2000-07-08 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

When people ask me where I come up with the information and the topics to write a weekly column every week for more than 12 years, I tell them that there is never a lack of things to write about in this district. That has once again proven to be true.

When I wrote two weeks ago that I was taking a summer hiatus "unless something untoward happened" in the interim, I did not expect to be writing another School Scope so soon. Not only did one major thing untoward happen, but also several things have come up that need comment.

I was shocked by the incident at MS 180 in which several boys sexually molested a young girl. I was not shocked because the incident took place. It is a sad fact of life that such an incident could happen in any school at any time. The fact that it happened at MS 180 saddens me because the school has already been weakened by continual punches from the community and this might just be the knockout blow.

There seems to be some consensus in light of the attack that it is time for school principal Bob Spata to go. He has been removed from the school and assigned to the district office pending investigation, but I would be surprised if he ever returned to the building. Not because what he did was so terrible but because he has no political currency left with which to play the game.

His own union will probably not back him with any vigor because he plans to challenge that union’s leadership in the next union election.

The school board will not back him with any vigor because he made several political and tactical blunders in a school board election several years ago. His main transgressions included allowing one faction to use address labels generated by the school’s attendance computer system to send out a vituperative letter calling several of the school board members nasty things.

I do not believe that Matt Bromme, the new school superintendent, will support him with any vigor because Bromme has close ties to the present leadership of the principal’s union (CSA), the same union leadership that Spata seeks to overthrow in the next election.

Add that all up and it is a good bet that Spata will "pursue other interests."

That will probably include running for the CSA presidency where his current situation might get him votes rather than take them away. He can always run on a campaign of "They did it to me and they can do it to you."

The plight of the dean is another story. I have known her for a long time and she is a consummate professional, concerned only with the kids and the school. She got caught, however, in the middle of a bad deal. It is my understanding that the girl who was assaulted came to her and told her that "a bunch of boys were bothering me in the school yard." The dean told the girl to write a statement. It is my understanding that the statement did not include anything about a sexual assault.

When a fight broke out in another area, the dean responded and spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out the contenders in the fight. At the final bell, the girl went home and told her mother what had happened. The way I understand it, only then was it considered a sexual assault.

I do not know what the principal knew and when he knew it. I do know that the dean would have reported a sexual assault promptly because she is that kind of professional.

I only hope that she does not get caught in the vortex of the anger that will most likely swallow Spata. She deserves far better.

It always surprises me that people in administration, particularly those who work at the district offices, seem to forget the needs of the teachers they supervise. It is almost as if they are zapped with that black wand that showed up in "Men In Black," the one that wipes out the person’s memory.

The final days of this week are a case in point.

School ended on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were "staff development days" for summer school for those teachers and administrators who are going to work this summer.

Those who are going to be teaching mathematics, social studies and science were sent to MS 210 on the mainland.

The district hired "Ventures in Learning," the firm that was such a failure at MS 198 last year, to do the staff development for the social studies and science teachers.

The trainer was a UFT staff developer in Bronx High Schools. She was nice enough and she tried hard to sell the Ventures procedures, but the two days were largely a huge waste of time. This was not only my belief, but also the consensus of both teachers and assistant principals that had to sit through it.

What teachers and assistant principals needed, what the schools needed, was to get the summer team together in their buildings, make assignments, get their rooms ready, program for Wednesday and generally get ready for the summer.

Instead, administrators will have to play catch up Wednesday morning because teachers will be in at 8:30 a.m. and so will the students.

There will be no time available to set things up, to meet and plan, to program and brainstorm. The district took that away in favor of an expensive and inadequate staff development session.

I do not know what the district paid Ventures for the two day stint, but whatever it was, the money was wasted.

The only good thing that I can say about it is that it was nowhere as bad or as expensive as last year’s Voyager program. I do not know the cost of the Ventures training to the district, but last year’s Voyager training and material cost the district well in excess of $100 thousand bucks.

Voyager was so bad that it was quickly discarded by the majority of middle schools or relegated to the back burner. The superintendent, who was then a middle school principal, agreed that the program was a waste. This year, however, he bought a modified Voyager program for all of the elementary schools. I understand that the program was modified, but I cannot see how it was modified sufficiently to make it into an adequate five-week summer school remediation program.

Speaking of administrators, there was lots of talk about the new contract that took tenure away from principals in return for a large chunk of change in their paychecks.

The mayor loved it. The chancellor loved it. For the first time, principals were naked with no tenure to hide behind. That would allow all of the incompetent principals to be fired. Accountability had come to New York City.

Now we come to the end of the first year of the contract. How many teachers were fired under the new, wonderful contract? None! Zip! Zero!

There was a rumor kicking around that several principals were going to be fired in this district for "persistent educational failure" in their schools. None were. At least one was allowed to quietly retire in August at principal’s salary. She was replaced by a District 15 principal who left a school in that district to take the Rockaway job. Why would a person leave one school where he was principal to become a principal in a "troubled school" in Rockaway that is on the verge of becoming a SURR school is a question that needs to be answered? Your guess is as good as mine.

There will be a number of other changes in other Rockaway schools as acting people are replaced by appointed people.

Rumors have it that George Giberti will become the principal of PS 225 (another school on the verge of becoming a SURR school) and Pat Tubridy will become the principal of PS 47 in Broad Channel. Both of them are good people and good administrators and deserve a shot at having their own schools. I know that Giberti comes with some baggage from his time at PS 197, but I believe that he deserves another shot and that he will do a good job at PS 225. Tubridy is a perfect fit at PS 47.


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