Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

In this last post, I took a look at the state takeover / Turnaround plan in Lawrence, MA. Being touted as a true collaboration between districts and unions I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what may have transpired and potentially what could draw success in the future.

A strong leader is something I believe both unions and pro-reformers want. Lawrence was fortunate to have a leader that was willing to forge a middle ground by investing time in human capital. A strong leader on either the union side or a firm pro-reform side (or one that is simply neither) may not be able to bring about results. Finding strong leader talent is difficult, but often a very important piece.

Jeffrey Riley was appointed by the MA Education commissioner and was awarded all the powers of a superintendent and a school board. He did not have to negotiate with unions and didn’t quite at first. It appears he worked to implement certain reforms and then seeing some progress proceeded to work with unions to solidify.

Expanded learning time is usually promoted by both unions and pro-reformers, but unions only if teachers are being paid for it. Lawrence likely was able to make pay available through grants – we’ll have to see how they are able to keep it flowing through changes in school funding. It’s generally a given that expanded learning time, executed correctly is greatly beneficial to students. So what are districts to do if they can’t immediately find the money to pay teachers for the extra time? I see the teacher perspective of wanting to be paid for the extra time, but really how much extra is it? At one point someone decided that 7 hours a day was all students needed. Now it may be 9 hours. Should students have to suffer without expanded learning time in districts where there isn’t extra money for teachers?

Generally speaking unions are against charters – unless they are running them. Lawrence was able to put together a collection of charter management, union management and LPS management in the turnaround plan. So, I guess unions aren’t all against charters, all the time?

Lawrence is using a myriad of data to evaluate students and in turn teachers. This is not usually something that unions go along with. So maybe unions aren’t all against data for performance?

Successful building principals have autonomy to make changes in their own school, including staffing. However teachers did receive 2 1/2 hrs of collaborative planning time (likely assisted by the expanded learning time) in which to analyze student data and make curriculum adjustments. It was not clear on the specifics of professional development, but there appears to have been more offered.

I took a look at the Lawrence teacher’s contract and found some interesting items:

  • It provides the superintendent wide sweeping authority to make changes to school operational procedure throughout the year
  • Under Teacher hiring and promotions, Article 26: “In filling positions, principals have the authority to select the best qualified staff from both internal and external candidates without regard to seniority.” It is often the case that if a senior member of the district’s faculty wants a position he or she will get it. This allows more leeway to have the district make the right decisions for kids.
  • Another win for kids, in Article 35, when there is a reduction in force district is allowed to consider data and teacher evaluations over seniority:

“The Superintendent has the right to lay off teachers and other district staff due to reductions in force or reorganizations resulting from declining enrollment or other budgetary or operational reasons. The Superintendent will establish the selection criteria for layoffs of teachers and other district staff. Such selection criteria may include, but are not limited to qualifications, licensure, work history (including elements such as discipline, attendance, evaluations, etc.), multiple measures of student learning, operational need and the best interests of the students. Where all other factors are equal, seniority may be used as the deciding factor.”

This is also probably largely due to the law Stand for Children MA passed in 2012 which made job performance, not seniority, the primary consideration in teacher staffing decisions in every public school in Massachusetts, with the new evaluation systems being a key component of how job performance is measured.

  • Still not sure why teachers are allowed 15 sick days per year when they only report to school for 183 days (in Lawrence). Most professional jobs give you 1-2 weeks of paid leave and maybe a few sick days or those are included in the 1-2 weeks. The fact that they can accrue up to 200…what would someone do with 200 days of sick leave???

Fifteen days of full pay shall be allowed during the school term from August to June in case of illness. Any or all of the fifteen (15) days of full pay that have not been used may be carried over to the following year’s allowance and such allowance may be accumulated to two hundred (200) days of full pay.

  • Health insurance premiums which are usually a hot debate on contract negotiations are not clearly outlined. Unless teachers are buying into the statewide health insurance plan.
  • Article 66: The career ladder is one of the more interesting elements to the contract. Each level of advancement is based on certain performance evaluations, although no salary can be decreased due to evaluations, I assume the teacher would stay at the same level. I believe that in those cases the consequences of the evaluation system come into play. Often if you are at a needs improvement or unsatisfactory level for “x” number of years there are improvement plans and opportunities or consequences that take over. The career ladder also allows for excellent teachers to advance through the ladder commensurate with their evaluations. A new teacher could be eligible for the salary of a veteran teacher within 5 years.

A Novice teacher shall advance to Developing I and a Developing I teacher shall advance to Developing II annually provided that the teacher does not receive an end-of year evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory.”

A Developing II teacher shall advance to Career I and all Career level teachers shall advance a level annually provided that an end-of-year evaluation rating of “proficient” or “exemplary” is received, with “proficient” or better ratings on all four standards. A teacher with an overall end-of-year rating of “proficient” who has achieved less than “proficient” ratings on all four standards may still advance to the next level with the recommendation of the building principal and the approval of the Superintendent.

A teacher who does not receive the requisite evaluation rating can appeal for a review of the evaluation to the Evaluation Committee.

If no end-of year formative or summative evaluation is completed for a teacher, the teacher shall advance to the next level.

A teacher may advance on the salary scale more rapidly than described above with the recommendation of the school principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent. Any such advancement will be limited to two levels above what the performance plan would otherwise provide, provided however that a teacher may not advance to Advanced or Masters status without going through the review process that applies district wide. The union shall be notified of all such advancement decisions.

Novice, Developing, Career, and Advanced teachers shall not have their salary reduced based on their performance evaluation.

Based on past experience and performance, a newly-hired teacher may enter the Lawrence Public Schools above the Novice level based on a principal’s recommendation and Superintendent’s approval.

 

The career ladder:

Master

___________

Advanced

___________

Career

Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

Level 1

Developing

Level 2

Level 1

Novice

  • Article 67 – Expanded learning time pay is included in this contract. It is not clear to me when the ELT pay is issued – as time is accrued throughout the year or as a lump sum at the end of the year. Also, I’m not sure if the pay is based on each increment, or just a flat rate at the end. For example, if a teacher works 1525 hours,  does he/she receive a one time payment of $3,000, or does the teacher receive $2,000 for hours 1400-1449, and $2,500 for hours 1450-1499…etc. FYI $2,000 for 50 hours of work is $100/hr.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teachers working an extended day shall receive stipends in the following amounts based on hours worked:

1400-1449 hours             $2,000

1450-1499 hours             $2,500

1500-1549 hours             $3,000

1550-1599 hours             $3,500

1600-1825 hours             $4,000

Total teacher hours during the normal school day for the year shall not exceed 1,825 hours, excluding functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, after-school functions and other similar activities.

These stipend compensation amounts shall be included in base pay, or otherwise considered as part of the teacher’s annualized salary, for retirement purposes.

Here are some comments from AFT union leaders reported in the Education Week article:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is generally an outspoken opponent of state takeovers, has been highlighting the progress in Lawrence as an example of transformation that’s possible when the union and the district work together.

“Lawrence is succeeding because of the work between people—including the superintendent, the teachers, and parents, and now, the city administration,” she said. “Let me be really blunt. Anybody who thinks that it’s structure rather than human capital will make a huge … policy mistake.”

Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union, praises the gains and Mr. Riley, though he credits strong leadership and an infusion of resources for the positive momentum, not the state takeover itself.

It appears that concessions can be made in the right environments. I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Riley basically made it mandatory that teachers join the union. I’m sure that went a long way to making the negotiations easier….you know so AFT can bank every dollar! 😉

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School take over plan that is working – Lawrence, MA

School take over plan that is working – Lawrence, MA

Thanks to Peter Cunningham for sharing this Education Week article with me about progress in Lawrence, MA, especially since I remember hearing about the beginning of the state take over when I worked with STAND MA and it’s hard to keep up with news all over the country these days.

He points out that it’s a good example of district administration and unions working together so I had to take a look.

The state take over or “turnaround plan” has several key points that matter to both unions and the pro-reform community:

  • Strong district leader – Mr. Jeffrey Riley, a former principal and former chief innovation officer in the Boston public schools, as Lawrence district’s receiver. A very important ingredient is that the turnaround team approached the takeover with a “strong dose” of respect for the adults in the system.

“We did not start with the assumption that the adults were the problem,” Mr. Chester said. “We started with the assumption that the system as a whole was broken and needed to be restructured.”

[Principal Lennon] “He knows that [teachers] are the people doing the work every day, and they are the ones solving the problems,” she said of Mr. Riley. “And the fact that he could gather information from them, and say to them, ‘What are some ideas that you have at the school level that’s going to impact students?’ That’s a positive shift.”

  • Expanded learning time – Schools added between 200-300 hours annually, allowing time for enrichment programs and interventions. Teachers got collaborative planning and professional-development time.

“Mr. Riley said the opportunities that children now have to engage in enrichment activities have been a critically important piece of the turnaround effort. Through partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club, the Merrimack Valley YMCA, and the district’s teachers, students are able to take classes in cooking, karate, theater, swimming, squash, and a host of other extracurricular activities they might not otherwise be exposed to.”

“Principal Colleen M. Lennon proudly watched over some of her young charges at the Emily G. Wetherbee School on a recent afternoon in this struggling city of 77,000, seeing students engage in activities that are a given in most middle- to upper-income communities. They were taking drumming lessons. Fingerknitting. Practicing cheerleading stands. Illustrating a short story. And making fruit salad in a class on healthy eating.”

“Ms. Lennon also credits professional development for teachers, giving them latitude to collaborate with their peers on classroom strategies, and creating leadership teams that rely on their expertise.”

“At UP Academy Leonard Middle School, Principal Komal Bhasin says the dedicated planning time that teachers get each Friday has been powerful. Working in cohorts, teachers spend 2½ hours on Fridays reviewing student data, revising curriculum, sharing successful teaching strategies, and setting goals for the school on a range of issues such as school climate or support for special education students.”

  • Partnerships – The district partnered with charter-management organizations and the Lawrence teachers’ union to run schools. It worked with Boston-based Match Education to provide math tutoring to high school students.

 “The district’s non-dogmatic view of who is best suited to run schools targeted for turnaround—charter-management organizations, the local teachers’ union, and the district itself are all operating schools in Lawrence—has also been a strength.”

“Mr. Riley has championed a governance model he calls “open architecture,” in which the district consists of a combination of charter-run schools and regular district schools. There is expanded autonomy at the school level and the central office’s role is curtailed.

“The problems in urban education are far too big for the civil war that’s going on out there today,” Mr. Riley said about the debate over charter versus district-run schools.

“We’ve created a small community where people have been willing to put aside their differences, work under this unified umbrella, and get results for kids,” he said.

An example of that “open architecture” system is evident in the district’s approach to turning around the low-performing Henry K. Oliver School. The Lawrence Teachers’ Union took over grades 1-5 and launched the Oliver Partnership School in August 2013, while the Boston-based UP Academy, a charter-management organization, took over grade 6. That new school is the UP Academy Oliver Middle School.”

  • Data – Boston-based Achievement Network (ANet) has trained teachers and principals to analyze data to measure student progress and improve instruction.

“[Lawrence is] looking deeply at performance and data, and they are targeting interventions at the problems,” Ms. Yatsko said. “They are unleashing their professional staff in the buildings by providing them with autonomy and coupling it with supports.”

Under Mr. Riley, principals and teachers are expected to know the proficiency levels of every student in their schools, Ms. Lennon said. Students are also keenly aware of their scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, what they need to do to reach proficiency, and how much their schools are expected to grow annually, Ms. Lennon said.

  • School autonomy and accountability – Successful principals got more authority over calendars, interim assessments, and staffing. Includes the charters, union run and traditional public schools.

An emphasis on creating and supporting strong school leaders; attracting and developing effective teachers; aligning resources to student and teacher needs; and providing both the funding and flexibility to school leaders to design programs that meet their school’s unique needs.

  • Staffing – A new contract with the teachers’ union created career ladders for teachers and provided opportunities to earn more money based on proficiency, performance, and leadership roles. About 50 percent of principals, 20 percent of assistant principals, and 10 percent of teachers were replaced.

The contract approved a year later created career ladders for teachers and gave them opportunities to earn more money based on their performance and the leadership roles they embraced in their schools. And Mr. Riley insisted that all teachers, including those in charter-run schools, be members of the local union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • Increasing parental engagement—the district recently opened a resource center at one of the city’s old mills, where parents can get help finding jobs and housing—is also part of the turnaround strategy.

Funding might really be the interesting area or question for the future.

The district receives about 95 percent of its annual $190 million budget from the state, and that contribution level has not changed under the takeover.

In a report by Education Resource Systems they make a point that while cutting administrative costs, state funding has remained the same and many of the new reforms were funded by grants that will end. The question is will the district be able to maintain these new programs once the grants end? Will the state realize the importance of these programs and provide more funding?

LPS received substantial transition funding during the first three years of receivership. The highest level of funding was received in SY 2013–14, including more than $3 million in School Redesign Grants and more than $2 million in Massachusetts Race to the Top funds. Also in 2013–14, the district reduced central office expenses by $1.6 million and provided that funding directly to schools to finance reforms. Although the district has been able to reduce central office non-staff spending in the 2014–15 budget by an additional $5 million to help offset School Redesign Grants and Race to the Top funding as it expires, it is not enough to replace all of the transitional spending. Lawrence has a growing enrollment, which should provide for some increases in state funding over time. However, it will be critical to watch expenses closely to ensure that the funding needed to continue the reforms is available.

ERS also notes that while Lawrence is a relatively small school district, the concepts are scalable across districts:

Reform is scalable. While LPS is a relatively small urban district (only 28 schools) and had the advantage of transitional funding from the state and private funders, even the largest districts can likely make the same kind of changes in a subset of schools. Creating the conditions for rapid change—including the flexibilities, supports, and human capital changes that Lawrence made— in the worst-performing schools in a district build momentum by improving outcomes in those schools. The key is to use that success to pave the way for broadening those changes to other schools by working to change the structures and policies that will enable lasting improvement.

This story encourages me as GA is about to look at state take over of certain schools throughout GA, if the bill is ratified by voters in 2016. Look for my next post analyzing the district/union relationship throughout the state take over in Lawrence.