NYC Signatures July 2012

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Love NY? Fix Our Schools!

Dear Friends, Fellow Educators and New Yorkers: As educators, parents and students working and learning in some of the most disadvantaged schools in New York City, we are outraged by the recent arbitrator’s ruling preventing the city from turning around our lowest performing schools. The city’s plan — to close 24 failing schools and replace them with good schools, effective teachers and quality programs — would have created real hope and opportunity for students whose schools had repeatedly failed them. In ruling against the Turnaround plan, the arbitrator is effectively blocking our efforts to hold adults accountable for children’s future success. This spring teams of hundreds of principals, teachers, students, families and staff members came to work together for months in good faith to turn their failing schools into dynamic places of learning on behalf of our children. These new school teams know exactly how unjust the existing system has been for our kids, who literally cannot wait for the new schools promised them. Here are several examples among the dozens and dozens that we know of across these 24 campuses. Students, parents and staff at Turnaround schools have been coming together in community meetings and planning sessions to find new ways of working together on behalf of the students. Many say they are sure there is a new energy and excitement in their school communities, where they feel they’ve been given the opportunity to hit the “reset” button and find new ways to work together to help students be successful. In fact, one teacher recently told her assistant principal, “I can’t wait for Monday to start over!” Another teacher at a different school remarked that it was the first time in a decade the school’s focus on commercial art and photography -- and the students’ talents in this area -- were actually the topic of conversation in planning for learning. Students have taken a new interest in working with educators to transform their schools. Many schools have enlisted students in helping with teacher hiring by asking them to watch demonstration lessons. These students remarked how exciting and engaging these lessons were, even if for only 25 minutes. Students expressed enthusiasm for teachers who were motivated, fresh and really demonstrated a desire to make a connection. Students in their own voices chimed in on whether a candidate had what it took to be successful and felt invested in the process. Community partners are also engaging and re-engaging in our city schools in new ways, partnering to bring new career and internship programs and to engage students themselves in documenting the transformations taking place in their schools. One community member thanked a team member for inviting the community back into these schools, telling a school team member, “We can’t make change if we don’t talk about what needs to change.” Turnaround schools aren’t the only communities excited about the potential for change. Successful schools throughout the city had visits from Turnaround teams of teachers, students and parents. Students from low performing schools actually “shadowed” their peers at high performing schools, while teachers at these schools opened their doors to the visitors and shared best practices. These visits sparked conversations among adults and children at both the struggling and the successful schools about the types of learning environments all children deserve and renewed all of our commitment to making this shared vision a reality. The excitement palpable at these new schools gives us all reason to hope. Let’s keep in mind, many of the teachers working tirelessly day in and day out in our city schools are already transforming the lives of children. Indeed, countless researchers have shown the power of effective teachers and principals. We know full well that three effective teachers over three years can make up for deficits caused by years of poverty and neglect. Conversely, ineffective educators pave the way for future failure. Furthermore, it is currently far, far too difficult to remove an ineffective teacher from a New York City classroom, making the job of ensuring that all students learn from the quality educators they deserve unconscionably difficult. The arbitrator’s decision to block our city leaders’ and school teams’ efforts to remove ineffective teachers and principals and thereby hinder the work of transforming failing schools into places where we would be pleased and proud to send our own children – the children of New York City – is simply unacceptable. The ruling will hurt thousands of students, condemning them to another year in a failing school. We call on City government, the teachers and principals’ unions, parents and students to join together to demand and ensure that every single adult working with a New York City child is effective at his or her job. Our children deserve no less. In the coming weeks, as the judge ponders her final decision and weighs the legal issues before her, we ask her to weigh also the value to which we hold the futures of our city’s children. We believe she must want the best possible teachers and schools for them. Regardless of the outcome of the judge’s ruling, we educators, students, and parents remain one hundred percent committed to providing good schools for our students, and we urge all New Yorkers to put Children First and demand the same. We urge the judge to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, which, if upheld, will continue to hold our children hostage in failing schools. Our children cannot wait another year.

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