2005-04-22 / Columnists

School Scope

Rocking The Rock, Part 1
By Norman Scott

As reported on page one of last week’s Wave, Far Rockaway HS has been put on a fast track to be reorganized by September which could lead to the creation of four mini-schools, including a vocational ed track, and the replacement of up to 50% of the teachers. Teachers who want to stay will have to apply for jobs. You know the story – if it’s a failing school it’s got to be the fault of the teachers. Their resistance to change must be the reason the school is perceived as failing; probably not willing enough to drink the Workshop model Kool-aid.

There is no word as to whether Region 5 Superintendent Kathleen Cashin or anyone else on her staff will in any way be held responsible for anything that went on at the school. (Is Far Rock really in Region 5?) Phyllis Marino, the Local Instructional Supervisor for the school, apparently bears no responsibility. (Exactly what does she do again?) She did get the honor of interrupting the “extremely important” 100-minute staff development time on April 4 to make the announcement. The attitude at the Region is, “Who, me? We are only responsible for schools considered successful— clearly due to our leadership where teachers barely played a role. But in failing schools, aha, we have nothing to do with them. It’s got to be the fault of the teachers, so let’s just get rid of them and things will be just fine.”

Yeah! The A train is just backed up with teachers trying to get into the school. As a Far Rockaway teacher emails, “Many people are looking to leave.... and an exodus only serves (it seems in the near future) to hurt Far Rock. We have trouble getting subs and have often had vacancies open for MONTHS, not weeks, mind you. A Guidance Counselor position (a coveted job most places) was open for 9 MONTHS... but the teachers are the problem, I s’pose...”

Here are some basic questions. Did the Region 5 management and Phyllis Marino, the LIS, know there were problems at the school or did they have to wait for the state report to tell them? If they did not know then maybe 50% of them should be replaced instead of the teachers. If they knew and did nothing, 100% of them should be replaced. After all, what stopped them from coming up with a plan to redesign the school to make improvements before the state report was issued? If they couldn’t do anything up to this point, what makes anyone think they can do it now? Their answer will probably be: we needed the state report to be issued before we could move because without it we couldn’t remove all those pesky teachers without considering seniority. The Region 5 bigwigs couldn’t come up with an idea for four schools with the vocational ed track until the critical state report was issued?

real question is: Was any attempt made to place more resources into the school to improve it before the state report?

Far Rock was declared an Impact School last year, one of the dirty dozen most violent schools and the place was inundated with police. Chancellor Klein and UFT President Randi Weingarten came to the school to celebrate the event. The school had reached the point of requiring police because there just weren’t enough teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, etc. to meet the needs of the school community. When there was crime on the streets, the city threw police at the problem. When there is educational crime in the schools they never seem to think throwing teachers at the problem is a solution. It is interesting that both Klein, the “educational” leader of the schools and Weingarten, the “educational” leader of the teachers union, rarely seem to make this point.

Some people think the whole redesign process is a sham to get rid of seniority and get rid of kids who will be pushed into the few large comprehensive high schools left, as they will be sent riding the subways searching for a high school, joined by their teachers.

We are not pretending that Far Rockaway HS is a school without problems. As one teacher said when I visited there recently, “Exactly what are we saving?” Some people do think that Far Rock could be saved with an infusion of resources and teacher input instead of imposing a top-down model that will still end up failing in the endless shell game of school shuffling. (See David Herzenhorn’s article in the NY Times on Apr. 18 on how Thomas Jefferson HS (my Alma mata) has been “reorganized” so that it now has four struggling schools instead of one. Jefferson is also under Region 5 management.

A teacher asked me to come to Far Rockaway as a representative of ICE (Independent Community of Educators), a UFT caucus critical of the Unity Caucus/UFT leadership, because teachers are extremely frustrated with the reorganization process and the response of the UFT. The following stream of consciousness email to me best expresses this frustration:

Where’s Waldo – er – the union at Far Rock?

Apr. 4: Today our 100 minutes professional development was interrupted for a staff meeting in the auditorium for the Region 5 LIS to tell us the school had officially been put on the reorganization track under a “Fast Track” title...though no one truly knows what this means. As usual the rhetoric was that the Region and everyone really cares for us at Far Rockaway (HS) and now it is the “big, bad state” that has come in to ruin and reorg and mess this whole mess up even worse....

MORE appalling was the union meeting after this brief interruption by two UFT Queens borough reps, claiming the DOE doesn’t know anything and blah, blah, blah about our rights and how they are here for us.... a seasoned teacher asked what the union had done for us.... and where they had been and what about the past year and what about now.... needless to say they got a tad bit defensive and had the NERVE to say they had been at our school a b’zillion times.... (last time was the very beginning of last year (Sept/Oct 2003!!!)....I said loudly “I never see you!!”... another colleague said we have felt abandoned.... I reiterated my plea for some help and questioned Randi’s absence (“Where’s Randi? as in “Where’s Waldo”?).... we have been wondering where she has been the past 2 years... not this week... last she was at Far Rock she posed for a photo op and said that she and Joel Klein were working together to make Far Rock a safer place.... the union reps were trying to make us feel as if we owed Randi and them a thank you for contract provision 18-G allowing for some type of rights when a school is reorg’d in the city.....THAT’S THEIR JOB!!!!....

 Well.... since I had asked these “reps” or whatever they should be called...about supporting us with press releases, ads in local papers, and some media exposure... they responded “The Mayor has control of all the papers”... I mean the audacity to insult my intelligence—- as if they can’t get something printed either locally or regionally or nationally...really!!!!!.... Hold a press conference, be proactive...anything!!!

We need parents’ attention and even a bit of support and they dismissed the parents of Far Rock as ever possibly voicing concern or support over losing such #’s of staff at our school.... however to give up with no attempt is like me saying my kids can’t read, so why bother. The twilight zone continues....

That the anger seems as much directed at the union as at the DOE is a product of the ineffectiveness of the UFT Chapter at Far Rock. I’ll go into the minimal role the UFT plays at the chapter, borough and central level in schools undergoing reorganization in a follow-up column. I’ll also comment on the reaction of UFT reps when the comments above were published in Education Notes, the newsletter I distribute at the UFT Delegate Assembly and online (www.education-notes.com). I offered to tell their side of the story for this article but the only comment was that they came to the school to tell teachers their rights. Ahhh! That’s the point. They come with no sense of fighting back. Teachers are told, even those with seniority and tenure, they must all reapply for their jobs and that half of them may have to find new jobs but “we’re here to tell you your rights.” That’s like telling a man on the gallows he has a choice of a hitch knot or a square knot. The UFT playing defense, as usual.

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