Push from Bronx parents leads to New Teacher Center partnership

The focus: Developing and retaining effective teachers and leaders

High teacher turnover has plagued schools in the South Bronx for too long. Esperanza Vazquez’s son once had three different teachers in less than a month. He read at a third-grade level in the sixth grade.

In fact, many of the South Bronx’s 35,000 students are negatively impacted year after year by the revolving door of teachers who often don’t stay long enough to become effective in the classroom or invested in the students and community.

Last year, Vazquez and others involved in the New Settlement Parent Action Committee (PAC) decided to take action. “My dream is that one day, Bronx education will be good, and all of our students will go to college,” she said.

Through a partnership with New Teacher Center (NTC) and the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), 86 schools in Bronx community school districts 9 and 12 are now getting the support they need to better develop new teachers and teacher leaders. And through the initiative, school leaders are becoming more adept at helping teachers grow and improve.

Parents advocate for new teacher mentoring

This collaboration began in the winter of 2014, soon after PAC presented Mayor Bill de Blasio a report describing how the District 9 schools consistently underserved their neediest students. One recommendation of the report: that the NYCDOE establish a comprehensive system for mentoring new teachers — one-third of whom were leaving within five years, according to city teachers’ union data. “We saw high numbers of early-career teachers and higher rates of teacher turnover, and an increasing number of principals who had very few years of instructional experience,” said Emma Hulse, lead organizer for PAC.

System-level change

But the work didn’t stop with teachers. NTC’s approach in the Bronx aims to build capacity and alignment at all levels of the school system. NTC is cultivating teacher leaders alongside formal school leaders, and also partnering with the two area superintendents and their teams to support greater cohesion, alignment and impact. NTC helps develop a common language and methodology for teacher development in schools and in school systems, and as a result, a culture that allows everyone to learn and grow.

In response to PAC’s report and advocacy, the NYCDOE contracted with NTC to launch a pilot new teacher mentoring program for the 2014–2015 school year. NTC began work with 46 schools in District 9 to implement the comprehensive system of support for teachers that PAC leaders had imagined. And, given the traction and early signs of success of the pilot, the NYCDOE expanded the collaboration to include both District 9, under Superintendent Leticia Rosario’s leadership, and District 12, under Superintendent Rafaela Espinal’s leadership, in 2015-2016.  The NYCDOE contract with NTC is now supporting 86 schools and developing 160 instructional mentors and 170 school leaders.  The model is deeper this year too, with NTC staff providing more consultation for superintendents and their teams to ensure cohesion and alignment, and greater site-based supports for mentors and school leaders to ensure higher quality implementation. These efforts will allow for significantly higher program fidelity and impact on the schools and educators we work with, which NTC will be better able to measure given the robust data-sharing agreement we now have with the NYCDOE.

NTC’s proven teacher induction model includes weekly, on-the-job mentoring for new teachers from accomplished, well-prepared teacher peers. The strategy helps to develop more effective teachers, boost teacher retention, improve student achievement and reduce the costs for teacher recruiting. NTC is rigorously preparing instructional mentors through a comprehensive two-year training program to work with newer teachers to improve classroom instruction and student learning. Principals and assistant principals engage in their own professional learning activities with NTC, to build their capacity as developers of teacher talent through observation, effective feedback, and coaching-based supervision.

The Results

Already, the results are promising.

“I’m seeing a new sense of hope and excitement around our work and empowerment at every level,” said District 9 Superintendent Leticia Rodriguez-Rosario, a former teacher-coach and principal. “The best way to support teachers is to have credible peers supporting them.”

Thandi Center, NTC’s Director in New York City, recognizes in District 9 and 12 the same needs the organization has addressed in schools across the nation for 20 years. Her team has partnered with NYCDOE schools for four years, reaching more than 40,000 students through their work to develop instructional mentors and school leaders who can cultivate more effective classroom teachers and empower newer teachers to stay and thrive in the profession.

“NTC’s approach to developing school communities from within is essential to building and sustaining the capacity we need in communities like the South Bronx,” said Center, reflecting on the collaboration and the urgency parent leaders, schools, and the NTC New York team feels about the work.

In 2014-2015, P.S. 42 in District 9 had two instructional mentors who worked with teachers. Principal Lucia Orduz-Castillo said it’s a first step toward establishing a professional learning community. The principal herself worked with a NTC-trained mentor as a first-year teacher in 2005.

Instructional mentor Tierra Donaldson, a P.S. 42 Claremont special education teacher, co-plans lessons with her two assigned teachers, observes their instruction, and debriefs with them using NTC’s online tools — research-based questions and action steps for mentors and teachers. Donaldson mentored informally for several years before attending NTC’s Professional Learning Series.

“This work pushes teachers’ thinking about high-leverage practices to engage students,” she said.

Principal Edgar Lin of M.S. 22, two years into his job, said mentoring already is helping the school build professional learning communities and improve student learning. His school has had 13 principals in the past 23 years. Two-thirds of the teachers have less than five years experience; half have less than three years.

In 2014–15, Lin selected two experienced teachers to be full-time mentors. Working with NTC has helped “my first-year teachers have much more accelerated growth this year than last year,” he said.

Looking Ahead

“Hopefully, parents will see the same (teachers’) faces in the fall,” said Hulse, the parent leader. “What we have started building is a really thoughtful collaboration around supporting teachers, both veteran and beginning, and thoughtful partnerships between educators and parents. This initiative has brought people together around something concrete to benefit educators and families, and that’s the beginning of something powerful and important.”

NTC is cultivating teacher leaders alongside formal school leaders, and also partnering with the two superintendents and their teams to support greater cohesion, alignment and impact.

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