By Ernest A. Logan
You know this feeling? It’s the holiday season and you wish you could find some excuse for everybody to open the presents early. Well, you can imagine how I feel writing to you in late November, so close to winning a contract, as we enter this season of glad tidings. I hope most of the goodies we fought to put in this package will be there and I’m frustrated knowing I can’t hand it to you wrapped in gold ribbons right this minute.
My hopes are high, partly because I love this season of giving, and also because we’ve all worked for a contract side by side, with you raising your voices in unified chorus as the city has tried to deny retroactive pay to those of you who recently rose from the teaching ranks and all the others who would like to follow you. I’m not sure how this issue will be resolved, but I’ve never been prouder to be your colleague or more hopeful about the state of this union.
I’m also hopeful because our school system has witnessed an outbreak of humanism and it might be contagious. Last January, the mayor named one of our own as chancellor and she instantly set the tone: “Collaboration, not competition.” Chancellor Carmen Fariña communicated an education vision based on “rigorous instruction, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family-community ties, and a culture of continuous learning and trust.” Earlier, the businessmen running Tweed would have been struck mute before saying that and sounding like the kind of people they reviled most: educators.
I have my differences with the new administration, and they include the glacial pace in making public their plans on struggling schools, but mostly the actions that the chancellor has taken have been spun out of educators’ dreams. She acknowledged Principals’ and parents’ protests against over-testing and revised the promotion policy to de-emphasize test scores. She put a stop to one of the biggest cons of all: letter grades for schools. No more will children hear their schools described as F schools and feel like they have giant scarlet letters on their foreheads.
This administration’s signature accomplishments might have the longest-range success: The Universal Pre-K program and the after-school program for middle school students. Except for a few hiccups in pre-K including a lag in adjusting early childhood educators’ salaries, these efforts are meeting their targets and better. A couple of weeks ago, the Daily News reported that the pre-K enrollment total had exceeded its first-year target and DOE officials more than doubled the number of available seats in less than one year.
While this new day has been dawning, CSA has still had to combat irrational forces. In this calendar year – aside from dealing with wearying negotiations – we’ve won the good fight on issues like reducing the number of evaluations from six to four for effective teachers, signing a multi-year performance agreement that will mean real money for many of you, winning an arbitration to stop rotation of excessed Assistant Principals, negotiating written feedback for Principals after supervisory visits and reworking the Education Administrator performance incentive program so that EAs at central DOE may also receive money. We also won a decision from the Court of Appeals in upholding the right of tenured employees not to testify against themselves.
In a few weeks, when we’re thinking about packing away the holiday ornaments, I believe we’ll be more hopeful than we’ve been in over a decade. We no longer work in a hostile environment.
The new challenges, however, will come from beyond the DOE. There will be a court challenge to tenure. We will also see the sun set on the school governance statute that turned operational authority over to the mayor in 2002. If we drift back into the old dysfunctional Board of Education system, progress will be thwarted. But Chancellor Fariña has already taken a step away from that possibility by strengthening community school superintendents and giving a voice back to the local communities.
My hopes extend to you and yours during this festive season. I wish you many well deserved blessings.
This column was printed in the December 2014 CSA News.