This post is a direct reaction to NYC Educator who yesterday wrote a piece that was fairly critical of PROSE schools. Here is his opening paragraph:
Politico just did a feature on the PROSE schools. After reading it I have no idea why they are an improvement over the SBO feature of the standard contract, which allows schools to change class time, rearrange schedules, and basically do whatever they need to achieve their unique goals. I also see no advantage whatsoever in allowing the program not to sunset at year's end. What it it turns out to be a disaster?
NYC Educator then cites Carmen Farina pointing out an extreme example of a PROSE school that allows 40 students in a class. NYC then correctly points out that the contract, in contradiction to media perception, does not favor teachers very much.
I am in no way an expert on PROSE schools. I can't even remember that it stands for Progressive Redesigned Opportunity Schools of Excellence. The title is ridiculous and the program is in some ways a public relations ploy to show that the UFT is flexible concerning the contract. However, as someone who has worked in a PROSE school the last two years, I can say that the program can be used to enhance what was already a truly progressive school.
Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College had a very collaborative working relationship between administration and teachers long before it was a PROSE school but as a PROSE school, MCHS has been able to go even further in that direction.
The school has altered somewhat the absolutely awful teacher evaluation system. There are teachers who are doing other things besides having the dumb Danielson 1,2,3,4 checklists being filled out for their Measures of Teaching Practice portion of their rating. Next year, the school intends to expand on this. I doubt this would be possible as a simple School Based Option.
Teachers in Middle College are Department Chairpersons. I can say, hopefully without offending any of the assistant principals I worked for at Jamaica, that the last two years I have sat in on some of the most engaging department meetings in my long career. Having a teacher run them has freed people to open up and truly speak freely. I am not saying that we didn't speak openly at Jamaica; it is just different when a teacher is leading the discussion. The assistant principal is only there occasionally at MCHS and the tone doesn't really change when he comes in.
In addition, MCHS approved a very progressive governance system that truly empowers the staff. I don't think this would be easy to do under the School Leadership Team structure in non-PROSE schools.
There has to be a 65% affirmative vote for PROSE. When MCHS takes a secret ballot vote on PROSE initiatives, the results are usually unanimous.
My experience is just one anecdotal but if there is a truly inspirational principal and a staff that buys in, PROSE can work.