2004-01-02 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach
From the Editor’s Desk

From the
Editor's Desk

David Pecoraro says, "While Rome burns, the Department of Education fiddles with bulletin boards."

Pecoraro should know. He is the UFT chapter chairperson for Beach Channel High School, a school that has logged more than 170 dangerous incidents since September.

Pecoraro's declaration of war against the system came during a period when students in the building were arrested for drug possession, for assault, for threatening an assistant principal with a knife, and for bringing five razor blades into the school. One male student was arrested after he slammed his ex-girlfriend's head into a trophy case, sending her to the hospital.

How did the Region Five office react to all of that violence?

Joan Gordon, the local instructional supervisor sent a memorandum to BCHS, as well as to all other schools that she controls, saying that both teachers and administrators would be rated on the appearance of their bulletin boards.

"Bulletin boards and displays in classrooms and hallways are a clear reflection of instruction and the quality of student achievement," the memo said. "Student work must predominate all displays and bulletin boards,"

The memo added a threat.

"Positive feedback should be provided when displays and bulletin boards have met or exceeded these standards and appropriate action must be taken when bulletin boards and displays do not meet the standards," it said.

Appropriate action for bulletin boards that do not meet the standards. How about appropriate action for kids who carry weapons, who attack other kids, who bring drugs to school, who assault school staff?

Not a word about that from Gordon or anybody else.

Gordon told New York Post reporter Carl Campanile that the bulletin board policy is "a most important item to raise the quality of instruction within the school."

"Help us get the children out of the hallways and into class instead of worrying about bulletin boards," Pecoraro says, complaining that kids in the hallways often tear down or mar bulletin board displays. "They can't learn if they are not in the classroom."

The foolishness over the emphasis on bulletin boards is not restricted to Beach Channel High School. In late November, a region official reportedly ripped down several bulletin boards at PS 114 that she believed were substandard.

At a region middle school the month before, a region five instructional supervisor went on a frenzied search for substandard bulletin boards and ripped them down in front of astonished staff.

This is nothing new in Rockaway schools. It began with superintendent Beverly Hall, who saw bulletin boards and "performance objectives" as the be-all and end-all of education.

Hall sent what came to be called "SWAT Teams" unannounced to district schools to check that lesson plans included performance objectives and that bulletin boards were up to date and were "standards-based." What went on in the classroom did not matter much as long as those two items were addressed.

The movement slowed down a bit when Brenda Isaacs became superintendent, but gained speed once again under Matt Bromme and his minions, including Rose Molinelli, who never met a bulletin board she thought was adequate.

It got to the point where appearance was more important than reality, and that continues today.

The new mantra under Cashin and the Department of Education seems to be, "Have pretty bulletin boards so that the school looks good and cover up everything bad that is happening in the schools."

That is unfortunate, although it seems, at least on paper that Bloomberg and Levy are doing something to end violence in the schools, something that I have been writing about in this paper for more than a dozen years.

The solution is so simple that any teacher, administrator or parent who spends time in a school building can tell you what it is.

Take the ten percent of kids in each school who are constantly disruptive and place them in alternative settings away from the home school. Make that setting as onerous as possible.

There are those who say that the kids who are removed from their schools for improper behavior will suffer in such a setting. I say that I don't care. Taking them from the buildings will allow the other 90 percent of the students to learn. That is what's important.

I am talking about special education children as well as mainstream children.

That will mean changing a federal law.

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act now says that special needs students must be returned to the "least restrictive environment," which is eduspeak for a regular classroom setting, if it is determined that the disability contributes to their disruptive behavior.

A child who has been tested and identified as "Emotionally Handicapped" cannot be punished because anything inappropriate that he or she does arises from their handicap.

That has been turned into a mandate to kill and maim by special ed students, and don't for a moment think that they don't know it.

School staff is obviously skeptical about the changes Bloomberg wants to make and about how the Department of Education will handle the implementation of those changes.

That skepticism grows out of years of experience and the fact that the department continues to fiddle while Rome burns.

Bulleting boards, indeed. Up to now, the department has rearranged the chairs on the Titanic.

Let's see if they can really do something to keep the ship from sinking.

If not, then Bloomberg becomes vulnerable in the next mayoral election.

After all, he was the one who asked voters to judge him on how well he did with reorganizing the schools.

So far, he has not done much.

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