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City Expands Program That Lets Public Schools Buck Some Union Rules

By Amy Zimmer | July 14, 2016 10:49am
 The city added 16 schools to its PROSE program, letting them skirt DOE and union rules.
The city added 16 schools to its PROSE program, letting them skirt DOE and union rules.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

NEW YORK CITY — At Williamsburg’s P.S. 196, teachers this year will be allowed to start their work day at 7:15 a.m. to conduct enrichment activities like robotics, coding and sports.

At Jamaica’s P.S. 65, teachers who opt in can hold parent engagement sessions starting at 7:25 a.m., and teachers at East Harlem’s Urban Assembly for Global Commerce will work four days a week from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. while working from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. once a week to do professional development.

These three are among the latest 16 schools to join the city’s PROSE program — or Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools program — which allow schools with strong collaboration between administrators and staff to skirt existing Department of Education rules as well as their contractual obligations on terms like class size and hours from the United Federation of Teachers and the Councils of Supervisors and Administrators

As of September, there will be 140 PROSE schools, with the goal of implementing 200 such schools over five years, DOE officials announced Wednesday. There will also be 34 PROSE “Pathways” schools, which will be able to observe and learn from the current schools in the program about their areas of interest.

The program allows an avenue for union-approved charter-style innovations, many say.

PROSE schools often alter teachers’ schedules, school calendars or class sizes, for example, in efforts to boost student achievement, parent engagement or professional development. To become part of the program, they require at least 65 percent of UFT staff in each school to approve of the changes.

“The power of PROSE is that it allows schools to develop their own ideas on what is going to move education for their students,” UFT president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “It is what is meant when people say ‘teacher empowerment.’ It is taking the ideas of the people who work directly with children and turning those ideas into reality.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has held up the program as a testing ground for improving the school system at large.

“In collaboration with our teachers, we’ve created these schools to be free of normal work rules, and educators are using this freedom to really think differently about teaching,” de Blasio said at the start of this past school year. “We will take the most successful elements of these efforts and bring them to other schools around the city.”

But the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools didn’t think the expansion of PROSE would help.

“Instead of real attempts at innovation, the vast majority of changes in PROSE schools have proven to be nothing more than leftovers from the UFT's contract negotiations wishlist,” Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, said in a statement.