2004-02-06 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

Middle School 198 in Arverne has been a difficult school for many years, largely because a school board, many years ago, zoned it for failure by sending all of the bright kids zoned for the school to MS 180 instead (that’s a topic for another column, however).

Actually, I first taught at the then JHS 198 in February of 1965. I had just been discharged from active duty with the Navy, and took the position of a teacher who had been excessed for a poor performance.

I had an honors class that included many bright kids, some who went on to have bright careers. I also had a low exponent class that drove me to move to another school in the new term.

I came back to MS 198 several years ago as part of a staff development team run out of the district office. By that time, the school had become one of the most dangerous in the city, best-known for a bullet that had been shot through the window of the school in previous years, aimed at an assistant principal, but hitting the desk of a teacher next door to the AP’s office.

I was friendly with the school’s principal, Beth Longo. She was tough on both teachers and students and ran as tight a building as anybody possibly could under the circumstances.

She was removed last September for "persistent educational failure." The fact that she inherited a building in which only a handful of kids could read on grade level did not seem to concern the Department of Education or Region Five supervisor Kathleen Cashin. It was "off with her head," all over again.

In her place, the region put Angela Logan, a woman who seems to have no skills, either people or otherwise. Logan is reportedly the sister of a supervisor’s union vice president, but I have not been able to corroborate that fact.

Last week, I met with more than a dozen teachers at the school, some of whom I have know for years and know to be good solid teachers, concerned with their student’s education and well-being.

We met at the Irish Circle, over a couple of beers and buffalo wings, but what I heard made me blanch at the hot food.

Their discussion with me was re plete with kids who had weapons and were not punished; with supervisors overlooking fights in the hallways to check on bulletin boards; with a principal who denies basic supplies to her teachers yet spends thousands of dollars on a machine that makes name plates; with dozens of teachers out of work with injuries, including the school’s chapter leader, who was hit in the back of his neck with a screwdriver; with thousands of dollars spent on catering; with no set teacher or student schedules and with a parent coordinator who comes from outside the neighborhood and disdains meeting with parents.

And, those are Logan’s positive attributes.

It all began on the first day of school, teachers say.

Longo and her programmer had left a full program for Logan.

That program was given to teachers to place on the chalkboards for students to copy and follow.

About an hour into the first day, however, Logan scrapped the entire program and sent copies of the new (and terribly incorrect and confusing) program to teachers to give to students. There was chaos for the first week, with neither teachers nor students sure where they were supposed to be.

The new parent coordinator, hired by Logan, did not meet with parents or wander the school, meeting with teachers and students. Instead, she reportedly spent all of her time in Logan’s office putting together the hundreds of dollars worth of new furniture ordered for the principal’s new office. The coordinator, who is supposed to know the community and act as a liaison between community and school was from another community and reportedly made no attempt to get to know the school’s community. I was told by a number of local parents that they submitted resumes for the job, but were never even contacted for an interview.

Just last week, the parent coordinator issued a newsletter for parents. The newsletter is replete with grammatical errors with errors of both tense and syntax. If a teacher had issued such poor work for public consumption, he or she would have been sanctioned immediately. The parent coordinator, who earns as much as a starting teacher although only a high school education is required, was not.

The highly-respected teacher’s center, run by Pat Ritter, a long-time and respected teacher, was shut down because the principal reportedly thought that teachers were using the room to plot against her. The room was locked and no teacher was allowed to enter it under threat of being fired.

During the first week of school, the school’s Aspects 27 counselor, Tom Kazalski, who had been in the building for many years, was reportedly asked by the principal to cut a check from his funds. When he asked for a receipt that showed what the funds were used for, Logan reportedly refused. Kazalski was transferred from the building to Beach Channel High School. Kazalski refused to speak with me about the issue, apparently worried about his job, and calls to Logan for comment went unreturned.

A mentor for a number of new teachers was ordered from the building because Logan saw an empty coffee cup on his desk.

A new teacher was given an unsatisfactory rating by Logan because he did not have the requisite number of staples holding the material on his bulletin board.

The school’s dean, who is responsible for discipline, may no longer call parents without Logan’s direct permission although the job in every other school requires parent contact.

A long-time teacher who was given instructions to fill 90 feet of bulletin board complained to Local Instruct ional Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey that she could not possibly fill that much space. She was reportedly told, "If Mrs. Logan tells you to fill every bulletin board in the school, you’ll
do it."

The same teacher, an art teacher with many awards to her name, must now teach "Art through Social Studies." Music teachers are also being told to teach Social Studies through their subject area.

The most dangerous incident to both teachers and students, however, oc curred shortly after the year began.

A construction crew working next to the Peninsula Hospital Center hit a gas main, spewing a plume of gas into the air.

The Department of Education or dered the school to be evacuated for the safety of the students.

It was a cold and rainy day. At first, the teachers were told to walk the kids to Beach Channel High School. As the students were exiting the building, however, the orders were changed. Students were to be walked in the rain from the school, at Beach 56 Street to PS/MS 43 on Beach 28 Street.

While teachers walked with students, trying to keep them from going home and trying to keep them from panic (many believed it was another 9/11 and that their parents were in jeopardy), Logan drove her car alongside the long line of walking students.

Logan had failed to call the school to tell them that MS 198 was coming, and nobody at PS 43 had any idea of what to do with the 400 students who showed up.

Logan reportedly ordered the teachers into the building to receive instructions, leaving the kids on the street. There were at least five fist-fights in the street in front of the school and dozens just disappeared onto Seagirt Boulevard and went home.

Several of the teachers told me that Lloyd-Bey was at the school and saw the chaos, but said nothing.

When the situation was ended and the students who remained were walked back to the school, Logan placed letters in several teachers’ files, citing them for "being disorganized" and for "dereliction of duty."

At least one of the teachers who got the letter was absent that day.

This is the brave new world of the Department of Education and Region Five.

Logan will retain her job despite chaos and dangerous conditions. It is no longer about education. It is all about politics and spin.

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