2000-04-22 / Columnists
School Scopeby Howard Schwach
Nobody asked me but:
- The Daily News editorial calling for the dismissal of UFT president Randi Weingarten has to be a joke. First of all, she is not a public official who can be dismissed by the public. She is a labor leader elected by her union members. I have to believe that the person who wrote the editorial is a union member and his or her union leader’s job is not to make the newspaper better, but to protect the rights of the union members. That should be Weingarten’s job as well. She should not be in the business of making the schools better. She should be in the business of protecting union member’s rights and getting the best deal possible for her members. She and her leadership group seem to have forgotten that in a misguided liberal drive to make the union somehow more palatable to the public. She needs to get back to her core job and do it quickly.
- Christ the King High School gets lots of ink because of its basketball program and because it is supposed to be one of the "better" parochial high schools around. Its principal, Elizabeth Lawlor, was summarily fired last week after 15 years at the school. Why? Nobody is sure. The school board simply notified her out of the blue that she was through at the school. No hearing, no warning, no anything. If there is any argument why administrators and teachers need tenure rights, this is it. I do not know the facts of the case, and I do not even know whether the board had the goods to fire her or not. All that I am saying is that after 15 years of faithful service, she deserved more than she got.
- Harold Levy wants the job. Give it to him quickly. While he has not impacted the schools at all and while the summer school program is going down the tubes and social promotion is back with a vengeance, he has brought new life and new hope to the system. I hope the mayor’s recent softer statements about Levy will usher in some cooperation and the system can begin to get things done. Two things that Levy said recently really attracted me to his candidacy. First of all, he said that the people at the central board were "back office staff," who should be "supporting individual schools rather than micromanaging them." Boy, do I agree with that. I also believe that the district staff should be looked at in the same way. They are a support staff to help the schools do their jobs, not big brother, detailing regulations that make a teacher’s job more difficult. Secondly, he wants teachers to be able to speak English. "Some of the teachers I have seen speak English so poorly as to be indecipherable or lack rudimentary skills one should have in a position of authority," Levy told the Daily News. He is correct on both counts and I like his candor and non-academic approach and his lack of political correctness.
- It is strange how you can work with a person and not really know much about him. Howard Simon was an English teacher at MS 202 on the mainland. He taught seventh grade language arts and he did it well. What I did not know was that he was a noted playwright with a play running currently Off-Broadway. Nor did I know that he had a masters in the area and had studied with some of the greats and had been nominated for a Tony Award. When he died last week, much too young and too talented at both of his chosen fields, his colleagues and students grieved. He will be missed.
- Standards are gone and social promotion is back. One elementary teacher e-mailed me to say that there were eight children on her register who were "promotion in doubt" last week and yesterday there were none. When the plan to do away with social promotion was announced, there were three indicators (attendance, grades and test scores) and not meeting any one of them could cause a student to be held back. Now, however, there are new rules. No one indicator can hold a student back except in the terminal grade, where failing a subject can mean summer school. Therefore, a kid can be absent 50 times and score below the 30th percentile on the standardized tests and if he or she passes all his or her subjects, he or she will get promoted. Teachers are angry because they believed that this time it was for real. They should have known better than to trust the politicians and the higher ups in the education food chain.
- The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has come up with a novel and surprising proposal. They want pupils to actually get the right answers to arithmetic problems. That might sound silly to you, but if you have been reading this column regularly than you will know that the "modern method" rewards kids who show their work even if the get the answer wrong and punishes kids who get the right answer but do not show their work. It is about time some reality is creeping into mathematics teaching.
- I usually have little good to say about our local politicians. One of the good things that they do, however, is to give member entitlement money to the schools in their districts. Al Stabile has funded a number of computer labs in district schools and other politicians, including Audrey Pheffer and Serf Maltese, have provided money for books and infrastructure. Pauline Cummings recently pledged $160 thousand to the schools for computer technology. They should be congratulated for what they do in this area.
- Every district superintendent has come in and brought his or her own team with them. So it will be with Matt Bromme and there is nothing wrong with it. The two deputy positions were advertised internally and there is a 20-day application period at which time Bromme will make the final choice. It is safe to say that Bromme will retain most of the team he has already put in place and that more changes will come with some of the people left from the Isaac’s team leaving and new people replacing them.
- By the way, school board meetings seem more relaxed and less formal under the Bromme administration. Brom-me even seems to be moving away from the idea that this district is an "Apple" computer district. He avowed that he had an IBM lab at MS 210 and that he would move to bring some of the "other" computers into the district. That is imperative if students are to learn valuable technological skills on the computers they will actually use in the real world. By the way, I really like board member Art Beroff’s idea of training our middle school students a skill such as computer programming. That will make them much more marketable in the workplace.
- MS 180 has become an issue again after two years of being on the back burner. Board member Ronni Schwab said at the sunshine meeting last week "things are happening at 180," but that she "couldn’t talk about them now because that wouldn’t be fair." I wonder what she is talking about, and she should not have brought it up at a public meeting if she was not willing to say what she was talking about. Board president Steve Greenberg said that "we have a community that is interested in 180 again," but I don’t think so. I would be willing to bet that there are not 40 kids in the entire student body who live west of Beach 116 street. I spoke to somebody who lives in Dayton Towers West, right across from the school, who told me that there are less than a handful of kids from those three buildings who attend the school. The rest go to parochial schools or to Brooklyn public schools that are no better than MS 180.
- Assaults on teachers are still a misdemeanor thanks to Audrey Pheffer and Pauline Cummings-- our local assembly members. They should be ashamed of themselves and I will try and get every teacher to vote against them come the next election.