Seven years ago, Long Island City HS in Queens was a struggling school that was a mainstay on state watch lists and the target of a shake-up plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Today, the school is in good standing with the state accountability standards for the first time ever. Student attendance is up, and graduation rates are rising.
The turnaround was the result of a set of strategies that included smaller class sizes and more individualized attention. But collaboration — between administrators and staff and among the teachers themselves — was the linchpin.
“It wasn’t top-down management,” said Laura Parker, a culinary arts teacher. “It allowed us to rise up.”
The Department of Education data attests to the school’s success. The school’s four-year graduation rate grew from 65 percent four years ago to 76 percent for the 2017–18 school year. The percentage of students who showed up for classes at least 90 percent of the time has climbed steadily from 50 percent to 62 percent over the same period.
Like many large, comprehensive high schools, Long Island City HS has a student population facing many socio-economic and academic challenges. Sixteen percent of the school’s 2,200 students have learning disabilities and 12 percent are English language learners. About 8 to 10 percent of the students live either doubled up with other families or in a shelter.
More than 1,000 UFT members and guests — including James Geigel, his immigrant grandparents Angelina and Modesto Hernandez and his mother Nitza Hernandez — all paras or paras who became teachers — packed the New York Hilton's Grand Ballroom to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the chapter.
A substantial increase in state funding for New York City public schools topped the agenda for the more than a thousand UFT members and public school parents who traveled to Albany on March 18 to meet with their state representatives for the UFT’s annual Lobby Day.
The American Federation of Teachers is approaching the 2020 presidential primary with a new endorsement procedure. The union faced criticism for its early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2015, which left some of its members feeling left out of the selection process.
The Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2020, released on March 11, includes a $7.1 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Education. This is the third time the White House has sought to slash education funding. Though Congress has largely ignored the administration’s previous attempts at deep cuts and is expected to rebuff these proposals as well, the document demonstrates the administration’s commitment to the privatization agenda of Betsy DeVos, its education secretary.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew made the case for more funding for school programs that directly aid students in budget testimony on March 20 before the City Council Education Committee. At the same time, he asked the Council members to make sure state funds are not derailed or swallowed up the city’s education bureaucracy.
It’s not every day that high school students get to decide how to spend $500,000.
At a mid-March meeting of student government leaders at Gotham Professional Arts Academy, students talked about the options for spending this sum to improve the building they share with Acorn Community HS: Should they renovate the dance room, repair the gym floor or pave a section of the school parking lot to create a basketball court?
The two schools in Prospect Heights are one of two campuses in Brooklyn that are taking part in a pilot project in participatory budgeting in which students get to vote on spending priorities to meet building needs. The project, sponsored and funded by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, is part of a movement to promote greater community and student involvement in the local budget process.
The opportunity came at the right moment: In September, Gotham — one of the UFT’s 31 United Community Schools — relocated from Bedford-Stuyvesant to the building Acorn has occupied since 1996. Students from the two schools occupy different floors, but share the library, cafeteria and gym.
Chapter Leader Lucas Rule knows he is fortunate to have a collaborative working relationship with his principal at Pathways College Preparatory School, a grades 6–12 school in St. Albans, Queens. But when one of his members struggled to resolve a workload issue with an assistant principal, Rule didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the new provision in the DOE-UFT contract that helps chapter leaders address violations of systemwide standards governing workplace issues.
Melissa Toribio, a bilingual speech language therapist at PS 531, PS 536 and PS 691 in the Bronx, works to ensure that all her students are able to express themselves and understand others in the classroom and in their daily lives.
More than 200 public high school students at the third annual Future in Focus career fair — sponsored by the UFT’s High Schools Division and the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council — learned about the benefits of unionized careers at UFT headquarters on March 15.
About 350 counselors and aspiring counselors — the largest turnout ever — gathered at UFT headquarters at the 15th annual UFT School Counselors Conference to hone their professional skills, meet their colleagues and peruse a vendor fair with 40 exhibiters.
It was a day of learning and fun for the 600 educators who attended the UFT’s 12th annual Early Childhood Conference on March 16. The conference theme “Innovate, Integrate, Motivate!” spotlighted the importance of a holistic approach to educating young learners.
The union is ultimately only as strong as its individual chapters. Each chapter leader is tasked with building a strong and engaged chapter that has meaningful input in school-level decisions and participates in union campaigns to protect public schools and worker rights.
How do we change the overall climate in our schools to reduce the conflicts that interfere with student learning and make suspensions necessary? Addressing that challenge is the mission of the Positive Learning Collaborative.
Since 2016, the UFT has been critical of the leadership of the U.S. Department of Education, provided by Betsy DeVos. However, I think we owe her a “thank you” and congratulations for taking on the political correctness scourge that has swept our colleges in the form of students being allowed — and not reprimanded by the administration — to shut down speakers they don’t like and to harass Jewish students.
The New York Times’ Feb. 19 opinion piece [“Betsy DeVos vs. Student Veterans”] rightly vilifies U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for the cynical way her department targeted veterans and turned what should be a straight-forward GI benefit into a scam for parasitic for-profit colleges.
“Every student should have access to the library and the opportunity to go there,” says says Michael Dodes, a school librarian who now works as a library operations and instructional coordinator in the DOE’s Office of Library Services. “It’s all about creating a space where students can read, explore information and work with each other.”
Maritza Vasquez, a teacher at the Academy for Language and Technology in the Bronx, sees a lot of herself in her 9th-grade immigrant students. She said she’s able to relate “to everything they are feeling” because at one time she felt the same way. “I tell them I was a newcomer myself.”
Union democracy is an essential characteristic of the American labor movement. New England town hall meetings based on Athenian democracy allow every citizen to gather and voice their concerns and then vote. Many unions operate on that simple and direct model.
But as the size of the body grows larger and larger, a point of diminishing returns can make it unwieldy. While town hall direct democracy is ideal for a chapter at a school, it does not work for the Retired Teachers Chapter with more than 66,000 retiree members.
That is why representative democracy was developed. Union members in their workplace sites elect someone from their group to present their concerns and vote on their behalf. Such elected representatives could be a chapter leader, shop steward or one or more delegates who become part of a representative body such as a Delegate Assembly or a state or national convention.
For the RTC members, it is the monthly Delegate Assembly, yearly New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly and/or the biennial American Federation of Teachers Convention. Policies, programs and political endorsements are considered at all these official gatherings by the elected union delegates.