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Published in Print: December 16, 1998, as Cincinnati Union Rejects School-Overhaul Plan

Cincinnati Union Rejects School-Overhaul Plan

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Teachers in Cincinnati last week rejected a proposed contract change that would have allowed the district to redesign low-performing schools from the ground up.

The amendment, turned down by a vote of 117-92, said that teachers could be declared "surplus" and thus involuntarily transferred if their school was slated for a make-over.

Under the district's school assistance and redesign plan, developed in cooperation with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers and unveiled this month, seven schools are slated to be redesigned.

The list of low-performing schools, which have below-average student achievement and show no signs of improving, includes three of the city's five comprehensive, neighborhood high schools. Cincinnati also has four magnet high schools.

Opposition from faculty members at the targeted high schools dominated the heated discussion at the union meeting last week, said Tom Mooney, the union's president.

Some teachers believed they were being blamed for the schools' poor results and took the move to redesign the schools as a personal criticism, he said, when in fact the problem with urban high schools is national in scope.

/Tom Mooney

The vote was a blow to Mr. Mooney, a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers who chairs the national union's task force on redesigning low-performing schools. The Cincinnati plan closely mirrored the AFT's resolution on the issue, which CFT members endorsed last February.

"It's hard to get people to agree to make radical changes to the institution they work in every day and are accustomed to," Mr. Mooney said. "We failed to communicate effectively that this was intended to be a no-fault plan."

Steven J. Adamowski

Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski suggested that the low turnout for the vote--the union has 3,500 members--may prompt the leadership to seek another balloting. But Mr. Mooney said it wasn't clear whether such a move would be constitutional.

Charters Ahead?

While Mr. Adamowski praised the union's "tremendous leadership" in helping develop the school assistance and redesign plan, he vowed to forge ahead with or without the federation.

At least three schools will be redesigned by the fall of 1999, the superintendent said. One option under consideration by the school board would involve closing the schools and contracting with a third party to reopen them as charter schools, he said.

Teachers who were laid off under such a scenario would not have any particular right to jobs in the new charter schools.

Any such charter schools would follow the district's own "Students First" design, he said, which incorporates elements of the district's strategic plan of the same name.

The accountability plan for schools stems from that plan. It calls for rewarding high-performing schools and closing those with poor track records over a period of at least three years.

A district-level "school redesign team" will oversee the process, which involves placing all schools in one of five categories based on academic performance. The district also will factor in scores on standardized tests.

Schools in the highest two categories--meaning their students are showing both good achievement and overall improvement--will be eligible for greater flexibility and autonomy. Those in the middle category will be required to develop improvement plans.

External review teams will work with schools in the next group. The schools in the last category, with below average achievement and no sign of improvement over three years, may be closed and reopened with a new theme, focus, or design.

Cincinnati is one of several urban districts to consider this strategy, often called school reconstitution.

Help Wanted

The plan had called for teachers in redesigned schools to be declared "surplus," which would have given them the right to a job elsewhere in the system. Teachers could have applied to work in their old building, but they would not have had any particular rights to work there. The schools also would have been staffed without regard to seniority.

Mary A. Gladden, the principal of Aft High School, which is on the list to be redesigned, expressed hope that her school's new membership in the High Schools That Work consortium may stave off a more complete overhaul. The consortium, created by the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, emphasizes preparing students for careers while teaching them rigorous academics.

"We realize we need some help," Ms. Gladden said. "I see this as an opportunity for the district to step up to bat and help us with the things we're already working on."

Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 3

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