.

I found that the people most resistant to TFA teachers were the individuals who were 1) bad at teaching, 2)more concerned with union membership and rights than student achievement and 3) loathe to try anything new in the classroom despite stringing evidence that it was necessary. 

Teaching wasn’t my bag and I got out of the field, but I can’t see why anyone should trounce the energetic and smart young people willing to give such a hard job a try?

And can you believe how long this complete failure Leroy Williams was allowed to remain as principal?  DR.?(LOL) Mayo needs to be replaced with someone more concerned with student achievement, and less concerned with keeping his friends employed.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 4, 2011  4:05pm

posted by: Tony Pellegrino on August 4, 2011 2:09pm

Teaching wasn’t my bag and I got out of the field, but I can’t see why anyone should trounce the energetic and smart young people willing to give such a hard job a try?

So you didn’t stick around.This is the problem with Teach for America program.

A new look at Teach for America
By Valerie Strauss

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on August 4, 2011  4:17pm

Mr.Therrien and others, 

In matters of schools and students’interests, why spend time on changing a system that reponds slowly to fixes and reforms?  Why not just put a new system in?

posted by: Tony Pellegrino on August 4, 2011  5:33pm


I was not a TFA teacher, I was trained in a traditional teachers ed program. I actually have a masters degree in secondary education.  If your going to sling assumptions at people, maybe use your real name next time.

And I love how the op-ed piece you posted from the Washington Post cites only 1 study….very credible and authoritative….especially since its from the lips of Valerie Strauss. She has about as much credibility on educational policy as Lou Dobbs does on immigration policy. At least that is who is she often compared to by people that read up on this sort of stuff.

posted by: To Rich The Science Guy on August 4, 2011  6:28pm


I appreciate your being here and contributing to these conversations.

I’m wondering why you hire so many Teach for America teachers and put them in some of the top-performing schools? I mean, Davis Street? Is that really true to their mission? Given their lack of training, do TFA teachers really understand the complexity of their work here and the deep structural problems in society that so closely connect to education, or do you hire them because they’re easily moldable? Why not work to recruit trained teachers?

Also, could you help me understand why the same schools are consistently the top performers in this district? We can celebrate a 3% increase, sure, but when can we expect to see legitimate reform? It’s the same curriculum at Clemente and Hooker, right? So, do you blame the teachers? Or is it the fact that some schools have students with parents with high social capital and know the skills kids need before coming to school and some don’t? What’s being done about that?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 4, 2011  8:38pm

posted by: Tony Pellegrino on August 4, 2011 5:33pm

I was not a TFA teacher, I was trained in a traditional teachers ed program. I actually have a masters degree in secondary education.  If your going to sling assumptions at people, maybe use your real name next time

I am not sling assumptions.Read you own statement Teaching wasn’t my bag and I got out of the field.You said it not me.Can you prove that 3/5ths is not my real name?

And I love how the op-ed piece you posted from the Washington Post cites only 1 study….very credible and authoritative….especially since its from the lips of Valerie Strauss. She has about as much credibility on educational policy as Lou Dobbs does on immigration policy. At least that is who is she often compared to by people that read up on this sort of stuff.

Would you say the same about Diane Ravitch.I don’t think so.

Diane Ravitch Blasts Teach for America
By James Campbell, on February 15, 2011, at 12:59 pm

This week Teach for America (TFA) celebrates its 20th anniversary. I have sometimes thought that if I were graduating from college now, I would apply to join TFA. It attracts well educated, bright, idealistic young people. Their energy and commitment are impressive.

The problem with TFA is that it grossly overstates its role in American education. This year, TFA sent 8,000 young people into high-needs schools; they agree to stay for two years; some stay longer, but most will be gone within three years. This is a small number indeed when you consider that our nation has 4 million teachers. And our most compelling problem is attrition. Of those who enter teaching, 50 percent are gone within five years. These are terrible statistics. We need a stable teaching profession, not a revolving door. We need to recruit new teachers who plan to stay in teaching and make a career of it. New teachers should have a solid education and strong preparation for their work. They should have the mentors and support they need to survive the trials of the early years and to improve continuously.

TFA does not solve any of those problems and needs. Yet its spectacular public relations and communications strategy has encouraged policymakers in the federal government, the big foundations, and the major corporations to believe that TFA is “the answer.” But it is not. The more it succeeds in promoting itself, the more it sucks the air out of any public discussion about restructuring and improving the profession.

And, wow, what a success TFA is! A few months ago, the U.S. Department of Education awarded it $50 million. A few weeks ago, a group of four foundations gave TFA $100 million. Corporate donors love TFA. Its 20th anniversary celebration last week was sponsored by the nation’s biggest foundations and corporations and attracted a star-studded list of guest speakers, from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to charter school leaders to national journalists and urban superintendents. The 15 pages of speakers is truly a line-up of the nation’s educational establishment.

TFA is a huge success story, but there is also something scary about seeing so much money and power assembled around its core belief that a brand-new college graduate with only five weeks of training is just right to educate our nation’s most vulnerable students. Recently some 60 civil rights organizations wrote a letter to President Obama, with a copy to Secretary Duncan, contesting the claim that teachers with so little training should be considered “highly qualified.” I attach links to and about their letter here and here. For more on this issue, Deborah, I urge you to read Barbara Torre Veltri’s Learning on Other People’s Kids: Becoming a Teach for America Teacher; Veltri has mentored many TFA teachers.

All the “right” people, all the powerful people have fallen in step behind TFA’s banner. It is as though they want to see the Peace Corps take the place of the diplomatic corps. In 2009, a surgeon proposed in The Wall Street Journal that medicine needed something similar to TFA, which he called “Heal for America.” After a brief training period, the members of his HFA would be qualified to advise patients about diet, hygiene, and exercise; they would know how to take patients’ pulse, temperature, and blood pressure; they would tell them the correct dosages of prescribed medicines. But, he warned, members of HFA should never be allowed to substitute for physicians, physicians’ assistants, or registered nurses. TFA, however, does not share the doctor’s understanding of the importance of deep training and experience.

Perhaps unintentionally, TFA’s success has stifled any national discussion about how to build a profession of well-educated, well-prepared, experienced educators who view teaching as a career rather than an experience. The alums of TFA are now taking their places in Congress, state legislatures, Wall Street, and the other corridors of power in public and private sectors. Will they recognize the need for a genuine national solution, modeled on the progress made in other nations, or will they simply continue to expand TFA’s belief in the virtue of a revolving door of bright young people? The future of the teaching profession hinges on the answer to that question. What do you think?


posted by: LOL on August 4, 2011  10:00pm

Let’s not kid around.  Some of NHPS’ initiatives/directives are based on “only 1 study”.  ...  Some of us know far better.

posted by: LOL on August 4, 2011  10:05pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

If the teachers at the Hookers, Edgewoods and Nathan Hales are so wonderful, while the teachers at the poor performing schools are so poor, then why not just switch entire staffs and give all staffs a five-year contract?  If in 5 years, the scores at the Hookers/et al go down and the scores at the “poor” schools dramatically increase (more than 3 percent!!) THEN start firing teachers/placing teachers on plans of improvement.

posted by: RichTherrn on August 5, 2011  6:44am

@To Rich:
Can’t go into too much detail… but when I look for correctly certified teachers that WANT to teach middle school and ALL urban students science, some years the pool is fairly thin. Where teachers get placed each year is a function of a lot of things, but usually TFA’s go into needy schools, we’ve had great success with middle school science teachers at Beecher, Basset, Clemente, Columbus, Wexler, etc… as well as others.
As to the difference between schools, sure a lot of the baseline can be correlated to demographics… but I think great teachers know that the difference they can make is with the kids in front of them, no matter who they are.. We have schools that have had gains, especially in science, that outpace the state, and I’ve got university researchers asking me all the time how it is possible some of our schools do so well. So the mission is to replicate that growth at every school, regardless of the external factors.
-Richard Therrien
-NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: Tony Pellegrino on August 5, 2011  9:55am

OK 3/5ths
Lets have it your way. Hire no new TFA teachers because we respect the profession so much.  We will just leave 50 teaching positions vacant. We will squeeze all those kids into other teacher’s classrooms.  It will be ok because they all came from traditional ed programs, and they are there to stay.  The burn out these over burdened teachers will experience definitely will not contribute to them leaving the field.  Even if they spend a couple of years with 30+ kids in their classrooms. Ohh right, 1/2 of all teachers leave the profession in 5 years….ooppss I forgot about facts…  Sounds like a great idea.  ...

posted by: cheri on August 5, 2011  10:17am

The teachers at Hooker,Edgewood, and Nathan Hale are not more talented. They actually have an easier job teaching children. I have worked with teachers in these schools and some of them actually made fun of lower income schools. I have worked there also and have to tell you it takes a lot more talent and hard work to teach these children. First you have to gain discipline in the classroom then you have to hold their interest in their studies while dealing with their at home issues. It would do well for the teachers of the so-called high performing schools to teach and learn lessons from these teachers at these tougher schools.
      It’s much eaiser to teach children who are coming to school willing and ready to learn and their parents work at yale etc…
    Same goes for the administrators of these schools they rest on their laurels and take creidt for their school’s high performance when its the quality of student they are getting in their schools.
      I have great empathy for the students in the so-called low performing schools they have to rise above so many obstacles to become successful in this world. I pray for them every day.

posted by: brutus2011 on August 5, 2011  11:55am

I have worked with and gotten to know 3 Teach For America teachers. They earned my respect and I remember them fondly. Unfortunately for us, all 3 left NHPS and went home immediately after their tour here ended. I wish it were not so, but these teachers couldn’t wait to leave. And, I really couldn’t blame them. They didn’t leave because of the kids or their fellow teachers. They left because of the dysfunctional administration of the buildings in which they were placed. (1 high school social studies teacher from Minnesota, 1 high school English teacher from a Chicago suburb, and 1 8th grade middle school math teacher from North Carolina) Their number one complaint was the lack of support from the building administration on student discipline. These teachers quickly realized that they were on their own when it came to any kind of consequences for students not following building and district policy. They could see that if push came to shove that their school leaders would sacrifice them to keep their jobs. Fortunately for these TFA teachers, they had their organization to protect them. In fact, TFA trains and supervises their teacher recruits extremely well. I have to give them an “A” for how they operate. I have to wonder if many of these TFA teachers might stay on longer if there were more integrity, and less cronyism, in NHPS administration. What say you, science guy?

posted by: LOL on August 5, 2011  1:25pm

BRUTUS, you are spot on.  The following is an illustration of your points:

One year, my principal held a staff meeting at which she scolded teachers for the number of office referrals they made.  She had each teacher’s name and the number of referrals each made, blasting those with high referral numbers and praising those with low numbers.

The problem of course, was that teachers HAD followed the school’s discipline plan—which outlines tiers of consequences for different offenses.  All avenues were exhausted before referrals were made—except in cases where kids were out of control, throwing chairs, fighting, or assaulting teachers (one of my colleagues had her skirt pulled down during class).

Teachers who immediately phoned the office for assistance in those situations were reprimanded during this meeting.  But consider:  If your child was in a room in which another student was acting dangerously and disrespectfully, wouldn’t you want that student removed immediately?

Teachers actually saved the district by phoning the office.  Heaven-forbid an innocent student gets injured b/c of some out of control student who wasn’t reported immediately—the district would be sued big time.

As for the teachers who leave NHPS, downtown simply dimissed them as not being able to handle the challenge and/or standards.  Puh-leeze!  I challenge NHPS officials to PLACE CAMERAS INSIDE EACH AND EVERY CLASSROOM IN EVERY SCHOOL, COMPLETE WITH FULL AUDIO.  As a classroom practioner I’d have no problem with it b/c I know I’m a great teacher and have nothing to hide. And I believe “film” would force downtown to be accountable in supporting teachers.  never mind these ridiculous PD sessions; teachers need REAL support.

posted by: Teachergal on August 5, 2011  2:44pm

Larissa should blog about her first year teaching Clemente’s scientists. I wish her the best of luck but having the kids put their namr next to the title “scientist”  Will do little to motivate students. I can just hear the comments from her students, “I ain’t no f^*+#! scientist”  I give her a year at best. She looks very sweet. I hope she has small classes as well as support with discipline which is sorely lacking in NH’s beautiful schools. Ask a principal for help and you get,“did you call the parents?”  I agree with calling parents but when you’re in the middle of a situation, and you need immediate support, calling the parents is not an option. And quite frankly, most parents don’t want to get those calls. I have made many and have never been spoken to more rudely and disrespectfully in my life.

Responsive classroom, great program, worked well at a school I used to work at. All NH schools should use it. Many good strategies for developing social skills in young people but there needs to be total buy in for it to succeed.

Lastly, I mentored a TFA teacher for two years. She was smart, capable and creative BUT was weak in discipline. Support was rarely given to her and other staff made her feel like a freak. Her classes were large and had many problems. I did the best to support her, dry her tears, share materials and stategies but also had 5 classes of my own to teach daily. Needless to say
after 2 years she moved back to her home state.

Smaller classes, social development programs and good leaders is what NH needs, plain and simple. Teacher bashing and labeling schools is only going to make matters worse. Look at Hope School in Waterbury. And rotate teachers, why should anyone get to stay in a boutique school their entire career thinking they’re better than their colleagues that work with NH’s most challenging students.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 5, 2011  3:37pm

posted by: Tony Pellegrino on August 5, 2011 9:55am
OK 3/5ths

Lets have it your way. Hire no new TFA teachers because we respect the profession so much.  We will just leave 50 teaching positions vacant. We will squeeze all those kids into other teacher’s classrooms.  It will be ok because they all came from traditional ed programs, and they are there to stay.  The burn out these over burdened teachers will experience definitely will not contribute to them leaving the field.  Even if they spend a couple of years with 30+ kids in their classrooms. Ohh right, 1/2 of all teachers leave the profession in 5 years….ooppss I forgot about facts…  Sounds like a great idea.  ...

Not my way.It is the way of the corpporate vampires who have found a new profit for there
hedge fund investment.

The Faces of School Reform
By John Tarleton
From the January 29, 2010

Good thing you did get out of teaching,Cause this is what is going to happen next with the teachers.

The Corporate Dream: Teachers as Temps
Wed, 05/25/2011 - 02:13 — Glen Ford

Public education’s corporate enemies – Democrat and Republican – now wage open warfare against teachers unions, seeking to strip them of collective bargaining rights. But that’s just the beginning. “The billionaires, and the politicians they have purchased, want nothing less than to destroy teaching as a profession.” In the ideal corporate world, most teachers would have the status of temps.

Under the guise of ‘reform,’ the United States is moving in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the world.”

As Democrats hustle to shovel a billion dollars into President Obama’s campaign coffers – making promises to rich people and their corporations every step of the way – America’s billionaires are spending even more money to seize control of the nation’s public schools. Although super-wealthy capitalists like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, fellow computer mogul Michael Dell, real estate magnate Eli Broad, and the rapacious owners of Wal-Mart, the Walton Family, would like people to think of them as philanthropists, they are nothing more than down-and-dirty investors who hope to reap much more than they sow. This mega-buck mafia’s goal is to gain access to the $600 billion per year that taxpayers pump into public schools, and then to profit in perpetuity by shaping the nation’s educational system to their corporate needs. The corporate education project has nothing to do with growing new generations of smarter, socially aware, independent-thinking citizens, but is designed to raid public treasuries through wholesale contracting-out of public schooling.

“This mega-buck mafia’s goal is to gain access to the $600 billion per year that taxpayers pump into public schools.”

Teachers are the biggest obstacle in the way of the corporate educational coup, which is why the billionaires, eagerly assisted by their servants in the Obama administration, have made demonization and eventual destruction of teachers unions their top priority. Corporations hate collective bargaining, or working people’s power of any kind, but their vision goes way beyond simply neutralizing teachers unions. The billionaires, and the politicians they have purchased, want nothing less than to destroy teaching as a profession. Plutocrats like Bill Gates and politicians like Barack Obama may make noises about respecting teachers’ life-long commitment to learning, but their actions prove the opposite. At every opportunity, whenever a real or manufactured educational crisis presents itself, the corporate gang champions charter schools and imports platoons of young, mostly white, inexperienced rookies from programs like Teach for America. Most of these neophytes have no intention of making teaching a career, so they accept low wages, turnover is high, and they have no long term interest in any particular school, or school system, or the profession in general. They are temporary teachers – which is precisely the point.

Just as corporations have revamped the private white collar workforce, replacing full-time, salaried personnel with “temporary” workers – a system in which some managers are officially temps – such are the prospects for teachers in the brave new corporate world of education “reform.”

The billionaires’ propaganda machinery claims the corporatization of American education is necessary to make the United States “competitive,” internationally. But teachers in most of the countries that lead the U.S. in learning are highly respected, if not revered, and relatively well compensated. Under the guise of “reform,” the United States is moving in exactly the opposite direction as the rest of the world. The American people are being conned by billionaire hustlers who are stealing the public schools – and the national future – right in front of our eyes.

You need to read John Marsh Book Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality

In Class Dismissed, which looks great, by the way, John Marsh debunks a myth cherished by journalists, politicians, and economists: that growing poverty and inequality in the United States can be solved through education. Using sophisticated analysis combined with personal experience in the classroom, Marsh not only shows that education has little impact on poverty and inequality, but that our mistaken beliefs actively shape the way we structure our schools and what we teach in them.

Rather than focus attention on the hierarchy of jobs and power—where most jobs require relatively little education, and the poor enjoy very little political power—money is funneled into educational endeavors that ultimately do nothing to challenge established social structures, and in fact reinforce them. And when educational programs prove ineffective at reducing inequality, the ones whom these programs were intended to help end up blaming themselves. Marsh’s struggle to grasp the connection between education, poverty, and inequality is both powerful and poignant

posted by: Bennett on August 6, 2011  3:24pm

This experiment will not solve Clemente’s problems. For profit and not for profit charter schools can loosen the reins sometimes imposed by union rules, but it is not union rules per se that force good teachers into being bad teachers. 

We know what works.  It’s well proven.  And it’s the one thing no city government will face up to.  In brief, for schools that are not “self-selecting,” like private schools, or populated by “smart kids” (like Hooker), small class sizes and experienced teachers (minimum 5 years) are the most reliable indicators of positive educational outcomes.  That coupled with a high-quality administration is the only way to turn this around. 

But this won’t happen because that requires more money for more staff and more experienced staff at that. For-profits definitely will not make a difference here since their specific role is to keep costs down, and that can only be done in two ways—by paying less (and thus depending upon less experienced staff) and creating larger classes. There are no scaleability benefits in education, so there are no costs saved (other than shaving people’s salaries) by going private.

For a reality check on this foolishness, just see The Inconvenient Truth of Waiting for Superman.

This is a bureacrat’s solution, not an actual problem solver’s.

posted by: Tom Burns on August 6, 2011  8:03pm

To my teaching colleagues—-this year the reform team (and you) will be concentrating on student behavior issues——this endeavor is vital to our success in educating the whole child and in making teaching and learning an enjoyable experience for everyone—-We WILL improve the culture and learning environment over the next two years—that’s a promise—-Tom
If anyone would like to serve on a “Behavior” committee—give me a call at 860-227-6668—-All the best

posted by: The Professor on August 7, 2011  4:04pm

I have to say, I take exception to the characterization of TFA corps members as “22-year-old[s] with absolutely no experience… [who] parachute in for a couple of years to polish their resumes before they become investment bankers.”

The TFA participants I’ve met have all been highly motivated, and highly dedicated.  They have to be, given the rampant problems at the schools that they teach at.  If these were people who were looking for a cushy gig for a couple of years, they would’ve applied to Choate, Loomis Chaffee, Exeter, etc.  Instead, they chose to work with some of the most at-risk youth populations in the country. 

Now, I agree that there are serious problems with the TFA structure.  I have relatives who are longtime employees of some of the toughest school districts in the country, and they’ve pointed out to me that by the time they set foot in a classroom, they’d had years of training, thousands of hours of student teaching, and had been instructed in how to both teach the academic material and serve as the pseudo-social workers that inner-city teachers often become.  TFA doesn’t do that, and that’s a very serious problem.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the people who participate in the program are highly motivated and genuinely want to make a difference. Acknowledging their motivation and criticizing the institution that they’re a part of are not mutually exclusive.

posted by: Janyce Murphy on August 7, 2011  4:47pm

I never fail to be amazed at the reverse snobbery directed at Worthington Hooker, and frankly, it just winds up sounding like sour grapes. I don’t know if our teachers are more brilliant or dedicated than others, but I do know they are brilliant and dedicated. Both of my children started there in kindergarten and are now in the 8th and 5th grades, respectively.

As far as the Worthington Hooker student body, unless you have a child there, you really don’t know us, do you? There are children from ALL ENDS of the socio-economic spectrum, from neighborhoods all over this city. Do you really think Hooker is a utopia? People are people: and all people have crosses to bear and problems to face.

Finally: we aren’t all from Yale. I’m actually what they call (shudder) a “townie”, and many of our other parents are as well.

Drop the prejudices and sour grapes, folks.

posted by: @Janyce on August 8, 2011  9:35am

Spend a day volunteering at Clemente or Wexler or Celentano and then get back to us.  By then you might have a clue.

posted by: Whatsername on August 8, 2011  11:40am

“But that doesn’t change the fact that the people who participate in the program are highly motivated and genuinely want to make a difference. Acknowledging their motivation and criticizing the institution that they’re a part of are not mutually exclusive.”

Trying hard isn’t good enough.  Wanting to do good is not the same as doing good.  Barely understanding the home environments of the children you teach is not good enough.  High energy is not enough.  None of that is good enough.  Our children deserve better.

posted by: LOVETOTEACHnh on August 12, 2011  6:22pm

Thank you Brutus for supporting the teachers.  No one knows what it is like to teaching at Clemente until you have spent time there.  Teachers had tried over and over again to deal with the major behavioral problems in the school.  However, when you do not have administration backing you it is hard to make improvement.  When administration ignores kids fighting, skipping class, and basically harassing teachers it is hard to gain control.  No in the building was on the same page and it got worse every single year.  When students saw that the leader of the school would let them get away with bad behavior it became harder to enforce change and fix the discipline problems. 

I believe the change at Clemente is an extremely positive one and I am looking forward to seeing the success they have over the next few years.  There is only room to grow at this point!