Jackpot! Schools Win $53M

Melissa Bailey PhotoWith a new gift from President Obama, first-year teacher Lisa Kieslich may get relief from a new “super-sub” so she can spend a day learning classroom management tips from a newly dubbed “master teacher” in her school.

That was one vision of New Haven’s plans for a whopping new $53.4 million, five-year federal grant announced Thursday by Obama’s U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan.

The grant comes from the $285 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), a competitive federal grant. The first batch of money, $12 million, will be available this school year. New Haven is one of 35 winners of the latest round of TIF grants. (Details here.)

“This is a big deal,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of New Haven (at left in photo with Mayor John DeStefano) declared at a 3:30 p.m. press event Thursday at the John Martinez School. Local officials credited DeLauro with helping secure the grant. They noted that New York City, which has 50 times the number of students as New Haven, scored only $53 million.

The grant will enable New Haven to reward, recognize and develop talent in its teaching and administrative ranks.

New Haven is well-suited for the grant because it already has already overhauled its teacher evaluations to reflect student performance—a key reform Obama has been pushing nationwide—Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries said. New Haven gained national plaudits for including teachers in those changes, and struck a peaceful deal with the union in 2009 that paved the way for reforms. The principals union followed suit with its own job evaluation, also based on job performance.

The new changes funded by the grant will build on the “foundation” set by those job evaluations, Harries said.

News of the new grant sent ripples of excitement through the teaching ranks Thursday.

“Oh happy day,” said Iris Duran (at right in photo), a 19-year veteran math teacher at Fair Haven School. She ran over to John Martinez when she heard about the prospect of new money to support teachers.

Fair Haven School music teacher Dan Kinsman (at left in photo), who spent his own money on a three-week graduate-level class in dance and music in Ghana last summer, said he hopes the district will provide a stipend for teachers to pick their own training outside the classroom, something “inspiring.”

Leaders Stay In Class

In a conversation after the press event, Harries said the district won’t quite be sending teachers to Africa—but that they could still find a way to benefit from the grant.

Harries outlined various efforts the school system pitched to the feds in its grant application.

One goal: to create new leadership roles for teachers and principals.  Right now, Harries said, teachers who want to move up in the district have only one option: Become an administrator. Harries said schools need to create another option, so teachers can stay in the classroom while also taking on leadership roles.

The district aims to build a new cadre of exemplary teachers with expert talents to share, Harries said. A teacher could be an expert on classroom management, or on Singapore math, for example.

Call them “master teachers.” They would keep teaching, while also mentoring other teachers and sharing their skills with their peers.

Likewise, the district would create a “mentor principal” role for principals who would share wisdom with their peers.

The grant will allow for these new “master teachers” and “mentor principals” to get extra compensation for their new duties, Harries (pictured) said. It would also allow the district to pay teachers and administrators more for working in difficult environments, such as schools with lots of transient or special needs kids.

The differentiated pay scales and leadership roles are a way of leaving behind a “factory” model of education.

Along those lines, teachers would get access to individualized training according to their needs.

For example, Kieslich, a brand new teacher at John Martinez (pictured at the top of this story), said she’d like some extra help with classroom management for her 6th-grade classroom. The teacher joined the classroom after earning her bachelor’s from Southern Connecticut State University.

As a new teacher, Kieslich is paired with a mentor for her first two years. She said she could always use more training.

She said she studied classroom management in school, but “you just read it from a book. Once you’re in your own classroom, it’s completely different.”

Harries said that’s just the kind of problem the new grant could solve.

Super-Sub Me

Enter the “super-sub.” In its grant, New Haven asked for money to pay for 15 to 20 full-time substitute teachers. Their job would be to cover classes so the teachers can get extra training they need to develop their skills.

For example, a super-sub might take over Kieslich’s classroom for an entire day so she can learn from an expert in classroom management. Or the super-sub might relieve the master teacher from her duties so that teacher can spend the day with Kieslich.

Veteran teachers could benefit, too. Shelley Weinhaus (at left in photo with Kieslich), who’s in her eighth year teaching, said she already mentors new classroom teachers. She said she sees the benefit in expanding mentoring beyond first-year teachers. And, she said, teachers could always use more training around how to use data to plan lessons.

The district also aims to train the staff who perform teacher and principal evaluations.

Teachers union President Dave Cicarella said the goal is to create an even playing field.

“There’s a lack of fairness and training” to the way the evaluations are implemented, he said.

None of the details above are final, Harries cautioned.

A new committee of three teachers and three principals or assistant principals, called a Talent Council, will convene to oversee how the money is spent. That committee will have the final say.


School officials called the TIF gift the “largest national recognition” of its reform drive so far.

While New Haven’s reform efforts have gained much praise from Obama’s administration, money had not followed the kudos until Thursday.

While some aspects of reform have generated controversy, the city’s tack with teachers—working with them rather than fighting with them to produce changes in a landmark contract—has become a model cited nationwide for how other cities can improve the schools. Sources of praise have included education policy centrists at The New York Times and pro-union reform skeptics like Diane Ravitch. Click here for the latest example. New Haven’s teachers agreed to make it easier for the district to get rid of the lowest performers—and to judge them based on a mix of test scores and other factors—while the city agreed to include teachers in the evaluation process and to offer support for struggling teachers to improve rather than fail and leave the system.


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posted by: Stylo on September 27, 2012  6:31pm

“From Obama”? Really?

I’m pretty sure he didn’t personally endorse the check. A lot of people are involved in a decision like this.

“Jackpot! Schools Win $53M From Federal Government” would be more appropriate.

posted by: TryingToRemainAnonymous on September 27, 2012  7:42pm

When they pushed through TEVAL they promised incentives for teachers who were rated highly effective. I don’t know of any teachers who were rated highly effective (and validated) who have received anything, not even a pat on the back. No acknowledgements. No handshakes. No “Hey, we want you to take more of a leadership position.” Nothing.

Some teachers were even displaced in various ways.

A national model? The system isn’t even 3 years old (this is the third year) and still has kinks in it, the most egregious being the idea of “reward”.

I, and other highly effective teachers, have been rewarded with very large class sizes, minimal preparation time, more meetings, less one-on-one time with students, and many new district initiatives.

Not even a pat on the back.

posted by: SaveOurCity on September 27, 2012  11:43pm

I sure am glad to hear that our government is so flush with cash that it can send tens of millions of dollars to a district that has an atrocious record of preparing children for college or the workforce….those crazy conservatives where trying to tell me that we were broke and borrowing money from the Chinese to meet our budget obligations.  So glad that everything is fine.  Sounds like re-election for all involved is appropriate.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on September 28, 2012  6:25am

“They noted that New York City, which has 50 times the number of students as New Haven, scored only $53 million.” TRANSLATION: government is all about cronyism—with Rosa DeLauro being one of the most egregious examples. The only time DeLauro appears in the media is when the government has awarded yet another budget-busting grant. But hey, with a national debt of c. $17 Trillion, who cares? New Haven’s students—not current voters—are the generation that will be crushed by this debt.
“New Haven is well-suited for the grant because it already has already overhauled its teacher evaluations to reflect student performance”. TRANSLATION: teachers are penalized for factors over which they have no control—poverty, broken families, poor nutrition, crime-ridden neighborhoods, no supervision/parenting outside the school. “Teachers union President Dave Cicarella said…’There’s a lack of fairness and training’ to the way the evaluations are implemented”. With a high school dropout rate of over 25%, what’s to celebrate? Another $53.4 million of tax dollars that will be swallowed up by New Haven’s education bureaucracy? Now, just imagine if that $53.4 million—that YOU paid with your taxes—was given back to each parent/guardian to spend on the school of their choice. Schools would HAVE to improve—or they would lose students, and ultimately fold. A company that produces an inferior product goes out of business, because consumers don’t buy the inferior product or because they can purchase the same quality for a better price. When government monopolizes a “product”—e.g. education—there is no true, underlying incentive to improve.  Because, no matter how dysfunctional a school or school district is, it will never go out of business. Unfortunately for students and taxpayers, this is one monopoly that will never get busted.

posted by: Solsbury on September 28, 2012  8:33am

TryingToRemain, well you probably aren’t an elementary language arts teacher, there seems to be a ton of those positions. Maybe there will finally be help or mentoring for all the new subject teachers other than language arts. We constantly hear about high school or middle school teachers who have difficulties in their subject teaching and in classroom management, but because they are so new and so disconnected from their peers across the city, they never get any help. My school has 2 literacy coaches, but the new social studies and science teacher get no mentoring from anyone who knows their curriculum.

posted by: random on September 28, 2012  12:38pm

If only the Obama administration had oversight over how the money will be spent, I suspect it will pay for more of the mayor’s cronies to increase their pay and the children will continue to be at a loss and leave high school to attend college taking remedial courses.I suspect few (if any) in New Haven will be able to obtain employment as a “super sub”.This administration tends to hire from outside while city resident’s unemployment status continues to climb.

posted by: mohovs on September 28, 2012  12:44pm

Does this mean we can get a Property Tax rebate, since we now have all this found money?

posted by: anonymous on September 28, 2012  1:57pm

“This administration tends to hire from outside while city resident’s unemployment status continues to climb.”

Exactly.  That’s because the Unions, and their proxy Board of Aldermen, are entirely controlled by people who live in the suburbs.  It is simply a matter of power.

There are no meaningful efforts underway to actually address the fact that virtually everyone under 30 in the hood is unemployed.  The “job pipeline” is a pipeline to the suburbs, and is far too small to make any dent in the employment situation anyways. Instead, we need to build neighborhoods that are economically strong enough that people will stay in them and invest.

posted by: DRAD on September 28, 2012  2:13pm

Wow. Just wow.  The City of New Haven gets $53 million to help children and the comments listed below pretty much range for snide to negative to defeatist with touch of snark thrown in. Wow.

posted by: Laughingstock on September 28, 2012  3:51pm

Bravo New Haven Schools!  As a New Haven senior and fan of learning, I am delighted and proud of you for this accomplishment.  I have read other places as well that the harmonious agreement between the teachers and administration has become a model for other school systems that want to improve.  It is good to see good efforts rewarded. 

And congratulations to the students whose accomplishments must have contributed to the eligibility of the city’s schools for recognition.  (Ignore the cranks writing comments above, children, they don’t appreciate what good is.)

posted by: RichTherrn on September 28, 2012  6:29pm

This is a very positive step. I know in the area of science, we have many teacher leaders, in elementary, middle school (@solsbury) and high school.. that go to workshops, attend training, share with colleagues, and serve a variety of roles in their school buildings and across the district. I suggest those teachers talk to their principals, union reps and supervisors about the work they do and see a need for in the district that might be served by this grant.
Richard Therrien
NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: Brutus2011 on September 28, 2012  11:39pm

For a somewhat less than 10 million, NHPS could hire 400 paraprofessionals to work with certified teachers in grades K-5. I figure about 20 paras for about 20 schools.

For an additional 4 million or so, NHPS could raise the substitute teacher’s per diem rate to $90 thereby giving substantial stability to our classrooms.

That leaves about 35 million for our educrats to spend on their friends, family and campaign supporters.

But you know what, these turkeys won’t even do that…this will be the last we hear of the 53 million and our classrooms, teachers, and students will still go wanting.

You can’t make this stuff up.

posted by: Jacques Strap on September 29, 2012  8:40am

Brutus is right about the need for and usefulness of paraprofessionals in every K-5 class, especially in Tier III schools.  Unfortunately, I have been witness to comments by some principals who have stated that “paras just sit there and do nothing.”  I have also witnessed paras be reprimanded for helping clean spills in primary classrooms, for helping set up activities in primary classrooms and for failing to execute lessons to perfection.  Well, in all of my years with NHPS, the paras I’ve known proved to be a hard-working, dedicated professionals.  I believe the negative comments are coming from “downtown” looking to spend the money elsewhere.  Which is a shame because many schools in New Haven need paras at the K-5 levels.  More than 60 percent of kids entering Kindergarten in New Haven did not attend preschool (not by their choice, BTW) which means they are almost always behind grade level, no matter how hard teachers work to “play catch up.”  It is time for NHPS to stop pulling paras from primary classrooms to serve as substitute teachers in other grades.  How is that putting kids first?  What sense does it make for paras to be pulled from their K and Grade 1 classrooms to work as subs when the kids at the K and 1st grade levels are so very needy?  Especially in Tier III schools? I sincerely hope this “new money” is spent properly and that the spending is overseen by the right agencies.

posted by: suttongriggs on September 30, 2012  7:20am

This is a good start but it has to be fair and honest. Principals must be ethical and knowledgeable and genuinely understand how hard it is to teach in urban schools at this time in history. Evaluations must be honest and teachers must receive timely help when they are struggling. Dave Cicarelli is a good guy, but you cannot have principals falsifying records and gaming the TEVAl process.

posted by: Teachergal on September 30, 2012  10:02am

Are substitutes still being paid $50 per day ? Speaks volumes. Every school should have their own sub that learns the schools philosophy, methods for discipline, builds relationships with students and parent, and gets paid a fair wage ($100 per day). Leave the paras where they belong, in their assigned classrooms. This would definitely support the running of schools.

posted by: brain_stringcheese on October 1, 2012  11:24am

“The grant will enable New Haven to reward, recognize and develop talent in its teaching and administrative ranks.”

Ok, awesome.  More professional development fr teachers, that’s cool, but I think the last thing NHPS needs to spend more money on is administrative positions.  Do they really need to create new admin positions?

posted by: HhE on October 1, 2012  12:07pm

Iris Duran is a wonderful teacher and a great person.  I worked with her for two years in another district.  I am chuffed to bits that we are lucky enough to have her.

This is a great opportunity to be sure, but I do also share many of the concerns posted by others.

Christopher Schaefer, I find your views completely at odds with how public schools think and function.  Teachers (and administrators, who are always drawn from the ranks of teachers) typically come from working class and lower middle class families.  They enter this profession for one of two reasons:  a love of learning, kids, and teaching, or safe, steady work with good benefits.  As a group, they are hardly very entrepreneurial, albeit many are very hard working.  The idea that schools will respond to free market forces only reveals a lack of understanding of public schools. 

I don’t know how you square “teachers are penalized for factors over which they have no control—poverty, broken families, poor nutrition, crime-ridden neighborhoods, no supervision/parenting outside the school.” with vouchers. 

Just as No Child Left Behind was problematic because of its over reliance on tests and the idea that a school could make constant progress, I find Race to the Top flawed.  As I understand this program, it is driven by conforming to ideas held by the Administration and their The Department of Education.

posted by: HhE on October 1, 2012  12:34pm

anonymous, when a school district functions to provide employment for its residents rather than provide the best education possible for its residents so that they in turn can seek employment, it has failed.  All school districts ought to look outside their boundaries for employees because that may well be where they find the best candidate and that is how a district maintains a diversity of ideas, ideals, and methods.

posted by: random on October 1, 2012  5:32pm

To state that the city hires outside New Haven to find the best educators and to provide diversity is laughable and disrespectful to the many educated and skilled people living right here in New Haven and secondly in what town or city do you find schools predominately of Caucasian children being educated by a predominate staff of color to add diversity?Laughable and desperate attempt to excuse this city’s poor record for taking care of its own.

posted by: Teachergal on October 1, 2012  5:42pm

When, where and how will these new jobs be posted?

posted by: HhE on October 1, 2012  8:35pm

Random, why would NHPS administrator eschew local talent if that local talent is the best available?  There may be some administrators that seek to have a mediocre staff because they fear having teachers who are smarter and better than themselves, but in the main, administrators understand that they will look their best when they have the best teachers.  Really good teachers will make their lives easier with better classroom management.  Highly motivated teachers will take on extra projects and programs; not only enriching the school, but making the administration look good. 

The reason most classroom teachers in most districts are white and female is because most people who are teachers are women of European ancestry.  If you want to change that (and I do), then get more minorities into education.

A friend of mine was considering a career change (he ultimately went into nursing).  My mother told him about a two year intern program that grants certification and a masters at no cost.  This program is for minority’s only, and as a white male, he qualified. 

There are districts, such as Greenwich, that recruit minorities.  Most don’t.  So while Southington High had only one black professional (my friend Geoff was a guidance consular there, until he left) out a staff of 200, Greenwich Public Schools has a number of minorities in its schools. 

One of the systemic causes of New Haven’s problems is Connecticut’s choice of local over regional.  So by throwing that would be otherwise regional problems onto New Haven, middle and upper class people living in the towns can live on the cheep.  Advocating for local hiring gives sanction to that. 

I will not use “laughable,” but I will say “shameful” and “distressing.”

posted by: brain_stringcheese on October 2, 2012  2:35pm

subs need to be paid more than $50/day that’s ridiculous and other towns pay almost double that.  it looks like the money from this grant is limited to being spent on teacher development.  Cool, but New Haven already spends too much on administrators.  A comment I read before mentioned spending the money on paras instead and that would be awesome if the money could be used for that.  Lowe level classes are overcrowded, those kids need individual attention, paras provide that.  More paras a higher pay rate for subs and hiring locally would be great but I don’t see that happening right now.  Less professionals in offices and more professionals in classrooms.