Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he sympathized with an "exhausted" teacher but called it a "transformative moment" for the New York City schools and he was confident the changes would leave the system stronger and more effective.
On WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, Walcott fielded a question from a high school English teacher about the new Common Core learning standards. She said her lesson plans are "ridiculously detailed" and include things such as how long each classroom activity takes, the use of academic vocabulary and differentiation of instruction.
"I love my school," she said. "But I am exhausted."
Walcott said the implementation of both Common Core and the new teacher evaluations made the 2013-14 school year unique, and challenging.
"I truly empathize with what the teacher had to say," said Walcott. "This is something brand-new."
Walcott reminded listeners that the new four-tier system for rating teachers replaces one that had been in place for more than 80 years, and rated teachers only as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
Walcott was accompanied by Deputy Chancellor David Weiner who explained that the evaluation system had been piloted in select schools over the past three years. When a teacher asked about whether there is an "uneven playing field" in evaluating teachers who work with special needs students, Weiner said there should be no negative impact.
In the pilot program, he said, the percentage of teachers rated effective and highly effective "was the same whether teaching A.P. class at Stuyvesant or teaching a nonverbal class of six students in a District 75 [special education] school."
Walcott also took several questions on the disappearance of Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old boy with autism who walked out of his special needs school almost two weeks ago and hasn't been seen since. Avonte attends the Riverview School in Long Island City, a new building that also houses a general education high school.
When asked if the school system is taking a second look at security issues in these shared buildings, in response to some concerns about identifying special needs students, Walcott defended co-locations and called this "one of very, very unfortunate case" that is under investigation and that should not "indict the entire system."
Walcott was also asked about the school's own location at a busy and confusing intersection of the Pulaski Bridge, a Long Island Rail Road yard, the East River, the Queens Midtown Tunnel and several construction sites. He said he visited the site last Friday, and noted that it is a "brand-new building" in a "very nice location." He repeated that the police department and the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City schools are both looking into the case.
"We'll leave it up to the investigators to determine, but my heart and prayers go out to the family, not just as chancellor but I'm a father and grandfather."