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Monday, March 25, 2013

NEST+M Principal Olga Livanis Under Fire For Incompetency and Harassment

The story of Olga Livanis is representative of principals who believe that parents and teachers have no rights. Dr. Livanis was at Stuyvesant High School where I met her when one of my daughters entered in 1999 (another daughter got in in 2003). She does not communicate well with anyone, and is very vindictive. 

My youngest daughter attended NEST+m from 6th grade through 12th grade. The story of her teacher, Adam Miller, the best English teacher who ever walked the earth (I like him, as you can tell) yet was harassed out of the school, and Mollymarie Coulibaly, a Spanish teacher who despised children of color yet was supported by Livanis (and I have all the statements of my daughter's classmates from the OSI investigation) is a chapter in my book. Dr. Olga Livanis, Principal of NEST+M, violated regulations and federal law by keeping Spanish teacher Ms. Mollymarie Coulibaly in her classes until March 17,2008 after racial discrimination was substantiated in November, 2007. Then when Ms. Coulibaly was removed, Dr. Livanis processed her removal so that she could get another job in another school. Ms. Coulibaly bought her freedom from charges for, I was told, $7500, and was not brought to 3020-a arbitration.

By the way, when Eva Moskowitz left City Council, I heard that she donated $350,000 of City Council "funds" (which fund it came from I dont know) so that her son could get in, which he did. I got many calls from Eric Grannis about the time the car would show up, etc. Now THAT's a story.

 Betsy Combier

Simmering tensions at NEST+M boil over on Curriculum Night

Kathy Stokes, a PTA officer, spoke to a NEST+m mother who did not know that teachers were boycotting Curriculum Night.
Teachers at a school where hundreds of parents signed a petition against the principal this summer continued the protest today by boycotting Curriculum Night.
Teachers at New Explorations in Science, Technology, and Math, or NEST+M, announced the boycott via email this afternoon, telling parents that Principal Olga Livanis had not soothed relations with the staff after she surprised several of them with “unsatisfactory” ratings.
When parents arrived for the annual introduction to what their children would be learning this year at the citywide school for gifted and talented students, they were told that many teachers had stayed home and given a copy of the email announcing the boycott.
“I feel really awful to hear this,” said Angela Stokes, a former teacher whose daughter is a sophomore in NEST’s high school. “I had this idyllic idea about NEST being away from all the muck and the mire of the DOE. NEST is not immune, I’m finding out.”
Livanis has butted heads with parents and teachers since 2006, when she was installed as principal after the school’s founding leader was removed amid controversy and over some parents’ objections. In June, hundreds of parents registered official objections after several well liked teachers received the low ratings. Their petition, which was delivered to Department of Education officials, also called on Livanis to improve the way she communicates with members of the school community.
But two weeks into the new school year, teachers said today that there had been no changes.
“Our show of solidarity has gone unanswered and ignored by the administration, and no indication has been made that she will address the issues and ensure a positive work environment for the staff and a positive learning environment for the students,” read the teachers’ email today.
Rob Curry-Smithson, a high school history teacher who is also NEST+m’s union chapter leader, said the U-ratings had gone to teachers who had never been alerted that they were performing poorly and that Livanis had cited seemingly minor transgressions, such as one instance of yelling, in her reports. All seven of the teachers who received the low ratings filed grievances, and the only case to be heard so far resulted in the U-rating being overturned, he said.
Still, Curry-Smithson said, Livanis’s apparent capriciousness frightened the teachers.
“We realized that every minute on the job is an increased potential that something could go wrong — so we should at least be paid for that time when we are putting our careers at risk,” he said.
So they asked to be paid overtime for Curriculum Night, which unlike parent-teacher conferences is not required contractually. But Livanis declined to pay teachers for the evening, Curry-Smithson said, and he said when he suggested that Livanis compensate teachers with time instead of money, she declined even to speak with him. The boycott was a last resort, he said.
As parents trickled into the school this evening, Kathy Stokes, c0-vice president of the middle school’s parent-teacher association, informed new arrivals about the boycott and guided them toward teachers who were available.
Some parents grumbled that they had reserved babysitters unnecessarily. But others said the inconvenience was slight.
“I get regular communication from the teacher during the school hours, so I don’t feel like I can complain if she’s not here tonight,” said Chante Brown, the mother of a third-grader and a ninth-grader at NEST.
Curry-Smithson said he expected about 80 percent of teachers to stay home but that some untenured teachers were too concerned about repercussions to participate. An email from NEST’s lower school assistant principal to parents this afternoon listed several teachers who had already alerted him that they would not be present and noted that it looked like all fourth- and fifth-grade teachers would stay home.
“I cannot confirm some teachers, as I have been told that they don’t know themselves whether they are staying or not,” wrote the assistant principal, Nicholas Patrello. He added, “I do apologize about the confusion and frustration.”
Many parents placed the blame squarely on the administration.
“We began to hear rumblings about this last week, but to be fair I think [teachers] were trying until the last minute to find a compromise,” Stokes said. ”I look forward as a parent to Curriculum Night and I’m disappointed that the administration couldn’t work with the teachers to make the night happen.”
“I think there has been some hope that with the new chancellor there could be an opportunity for an administrative change,” said a parent who skipped Curriculum Night to show support for her daughter’s teachers. “There have many unhappy teachers at NEST for a long time. It is such a shame as the school has enormous potential to be a fantastic.”
NEST+m teachers’ letter to parents is below.
Dear Parents,
As NEST+m UFT reps, we want to let you know why many of the NEST+m staff will not be present for Curriculum Night. Last year, we expressed our grievances concerning the way our school has been run to Dr. Livanis, but to no avail.  Our show of solidarity has gone unanswered and ignored by the administration, and no indication has been made that she will address the issues and ensure a positive work environment for the staff and a positive learning environment for the students.
When Dr. Livanis unfairly and without warning rated seven teachers  unsatisfactory last year, we became concerned. This rating is not a minor thing; it is the first step in stripping someone of their teaching license, (which makes it impossible for that teacher to take a job elsewhere, and freezes their salary, resulting in a loss of approximately one thousand dollars to the teacher). Many of the teachers who received a “U” rating have been told by Dr. Livanis that she considers them fine teachers, and that the rating was not a reflection of their performance. While it is always nice to hear that your supervisor thinks you are doing a good job, it is a strange and disconcerting thing to have one thing said to your face and another one recorded on an official record which will follow you. Since many of these teachers are known to be great teachers who go above and beyond the requirements of their job, there is concern amongst the staff that our careers are subject to arbitrary and unfair decisions by our principal.
While Dr. Livanis has made no visible effort to assuage our fears, we have become concerned that anything we say or do might be twisted and used to torpedo our career. Because we are unsure how else to express our grave dissatisfaction with the status-quo, we have decided that, at a minimum, we need to ensure that we don’t endanger our jobs by working unpaid, non-contractual hours. While in the past we have gone beyond our job description and worked overtime without pay on Curriculum Night, this year we asked to be paid for those hours. This is a practice which is normal at many schools in NYC, and is in keeping with our contract. When Dr. Livanis denied our request, we were concerned about deserting parents who had already planned to attend. So we offered a compromise. We offered to work the hour and a half if she would count that as one of our 45 minute after-school meetings that are required by contract. As she has refused this compromise as well, we feel it necessary to stand firm on this issue — something we have not done in the past.
We apologize for the last minute nature of this decision.  We have been trying to resolve this with compromise up through today but we have been unsuccessful.  We deeply regret any inconveniences this has caused families, and we regret not being able to reach a settlement that would have allowed us all to share this evening together.
Thank you for your understanding and support,
The NEST+m UFT Consultation Committee
 Here is an edited email from an anonymous source regarding the UFT:
With the story hitting Gotham Schools, Mulgrew now, out of nowhere, wants to meet with the entire staff.  My guess is that they are furious with the chapter because the teachers did all of what they did, without any backing of the people at the Manhattan Borough Office.  The Manhattan Borough Office, though, has always felt that because the teachers at Nest don't have the serious issues other D1 schools have they should just be happy and not complain about anything.  Therefore, they have done very little over the years to get through to Livanis.  Well, the pressure has been building for six years and has finally blown.


American Progress on Mayoral Control and Student Achievement

The only thing that Mayoral control did in New York City was give Principals, Superintendents, and other highly paid staff at the NYC Department of Education - including the Gotcha Squad, or Office of Legal Services - the authority to lie, cheat, and steal.

Betsy Combier

Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement

How Mayor-Led Districts Are Improving School and Student Performance


While school board members are elected by fewer than 10 percent of the eligible voters, mayoral races are often decided by more than half of the electorate. Under mayoral control, public education gets on the citywide agenda.
Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this report.
Using mayoral governance—in which a city’s mayor replaces an elected school board with a board that he or she appoints—as a strategy to raise urban school performance began about two decades ago, when then-Mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn (D) gained control over the city’s school district. Boston was soon followed by Chicago, where Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) appointed both the chief executive officer and the entire school board of the school system. Over the past 20 years, mayoral governance of schools has been featured prominently in nearly 20 urban school systems across the country. (see Table 1 in the PDF)
Mayoral control and accountability is one of very few major education reforms that aim at governance coherence in our highly fragmented urban school systems. A primary feature of mayoral governance is that it holds the office of the mayor accountable for school performance. As an institutional redesign, mayoral governance integrates school-district accountability and the electoral process at the systemwide level. The so-called education mayor is ultimately held accountable for the school system’s performance on an academic, fiscal, operational, and managerial level. While school board members are elected by fewer than 10 percent of the eligible voters, mayoral races are often decided by more than half of the electorate. Under mayoral control, public education gets on the citywide agenda.
Governance constitutes a structural barrier to academic and management improvement in too many large urban districts, where turf battles and political squabbles involving school leaders and an array of stakeholders have for too long taken energy and focus away from the core mission of education. Many urban districts are exceedingly ungovernable, with fragmented centers of power tending to look after the interests of their own specific constituencies. Consequently, the independently elected school board has limited leverage to advance collective priorities, and the school superintendent lacks the institutional capacity to manage the policy constraints established in state regulations and the union contract. Therefore, mayoral accountability aims to address the governing challenges in urban districts by making a single office responsible for the performance the city’s public schools. Citywide priorities such as reducing the achievement gap receive more focused attention.
This report examines the effects of mayoral governance on two specific areas—resource management and student achievement. In analyzing multiple, longitudinal databases on student achievement and financial management, this report found that mayoral governance has improved urban school districts. The findings will be useful to current and future mayors who may consider taking a greater role in public education. The following are among the report’s key findings:
  • Mayoral-led districts are engaged in strategic allocation of resources. According to available nationwide data over a 15-year period, mayoral-control districts were positively associated with investment in teaching staff, more spending on instruction, smaller student-teacher ratios, a greater percentage of resources allocated for K-12 student support, a larger percentage of revenue from state sources, and a smaller percentage of funding from local sources. The strategic leveraging of revenues to support K-12 education suggests that “education mayors” focus on the broader—and often necessary—conditions that support teaching and learning. Consequently, several mayoral-led districts showed academic improvement over time.
  • Over the past decade, mayoral-control school districts have generally improved districtwide performance relative to average school district performance statewide. Understandably, this improvement varies across districts, and it is somewhat uneven by grade and subject matter.
  • There were 11 districts that were governed by some degree of mayoral leadership toward the end period of our database on state assessment results. Among these 11 districts, five made substantial improvement in narrowing the student achievement gap within their states. These districts include New York; New Haven, Connecticut; Chicago; Philadelphia; and Baltimore. Four districts—Hartford, Connecticut; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Boston; and Providence, Rhode Island—showed progress on some academic measures.
  • Mayoral control in New York City appears to have had significant positive effects on both fourth- and eighth-grade student achievement. African American and Latino students benefited academically from mayoral control in New York City. The improvement rate ranged from between 1 percent to 3 percent annually. A 1 percent annual increase in student proficiency rates among New York City’s fourth graders, for example, would increase achievement for nearly 2,000 students.
  • In Boston and Chicago, achievement improvement was strong during the initial period of mayoral governance, but there has been a relative tapering of performance in recent years.
While they are not addressed specifically in this report, our findings suggest several policy implications for broadening the positive effects of mayoral governance on student achievement and financial and management outcomes. In studying successful mayoral governance, we made the following observations:
  • Mayoral governance is most effective when the mayor is ready to act. To turn around a low- performing district, an education mayor is necessary, but the mere presence of one is not sufficient. A mayor must be ready to act to overcome barriers to school improvement. Granting a mayor the opportunity to be in charge of a district is only the beginning. The mayor has to be an active education mayor, consistently leveraging resources and mobilizing stakeholders strategically to facilitate a supportive policy environment in public education.
  • A city must adapt, not adopt. Cities considering mayoral governance should adapt mayoral control to their unique local context. A thorough assessment of local challenges must be used to guide the design of mayoral governance. Given the variation in local cultures and politics, cities considering mayoral control must plan strategically and engage collectively to make sure that mayoral leadership will contribute to a stronger system of accountability. Education mayors need to form specific coalitions with key stakeholders in their communities to raise school performance.
  • Mayoral control may require reinvention. Once established, mayoral governance cannot simply rely on early success. Clearly, we need to learn from cities that continued to show academic gains over time. Without reinvention, mayoral control may stall in its ability to generate growth in student achievement. Our study suggests that even if mayoral control is initially successful, that success may be time bound. Reinventing mayoral control—whether through new leadership or new governance practices—seems necessary to reinvigorating student-achievement gains.
  • Diverse providers and charter schools should be involved. The future of mayoral control will—and ought to—involve the authorization of diverse providers and charter schools. Because of entrenched state politics, it seems unlikely that a large number of states will expand mayoral control to their big-city school districts in the near future. Given this likelihood, mayors may be best served by finding alternative ways to enhance their city’s public schools. One promising approach is the use of charter schools such as the mayoral authorization of charter schools in Indianapolis.2 One promising approach is the mayoral authorization of charter schools, which recently occurred in Indianapolis. The implementation of this type of portfolio management—whereby districts in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia contract with a diverse set of school providers to operate more autonomous schools that are subsequently held accountable for student achievement—may provide new perspective on mayoral leadership and the use of diverse providers.
Let’s examine in greater detail the mayoral-governance landscape, including the outcomes and challenges of this promising approach to school improvement and students’ academic achievement.
    Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement
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Kenneth K. Wong is the Walter and Leonore Annenberg professor and chair of the department of education at Brown University. Francis X. Shen is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. 
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