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PROSE school members share experiences

New York Teacher

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UFT staffer Jose Vargas introduces PROSE school representatives.
Miller Photography

UFT staffer Jose Vargas (right) introduces PROSE school representatives (from left) John McCrann, the chapter leader at Harvest Collegiate HS in Manhattan; Anna Staab, a teacher at Highbridge Green School in the Bronx; and Tara Mayernick, the chapter leader at Kappa International HS in the Bronx.

No sooner had the UFT’s new contract won approval than inquiries from members began rolling in about a new initiative that would allow some schools to adopt innovative strategies for improvement.

The DOE expected that fewer than 10 schools might show interest and go through the multi-step process to participate this first year in PROSE, or Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools of Excellence, UFT President Mulgrew told delegates at the Jan. 14 Delegate Assembly.

But the number in PROSE this year turned out to be far higher — 62.

“The fact that 62 schools took control of how they want things to look inside their schools is a testament to what we already know, which is that the educators in this city are passionate, dedicated and always willing to take on great challenges,” Mulgrew said.

Three members at PROSE schools addressed delegates about the changes at their schools.

Kappa International HS in the Bronx has used PROSE to establish a less hierarchical leadership structure, said Tara Mayernick, the school’s chapter leader.

The International Baccalaureate school has four model teachers, of whom Mayernick is one, and has also crafted a position for a teacher leader chosen by the staff to facilitate the school’s instructional teams and inquiry-based learning.

“We’ve developed a great community system for feedback and growth,” Mayernick said. The school has also adopted an experiential learning program that takes students out of the building 10 times a year for educational experiences off campus.

The Highbridge Green School, a new middle school that is also in the Bronx, is using PROSE to help it fulfill its mission of teaching students how to both grow and cook their own food, teacher Anna Staab told delegates.

Through the flexibility granted by PROSE, the school got permission from the DOE to let students use the school kitchen, Staab said. Highbridge has an extended-day program, run by a community-based organization, which includes a gardening club for students. It also has flexible scheduling that has resulted in smaller class sizes.

Harvest Collegiate HS in Manhattan decided to use PROSE to initiate an alternative plan for teacher evaluation open to PROSE schools, under which teachers get only two informal evaluations. The rest of the evaluation comes in the form of a “structured review,” which the teachers design and implement in collaboration with their principal and colleagues.

“We realized that the teachers at our school were really the best” at observing other teachers in the building, said John McCrann, the school’s chapter leader.