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CLEVELAND

Mayor picks New York educator for CEO. Mayor Michael White has named a veteran educator from New York City to be the first chief executive officer of Cleveland Public Schools, which enrolls some 70,000 students.

A 22-year veteran of the New York school system, Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a reputation for turning around troubled schools. Most recently, she was superintendent of the “chancellor’s district,” a collection of the city’s 10 worst schools. In the two years Byrd-Bennett had the job, seven of the schools improved enough to be removed from a state list of poorly performing schools. Last year, reading scores in the chancellor’s district rose an average of 5.9 percent across all grade levels and 15.3 percent for 3rd-graders, according to The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

Byrd-Bennett, who is 48, is known for reaching out to parents, arts groups and teachers—a characteristic that has won her support among unions. “Her willingness to see a teachers union as a centerpiece for improving low-performing schools bodes well for the future of Cleveland teachers and students,” Michael Charney, an official for the Cleveland Teachers Union, told the Plain Dealer.

Mayor White has signed Byrd-Bennett on for a four-year contract, which was still subject to School Board approval as CATALYST went to press. Byrd-Bennett is importing four members of her New York staff to serve as special assistants for strategic planning, budget, youth guidance and dropout prevention and literacy.

Cleveland’s long-troubled school system was taken over by state education officials in 1995. Two years later, the state Legislature returned control to the city, creating a broad-based nominating committee to provide School Board candidates to the mayor for selection. The mayor also got authority to name a chief executive officer.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Ineffective teachers put on notice. Principals in the D.C. public school system now have the power to fire poorly performing teachers after a 90-day probationary period, according to the Washington Post. Previously, dismissal took at least a year.

A new evaluation policy calls for teachers and principals to map out goals for individual performance, student achievement and professional development. Principals will work with underperforming teachers to draw up improvement plans. Teachers on probation will have access to mentor teachers and other resources, but can be dismissed if they show no improvement within 90 days. Firings can be appealed through the union.

Teachers who surpass their goals will be evaluated every three years, rather than once a year. Teachers who are classified as “needs improvement” will have two years to get up to speed.

Since taking over schools in May, D.C. Supt. Arlene Ackerman has pushed to improve the system’s accountability, according to the Post. In addition to making it easier and faster for principals to fire bad teachers, the new policy holds principals responsible for boosting student achievement.

Other superintendents have paid lip service to getting rid of poorly performing teachers, but Ackerman is the first to devise a credible process to do so, according to the Post.The last time teacher reviews were made public, in 1992, only seven of 4,516 teachers received “unsatisfactory” ratings.

Some teachers interviewed by the Post expressed concerns that principals may abuse the expedited process for political reasons. However, Barbara Bullock, president of the Washington Teachers Union, told the Post she applauds the new procedure.

One potential downside: A nationwide teacher shortage could make it more difficult to find replacements. D.C. teachers are paid less than their counterparts in neighboring districts. To help bridge the gap, Ackerman raised the base pay of first-year teachers from $27,000 to $30,000, according to the Post.

NORTH CAROLINA

Charter schools run afoul of state law. Most of the charter schools in North Carolina are hiring too many unlicensed teachers, a practice that breaks state law, according to The News & Observer in Raleigh.

The state requires elementary charter schools to hire a teaching staff that is 75 percent licensed; at high schools, 50 percent must be licensed. The state found that 23 of its 34 charter schools were not following these guidelines.

State education officials are weighing their options to crack down on schools that do not comply with the law. One option is to give the schools 30 days to comply or risk being shut down. “…[W]e can’t let any public school start picking and choosing what laws they are going to obey,” State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk told The News & Observer.

Administrators of charter schools point out that delays in processing paperwork may have inflated the number of unlicensed teachers in the report. State officials agree that pending license applications could account for some teachers being mislabeled as unlicensed; however they stand by the survey results, according to The News & Observer.