2004-12-03 / Columnists

School Scope

Of This and That
By Norman Scott


JHS 180

Howard Schwach’s page one story in The Wave on the actions of Principal John Comer in pushing a teacher against a wall for failing to stand in the hallway during passing, confirms a number of reports of fear and loathing coming out of 180.

One very interesting point made in the article was that the teacher wanted to go to the police 100 Precinct to file a complaint against Comer but was “dissuaded by colleagues and union officials who warned her that she would only cause herself more problems with the principal and would then be open to have her job terminated.” More trouble?

When a principal engages in these actions towards a teacher it is a pretty good indication that a teacher is in trouble. By filing a police complaint the teacher would at least put an arrow in her quiver as a bargaining chip…”I’ll drop the complaint if….” That kind of advice from the UFT is at the heart of the very nature as to why teachers are getting bashed and smashed all over this city.

As pointed out in a letter in The Wave, Comer is a relative of the John Comer who was Supt. of Dist 22 in Brooklyn and Kathleen Cashin’s supervisor when she was principal of PS 193.

Years ago, I wrote a leaflet criticizing Cashin’s actions in giving a former colleague of mine an unfair U-rating (more on that another time) and distributed it at a local school board meeting and in front of Cashin’s school on open school night. Comer and Cashin were not amused, to say the least. They were so well connected, two colleagues and I ended up being called down to the Board of Education department of investigation which sent two goons to my school to demand my principal reprimand us – for exercising our rights of free speech. In spite of the fact that my principal and I didn’t often get along, she refused despite the fact they threatened her. For years she claimed that the incident might have been one of the reasons she never advanced. But she didn’t care because she was feisty and didn’t like to be pushed around either. The goons gave us letters ordering us to appear at 65 Court St. and the school had to hire three subs for us.

At 65 Court Street, we were questioned individually (we had a UFT lawyer with us). The investigating officer was incredibly nasty and tried to intimidate me but all he could say we did wrong was use the school address as a return. Let’s see – the cost of three subs, two visits to the school by the two goons, the joker we had to meet with at 65 Court – and throw in the cost to the UFT for the lawyer. John and Kathy sure knew how to throw our money around.

We were out of there by 10:30 and went off to play golf. Thanks John and Kathy, we had a wonderful day off. I owe you one. I think.

I received comments on various items I covered in recent columns.

K-8 Schools Email from chapter leader at MS in Brooklyn: The point is that communities with functioning schools, communities that understand that schools function best with resources; communities that fund their schools for the betterment of their children, and NOT for the legacy of the administrator, communities that embrace the concept and act on smaller class sizes — keep their middle/junior high schools. These communities recognize that the middle/junior high school years are a transitional period for their children.

You can package the idea any way you want, but without the resources for the children, all you have is empty promises and schools that fail their communities.

Email from Michael Holstein, the retired director of computer operations in the former District 14 (and my former boss) who was the President of

the School Board in Hastings, NY: Switching the location of grades from one school to another is like changing deck chairs on the TITANIC.

In Hastings, we restructured the schools, moving the 5th grade into the Middle school - making it a 5-8 school. The driving force of that decision was building utilization.

We did not want to build an addition onto the elementary school, or have an overcrowded building.

Parents objected. They did not want their young 5th graders rubbing shoulders with those older kids. They seemed to forget that those older kids were often the brothers and sisters of the younger ones. After the fact, the parents were happy with the move.

But I digress. The point I make is that we should focus on the quality of education in each grade, not worry where that grade is located.

A teacher/UFT chapter leader writes: I thought I’d comment about Steve Greenberg’s amnesia I attended many of the School Board meetings back nine years ago when the K-8 issues were brought up. (47 and 207 were the only ones that went K-8, and they started as K-8 schools in Sept. 1996.) As far back as I can remember PS 114 was the only other school, or possibly the only other Rockaway school, if you count 47 as a Rockaway school that was looking for K-8 structure. When 43 was being built, it was structured right from the beginning as a K-8 school. Also, when 47 & 207 were trying to become K-8 schools, many parents in Rockaway and the mainland felt 47 was the only school that should be granted the status of K-8 since they only sent 8 or 9 students each year to MS 180. This was based on statistics from Marty Barr who worked at the District at the time. Does Greenberg forget this? Even the parents at 114 were split down the middle about 114 becoming K-8.

George Schmidt, editor of Substance, a Chicago teacher union dissident newspaper, adds: Virtually all Chicago elementary schools (90 percent or more) are K-8. It works, especially in contrast to middle schools and upper grade centers, which tend to be pressure cookers for early onset adolescent malaises, without any restraints. The last time Chicago had a big move for segregating 7th and 8th graders was in the 1960s, as part of a segregationist backlash against the influx of black children. The Board of Education created a dozen “upper grade centers” (7th and 8th grade) and some citizens were explicit that the reason was to keep pubescent males of a different race away from, er..., others. (Chicago was always more open on these fine points than New York...).

My son finished 8th grade with no problem and is now doing well in one of the city’s magnet high schools. The benefits of having the eighth graders as the top tier or elementary school, in my opinion, far outweigh the downsides.

Another fact is that K-8, then high school, enables the high schools to have kids for four years, which seems to work here in Chicago for the schools that aren’t stripped of resources. I think a major factor has to be predictability. Kids know from early on that the eighth graders at the “top” in elementary school, and they know (or fear) what to expect when they hit ninth grade.

Age discrimination

A long-time observer of the educational landscape writes: Vinny Grippo, former Superintendent of Dist. 20 in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, who recently died, was being sued by a dozen or so women in their 50s for age discrimination – the UFT would not defend them.

A UFT chapter leader in the Bronx writes: As for me...age discrimination is a very sensitive subject. Often I wonder where the line is drawn...especially as one continues to apply for various opportunities to serve in other non-Board of Education venues as a senior. Often, I have found that age matters to many at the helm. Often this discrimination is blatant or there are innuendoes. Religious and racial discrimination are also problems that I have tried to deal with as a chapter leader.

The UFT in District 27

A teacher in Dist 27 writes: As far as UFT in District 27, word has it that there is no spine when it comes to meetings with the district superintendent and especially when it comes to Cashin. Also, it’s not unusual to get different answers at the local level than from someone higher up at UFT headquarters. It’s very interesting how the contract gets interpreted by the so-called union leaders. No wonder District 27 UFT is falling apart.

We don’t seem to have any rights anymore with what is coming down from the union. Almost everyone I come in contact with in the rank and file is disgusted with the DOE and the UNION.

A lot of members feel that UFT leaders have sailed us out to sea!

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