changing of the guard

Randi Weingarten resigning today from city teachers union

Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February.
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)

Ending what might have been one of the city’s worst-kept secrets, Randi Weingarten this afternoon is announcing her plan to resign as president of the city teachers union at the end of next month.

Weingarten is making the announcement to members of the United Federation of Teachers right now at the union’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. Before today, she had not confirmed her intention to step down, even after news of her impending departure leaked to the media. Beginning in August, Weingarten will be devoting herself full-time to the presidency of the second-largest national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, which she assumed last summer.

A union press release (posted in full after the jump) contains praise for Weingarten’s 23-year tenure at the UFT from a host of prominent figures, including Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

One name that doesn’t make an appearance in the press release is that of Michael Mulgrew, the union vice president who is widely assumed to be next in line for the presidency. Anna just posted a profile of Mulgrew in which she calls him “the new power broker you probably don’t know.” From the profile:

Mulgrew also couldn’t be more different from Weingarten. Tall and apple-cheeked, he has the physical presence of Mr. Clean (both shave their heads) and a quiet charm. “Women seem to like him,” noted one union member.

Still, he’s often bullish and he gained renown in the union for being one of a small number of people to stand up to Weingarten.

Read the complete profile. Below the jump, read the union’s press release announcing Weingarten’s resignation:



United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is announcing today that she will step down from her role as the union’s president effective July 31st, in order to devote full time to her role as the president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten will make the announcement in a speech at the union’s June Delegate Assembly meeting this afternoon. She has been serving as president of both the UFT and the AFT since July of 2008.

Randi, who was elected UFT President in 1998, came to the union full-time in February, 1986 from the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. During her time as UFT president, Randi has made unprecedented progress in promoting teacher professionalism, improving teacher quality and attracting and retaining teachers through a series of landmark accomplishments. She also navigated the union into a position of growth and strength when the labor movement has been struggling.

“Randi Weingarten has been a tireless advocate for public education in New York,” said Governor David A. Paterson. “She is an innovative leader, a no-nonsense reformer, a tough negotiator and someone I am proud to call my friend. During her tenure at the United Federation of Teachers, she has led the effort to forge strong ties between parents, communities and teachers, and she has broken new ground on major reforms. While this is certainly a loss for the UFT, Randi will continue to fight for excellence in education on behalf of New Yorkers and educators across the nation as she now focuses on her role as head of the American Federation of Teachers. I applaud Randi’s advocacy and tenacity, and I look forward to continuing to work with her to help give all of our children a better education.”

“Randi has been a big part of many of the reforms we have implemented over the past seven years – and a big part of the incredible turnaround our schools have made,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “She’s a tireless champion of her members, and her leadership has benefited not only our schools, but our entire City. I look forward to continuing to work with her as she partners with the Obama Administration to replicate our reforms all over the country.”

“Randi is a progressive leader and a dynamic figure and a symbol for what is possible,” said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. She will be missed but she will be remembered in New York for the leadership that she provided during a critical reform era.”

“When it comes to labor leaders, Randi is the gold standard,” said Denis Hughes, President of the 2.5 million member New York State AFL-CIO. “She has an innate ability to lead. She knows how to bring people together, forge consensus and most importantly, get things done. Randi’s contributions to her members, the labor movement and all working men and women throughout this city and state go beyond words. We’re sad to see her go, but so very proud of the indelible mark of leadership, caring and commitment that she leaves behind.”

City Comptroller William Thompson said, “During her tenure over the last decade, Randi Weingarten has exemplified the true meaning of ‘fighter.’ She has fought for smaller class sizes, for higher standards, and for safer schools. Randi has been a fierce – and downright tireless – advocate for our city’s educators, for parents, and for students. She has stood up to City Hall and the Department of Education when classrooms have swollen with too many students, when day care workers have not been paid properly, and when spending has spun out of control. Through it all, she has always viewed her role as a partner with a vested interest in improving our schools. We need more leaders like Randi Weingarten, who focus their energies on yielding better transparency and greater accountability in our system. I wish Randi the best of luck; our loss is the nation’s gain.”

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, “Randi Weingarten is a great, progressive labor leader, very much like my husband Victor. Over the course of her tenure, she has tirelessly stood up for the interests of teachers and has been a leader on education reform. I am grateful for her tremendous commitment to making our school system the best it can be and giving teachers a stronger voice in the decision-making process. I know her work will have a lasting impact on New York City public schools and I look forward to her continued strong and visionary leadership at her new post.”

“For the last decade, Randi Weingarten has been the leading voice for 80,000 New York City public school teachers,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “While we her departure from the United Teachers Federation is a huge loss for New Yorkers, the 1.4 million members of the American Teachers Federation will benefit from the vast experience and numerous achievements she has made here at home. Randi has been a true friend to this City Council and a true friend to me. We wish her the best of luck as she continues on in the fight to keep our country’s teachers strong and our schools even stronger.”

“Randi is without question one of the greatest human beings I have had the privilege to know,” said George Anthony, a UFT representative at Susan E. Wagner High School. “A lot of what she does is subtle and behind the scenes, and I’m not sure people fully appreciate that. Earlier this school year, my attempts to get permission for a class of students to speak at the United Nations were stuck in bureaucratic limbo. We had literally tried for months, and I was just about to give up when I sent her an email asking if there was any way the UFT could help. She got right back to me, made a few calls, and the very next day, the trip was scheduled. My students will never forget that trip, and I have Randi to thank. I have met some extraordinary individuals in my life, but Randi’s fearlessness and relentlessness on behalf of teachers and students only makes you try that much harder in your own job. She has devoted her life to this work, and I admire her for that.”

“Ms. Weingarten was always focused on making us better individuals,” said Chris Cassagnol, a former student of Randi’s at Clara Barton High School and now a SAPIS Counselor (Substance Abuse Prevention & Intervention Specialist) at Brooklyn’s PS 109. “She was very generous with her time and really took an interest in our lives and our dreams. She pushed us to try harder and think bigger, and I owe her a lot for that.”

“During the winter months of 1991-1992, a team of Clara Barton High School students from my AP Political Science class and I spent long evenings at the Grand Army Plaza library and in a Congressman’s local office in Brooklyn, perusing Supreme Court cases, preparing for the City and later State-wide Championship Rounds of the Fifth Annual Bicentennial Competitions on the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” said Tamika Edwards, former student and now Director of Legal Education of Legal Outreach. “Ms. Weingarten was a phenomenal teacher and fine example of a legal advocate. Not only was she the first female attorney I had ever met, her passion for the law and young people coupled with her teaching prowess inspired me to pursue a career in law and serve New York City youth as well.”

Randi is the fourth president of the UFT in its storied 49-year history, following Charles Cogan (1960 to 1964), Albert Shanker (1964 to 1986) and Sandra Feldman (1986 to 1998).

Weingarten holds degrees from Cornell University and the Cardozo School of Law. As a teacher of history at Clara Barton High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, from 1991 to 1997, she helped her students win several state and national awards. Randi is a vice president of the national AFL-CIO, and served ten years as head of the city’s Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization for some 365,000 city employees in 100 city employee unions. She also served as a vice-president of the New York City Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, chairperson of the Health Insurance Plan (HIP) of Greater New York and as a board member of the N.Y.C. Independent Budget Office.

Today’s announcement means the union’s executive board will meet in the coming weeks to nominate and vote on candidates to fill the vacancy. The person elected by the executive board will serve out the remainder of Weingarten’s term, which ends in the spring of 2010, at which time the union is scheduled to hold an election for its entire slate of officers.

The United Federation of Teachers represents more than 200,000 active and retired members, including teachers, classroom paraprofessionals, school secretaries, attendance teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, education evaluators, nurses, laboratory technicians, adult education teachers and home child-care providers. The UFT also runs more than 300 teacher centers around the five boroughs as well as two charter schools.

The union’s delegate assembly meets monthly during the school year, and is made up of more than 2,500 elected chapter leaders, executive board members and other representatives.


first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”