Now What?

With the new contract in place, schools face long to-do lists and tight timelines

PHOTO: Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew (center) has raised concerns with Chancellor Carmen FariƱa (right) about principals who have nearly abandoned suspensions, as well as there being too little teacher training as schools transition to alternative discipline systems.

Now that the new teachers contract is in place, schools face a high-stakes game of scheduling Tetris.

One option is for schools to squeeze 150 minutes of newly required teacher meetings into two days without exceeding work-time limits, sacrificing any class time, or jeopardizing after-school programs. Another choice is to spread the minutes out over more days.

Either way, schools only have until Friday to figure it out, when schedule changes are due.

“This discussion needs to happen immediately,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew wrote in an email to teacher-leaders just hours after the contract was ratified Tuesday evening.

The scheduling puzzle represents just the first set of time-sensitive choices that schools must make to comply with new rules and take advantage of new opportunities in the contract.

They must also decide by the end of this month whether to submit school-experimentation proposals, even as they are unsure what the new program entails. And school leaders must make budget decisions, even as it is unclear how new pay incentives will be funded.

At the same time, schools must continue to give end-of-the-year exams, plan for summer school, and finish teacher evaluations, which are also due Friday.

“It’s just a tremendous amount of information for us to interpret,” Joanna Cohen, assistant principal of P.S. 2 in Chinatown, said of the contract and everything else piled on schools’ plates. “It’s pretty overwhelming.”

The contract’s most pressing provision is the schedule change: After-school time that had been reserved for tutoring has been converted into time for teachers to train, collaborate, and interact with parents. The contract offers schools a default weekly schedule that incorporates the changes. But if schools want to make any adjustments, they must be submitted by Friday.

Some adjustments might be minor. P.S. 2, for instance, is planning to start the school day 15 minutes earlier to make sure teachers can meet for the required 80 minutes after school Monday and still leave by 4 p.m., as the contract demands.

Others may be more complicated. For example, Peace and Diversity Academy in the Bronx hopes to negotiate a new bell schedule with another school in its building before the changes are due Friday.

The real riddle for many administrators is how to preserve after-school activities for students now that teachers are required to meet Monday and Tuesday afternoons under the default schedule embedded in the contract.

Teachers at Life Sciences Secondary School on the Upper East Side currently run after-school classes to help students make up missing credits, along with clubs and sports, every Monday through Thursday. With Friday afternoons off-limits for most students, the contract has cut the school’s after-school options in half, said principal Genevieve Stanislaus.

“Monday and Tuesday are off the table,” she said, adding, “We still haven’t fully comprehended how we’re going to make all of this happen.”

The contract’s time rules raise other questions too: Will the new schedule for teachers force principals to work longer days than their own contract rules permit? And how will schools make sure all the new professional development time is useful for teachers?

“Before, we had a month to think about the next meeting,” said David Allen, an assistant principal at Bard High School Early College Queens. “Now, we’re thinking week to week.”

Uncertainty surrounds areas of the contract beyond the new schedule, educators said.

For instance, many schools have expressed interest in the program that would give them new flexibility to make radical changes — but they were unsure what those changes might be. Still, union officials have said they want schools to submit proposals by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, next year’s school budgets are due in a few weeks. Even though their budgets are flat next year, some principals wondered if they would have to help pay for a provision in the new contract that lets top teachers earn up to $20,000 extra per year by taking on new duties.

“Anything that you attach money to,” said Ellen Flanagan, principal of South Bronx Preparatory, “I think you should lay out pretty clearly.”

The Department of Education did not answer specific questions about how the contract might impact school budgets and schedules. A spokeswoman said the department would work with schools as they carry out the new contract rules.

Mark Cannizzaro, executive vice president of the city’s school supervisors union, said principals have asked about the many implications of the new teachers contract, which union officials have relayed to the city. But so far answers are in short supply.

“We really haven’t put any meat on the bones in terms of how we’re going to work these things out,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city has plenty of its own contract-related deadlines.

Under a contract provision meant to reduce a backlog of teacher disciplinary cases, city and union officials must quickly select cases that can be resolved through mediation instead of hearings. The mediation is set to begin July 1. The two sides must also form a host of joint committees to choose teachers for the new leadership roles, review the school-experimentation proposals, and find ways to reduce paperwork in schools.

“We plan to work with the UFT to meet the deadlines established in the contract and work with schools to answer ongoing questions,” said Devora Kaye, the education department spokeswoman.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede