D.C.’s Leading Men Of Color Are Teaching Preschoolers to Read

Torren Cooper, a Leading Men Fellow, walks with Kree Reid, 3, to a spot in the hallway of Turner Elementary School where they will work on literacy skills. Photo Credit: Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Torren Cooper, a Leading Men Fellow, walks with Kree Reid, 3, to a spot in the hallway of Turner Elementary School where they will work on literacy skills. Photo Credit: Tyrone Turner / WAMU

According 88.5 WAMU's Kate McGee, Turner Elementary School in Southeast D.C., is one of many DC schools that are implementing a new literacy program for preschoolers with disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Torren Cooper, is one of eight young men of color doing this work in D.C. Public Schools through a new program called the Leading Men Fellowship, which is wrapping up its first year. Cooper is the only male of color who works directly in the classroom, even though the student body is 98 percent African American.

The program trains recent D.C. public school graduates to be literacy coaches in some of the poorest schools in the city. DCPS partners with a local non-profit, The Literacy Lab, to develop the curriculum. The district provided training for the fellowships last summer and hosted weekly professional development sessions throughout the year. Nearly all the fellows graduated high school last year, but Cooper has his bachelor’s degree and is pursuing his master’s.

The Leading Men Fellowship program was created to address two different problems. First, it increases the number of males of color in early education, secondly — it helps reduce the gap in language development for preschoolers from low income neighborhoods. Read more here.

How D.C. public schools redesigned what it means to be a teacher

Pictured above, Principal Eric Bethel at Turner Elementary School in Washington. Photo Credit: John Kelly/ The Washington Post 

Pictured above, Principal Eric Bethel at Turner Elementary School in Washington. Photo Credit: John Kelly/ The Washington Post 

Being a teacher is hard. Being a teacher in an urban school district that must contend with the social issues of poverty is even harder. Nothing, though, is more critical to student learning than who is in front of the class. And that is why it is important that attention be paid to the success of the D.C. school system over the past decade in transforming its teaching staff with strategies that emphasize and reward effectiveness.

How school officials built on the early reforms of the city’s controversial first schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee, and redesigned what it means to be a teacher was powerfully catalogued in an article in Washington Monthly. Thomas Toch, director of an independent think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, described the change of teaching from a “low-status occupation marked by weak standards and factory-like work rules” to a “performance-based profession that provides recognition, responsibility, collegiality, support, and significant compensation.” Under the leadership of second chancellor Kaya Henderson, the District pioneered comprehensive teacher evaluations, the abandonment of seniority-based staffing, performance-based promotions and compensation, and more muscular methods of teacher training, support and collaboration. No school district, Mr. Toch concluded, has ever succeeded quite like this.

Featured in the article is Eric Bethel, principal at Turner Elementary School in Ward 8, who recounted his hiring as a teacher before mayoral control after just a 10-minute interview. “Back then, if you had a pulse, you got a job,” he said and remembered that on his first day, his colleagues walked out on a staff meeting, with the principal in mid-sentence, because it was 3:30 p.m. and the end of the union-negotiated workday. That criminally lackadaisical approach has been replaced with a rigorous hiring process that includes multiple rounds of interviews, videos of candidates teaching and a written test on teaching strategies. Read the Washington Post's full op-ed here.

D.C. council member urges action on D.C.’s mid-year teacher resignations

Photo Credit: ggwash.org

Photo Credit: ggwash.org

According to the Washington Post's Alejandra Matos, a D.C. council member called the high number of mid-year teacher resignations at some D.C. Public Schools an “emergency,” and said Thursday that he wants Chancellor Antwan Wilson to come before the council’s education committee to address the problem.

The Washington Post reported this week that nearly 200 teachers have quit their jobs after the school year began.

“It is an emergency when a quarter or more of the teachers in some schools have resigned during the school year,” Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) wrote in a letter to David Grosso (I-At Large), chairman of the committee.

The resignations account for about 5 percent of the 4,000 teachers in DCPS, but a few schools have been hit particularly hard.

Ballou High School, in Southeast, lost 21 teachers, or 28 percent of its faculty, according to data obtained by The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request.

White wants to hear from Wilson, students and teacher who have resigned so that the education committee can “work aggressively to find a solution.”

Matt Nocella, a Grosso spokesman, said the council member “takes this issue very seriously and believes a stable learning environment puts students in the best position to succeed.” Read the full story here.

D.C. Charter Schools Get First Union

Photo Credit: Farragutful / Wikimedia

According to Kate McGee of WAMU 88.5, middle school teachers at a charter school in Columbia Heights have successfully voted to unionize, forming the first collective bargaining unit at a charter school in the district.

The teachers at Cesar Chavez Prep Middle School voted 31-2 in favor of joining the American Federation of Teachers.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to work alongside our school board and our principal to make a school that we’re really proud of into the envy of the district,” said Christian Herr, science teacher at the school. “We’ve ready to get to work on a contract that makes our school an even better place to teach and learn.”

The educators organized through the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, one of two major education unions in the country. Staff at the school say they want to unionize to give teachers a voice in decision-making. Jenny Tomlinson, the school librarian, told WAMU in May that staff hoped unionizing would reduce teacher turnover, increase teacher input in the curriculum and attract more experienced teachers.

Charter schools receive public money but operate independently. They do not usually unionize. Opponents of unions say that, without them, charter schools can be more flexible about salaries, hiring and firing, curriculum, and even the length of the school year. Nationally, 10 percent of charter schools are unionized, according to a report from the Center for Education Reform. Read more here.