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Meeting with Mulgrew about Reopening Schools

June 27, 2020 pm30 10:15 pm

Last Tuesday afternoon I attended a curious Zoom Meeting about reopening schools in September. Michael Schirtzer (teacher, Leon Goldstein HS, and UFT Executive Board Member, High School Division) organized it. He wanted to bring some hard questions to the UFT leadership.

There were six classroom teachers: Mike; me; the two co-programmers from Michael Schirtzer’s school, Gary and Marty; Emily James, teacher at a Brooklyn high school, recognized author of columns on teaching today, and advocate, most famously for paid parental leave; and Arthur Goldstein (Chapter Leader, Francis Lewis HS, and also a UFT Executive Board member).

And from UFT Central: VP at large for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds, Special Rep Anthony Klug, VP at large for Career and Technical High Schools Sterling Roberson, and President Michael Mulgrew.

Everyone looked kind of relaxed. From UFT Central Sterling was there on time, and we were chatting. I wondered if the others would make it. They all did. And stayed for a pretty full conversation.

Schirtzer moderated, to some extent. It mostly became a conversation. We all had different angles. But what we had in common is that we were thoughtful, and critical, and concerned first of all with the safety of our members.

My angle? You can guess it. I can program a school for “live instruction.” I can reprogram a school for “remote instruction.” But I know I cannot reprogram for hybrid instruction with the model from the DoE PowerPoint.

They proposed dividing schools in 2 and having A and B days or A and B weeks. No way to maintain social distancing with those numbers. Mulgrew at the Town Hall June 18 and Delegate Assembly June 17 had shown awareness of the complexities. First of all, you’d need A/B/C or A/B/C/D – and even then it might not work. There are issues with enough teachers (these models require more staff). And there are lots of little issues, many of which, when we begin to program, are actual road blocks. So I wasn’t happy when the UFT school survey seemed to ask Chapter Leaders to pick A/B, A/B/C, A/B/C/D or A/B/C/D/E.

Everyone else did raise important issues. No one recorded us. I was not taking minutes. So no slight intended to the others when I focus on what I tried to raise at the meeting, and the responses I got.

I tried to say multiple times that I thought Mulgrew’s presentations of the facts at the Town Hall and the Delegate Assembly were correct. Because I knew I would be critical, I wanted it clear that there was at least some agreement at the starting point.

Mulgrew underlined again and again, “safety first.” I think that is crucial.

Mulgrew at the Town Hall talked about a 4th grade – 200 kids, 8 classes. Remote it would be two cohorts (though he thinks two is unlikely) of 100, so 10 kids in 10 rooms – but where’s the extra two teachers? And who’s teaching the remote kids?  (his solution: we need to hire more teachers)

I like that, because it is simple, and clear. Fix that problem, and we are not done. But how do you fix that one? It’s a biggie.

I like my example for high school:  Imagine first period in your school. You’ve broken into 4 cohorts, so all those classes? They now have 8-9 kids each. They are perfectly programmed. And social distanced. Now let the bell ring – we move to second period. How are you going to keep one room from having 3 and another from having 14? This is high school. Mix and Match.

Simple and clear. Fix that problem, and we are not done. But first you have to fix that problem. (My solution: you can’t bring all the kids in for all the classes. Some classes or kids, probably most, have to stay remote)

I think that a “cohort” idea, breaking up a school into N pieces on an N-day or N-week rotation will not work in most schools. I am certain that it will not work in high schools.

Sterling responded (well, a lot) but the crux was that there were people who disagreed with me. I am pretty sure they are not programmers, and confident they have not created a program that works. Mulgrew said that there is one school that has programmed using this sort of cohort model.

I said I preferred live, but until we can go live, fully remote. But I understand that there may be incredible political, social, and economic pressure to go back. So we should be working hard to make a “least bad” hybrid model, because we certainly don’t want self-confident, incompetent principals imposing models on us – models that no one will know are horrible – not until September – when they lead to an inability to maintain social distancing, or just to plain chaos.

Therefore I am going to work on, and encourage schools to work on, hybrid models that might really work. For that reason I was going to ignore the DoE Power Point. And I would encourage other programmers and Chapter Leaders to do the same. I don’t think there was grumbling in response in the meeting (except for one teacher, who favors fully remote, and thought the hybrid work was a waste of time).

I talked about the Facebook NYC Programmers group, and Janella, I think, mentioned my participation in the UFT Programmers Focus Group.

What might work – that was the conversation that was most interesting.

I mentioned that I was building a dummy master for 9th grade hybrid / all other grades remote, and thought it might work (but that there were staff needs). One of the officers immediately retorted “9th and 10th“ – it was clear to me that this had already been the subject of conversation.

We talked about limiting live instead to certain subjects. Mulgrew suggested we look at keeping the core subjects fully remote, and bringing kids in for some of the others (that’s a longer discussion, but I believe that this could be an important strategy in some schools).

We talked about support services, or check-ins.

There’s an idea floating out there to open K-8, but not high schools, and use those buildings for the younger kids.

I know I talked about the particular complexities of high schools, where there are special classes and programs and lots of levels, especially juniors and seniors. But I think all the teachers in the room discussed the same issues.

Mulgrew wanted to know what we thought of getting waivers from the state to allow seniors to be programmed for what they need for graduation (and not necessarily a full day). Everyone though that was a good idea.

On the cohorts, Mulgrew suggested that breaking into cohorts might not mean bringing all the cohorts into the building (I was surprised, but pleased. I wonder if the school he mentioned that programmed with cohorts did this).

All of them emphasized that we should be creative, come up with the sorts of ideas that we were talking about, and communicate back what works.

I said that it was great that the people in the meeting heard it, but all programmers and chapter leaders should hear too.

Mike said that I could tell them.

I said that me saying “Mulgrew said…” is not as effective as Mulgrew actually saying it. He didn’t reply.

I’m skipping lots of stuff. I’ve focused only on the conversations I was directly involved in. But there was much more.

As we wrapped, Schirtzer asked if they would be willing to do this again. Mulgrew agreed. Janella reminded us that we can bring ideas to her and Sterling as well.



5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    June 28, 2020 am30 8:03 am 8:03 am

    I don’t trust anything out of Mulgrew’s mouth – and with him it’s what he doesn’t say that’s important. Many of are still waiting for an explanation of why he said nothing and allowed staff in March 17, 18 and 19. No one is giving him the benefit of doubt after that, no matter how much supplicates himself at the throne of feigning and fawning political correctness. I know twelve of his former fans that are opting out of the UFT tomorrow morning. I’ve tried to convince them to stay, but Mulgrew with his silence and false narratives has convinced them to leave. The UFT stopping the grieving process for those March days was the last straw. Teachers died while Mulgrew stayed mum for his automatic dues check off. Have a nice summer.

    • June 28, 2020 pm30 9:59 pm 9:59 pm

      I need to program. Programmers need to know that a hybrid plan may leave some kids or some classes entirely remote. That’s important information.

      The UFT put all grievances on hold, including my grievance on 3/18 and 3/19. When the process opens, they will evaluate it for step 2.

      You know a dozen people who will opt out? I know 100. Actually it’s just 2, but they’ve told me 50 times each. And they’ve already opted out, so it’s actually 0. Same as, I assume, the dozen you mention.


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