Of all the breakthrough ideas in the 2014 contract, none has more potential to empower teachers and their school communities than the PROSE initiative. PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.
The PROSE initiative is not right for all schools — many of our traditional schools are thriving just as they are. But for school communities where teachers want to take on the work of transforming their school communities, PROSE offers the ability to alter some of the most basic parameters by which our schools function — including the way teachers are hired, evaluated and supported; the way students and teachers are programmed; the handling of grievances; and certain city and state regulations. The 166 schools in the PROSE program are exploring and implementing a variety of innovations at their schools. For some schools, the innovations grow out of an evaluation option which allows teachers to focus on individualized goals as part of their measures of teacher performance (“Option PROSE”). Others use four-day teachers to extend the school day for students; shared leadership to foster shared decision-making, teacher-driven professional development to bring students into the work; very innovative scheduling; and smart approaches to small-group instruction. In one schools, a new approach to special education gives high schoool students the ability to meet with their content teachers for small-group instruction. These are just a few of the kinds of things PROSE schools do.
The key to a successful application to become a PROSE school is to propose initiatives that are driven by teachers and leaders working in a fully collaborative community focused on excellence for students. Schools have to develop an initial PROSE plan with their school community and School Leadership Team. In the spring, the school submits the plan to a joint PROSE panel with an equal number of representatives from the UFT and the DOE. Both the union and the DOE thoroughly vet the proposals and only accept plans from schools that have both a proven record of collaboration and the potential to have a real impact on student achievement. Finally, accepted plans have to win the approval of at least 65 percent of UFT members at the school who vote on the proposal.