2006-05-19 / Columnists

School Scope

The Galleries Lafayette
By Norman Scott

Opposition groups to Weingarten will work together

The Independent Community of Educators (ICE) and Teachers for a Just Contract (TJC) have reached an agreement to work together for the 2007 UFT elections. They will run under one banner with one slate of candidates.

Kit Wainer a social studies teacher at Leon M. Goldstein for the Sciences who has taught for 18 years and has been a chapter leader for 8 years has been tapped to head the ticket as the presidential candidate to run against Randi Weingarten.

Independents and other groups critical of the policies of the Unity Caucus-led UFT are invited to support the coalition by running with them and/or assisting with distribution of literature and fundraising.

I have been involved in UFT politics for over 35 years and this is the first time that groups opposed to Unity Caucus, spurred by the fight over the last contract where 40% of the teachers voted NO, has gotten the ball rolling as such an early date. The elections will take place in next March.

Reign of Terror at Lafayette HS

The April 26 in the print edition of Education Notes, the newspaper I put out at the UFT Delegate Assembly, discussed the situation at Lafayette HS in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn:

As many as 20 teachers or more are being harassed by the administration led by principal Jolanta Rohloff, a recent graduate of the Leadership Academy (the outrageously expensive school for principals with a supposed 50% failure rate). The response of the UFT chapter leader, a member of Unity Caucus, has been "My hands are tied.' Our question: Tied by whom?

Rohloff has made so many ridiculous pronouncements that exposure would give the teachers a modicum of relief yet the UFT and the NY Teacher just sit on the story.

The last chapter leader at Lafayette ended up using her position to become an administrator at the school. She had preached the need to cooperate with administration. The staff elected a former chapter leader this year who had a reputation for taking a no-holds-barred approach to dealing with administrators. So far this has not materialized as teachers, in particular non-tenured teachers (who may represent 40% of all teachers in the system) are being told his "hands are tied."

UFT HS VP Frank Volpicella and District Rep Charlie Friedman were scheduled to visit the school (April 27). Don't be surprised to hear them repeat the mantra: "our hands are tied."

Volpicella, upon reading this item at the April 26 DA, took exception to this statement, saying, "How can you say what I will say?" I responded, "No matter what words you use, your hands are tied." The UFT's hands are tied because it has stood by silently while the DOE has engaged in a power grab that often leaves teachers, especially those who are untenured, helpless.

Well, a whole bunch of stuff has happened since April 26.

I received the following email from an associate of Ms. Rohloff after publication:

This message is being sent on behalf of Jolanta Rohloff, Principal of Lafayette HS:

Regarding the article entitled, "Reign of Terror at Lafayette HS" in Education Notes dated April 2006:What is your definition of "harassment"? Is it the supervision and support of teachers? Is it providing professional development for teachers? Is it supervisors and principals doing their jobs and observing teachers? You should define "harassment" more specifically. Lafayette does not have 20 teachers who are receiving a "u" rating. From where did this number come?

I sent this email to some teachers at the school. Here is one response:

The harassment information is a compilation of statements by staff members in response to verbal assaults, scoldings, U-Observations, usually by AP's, all of which were compiled by the chapter leader and turned over to the UFT. Your article doesn't say 20 U-ratings, just that 20 teachers have been harassed. At one time or another, I would say that several have felt that they were being threatened with a U-rating. I think the article was accurate.

Rohloff operates on the basis that student opinion has greater weight than that of teachers, so it's no wonder the entire staff feels harassed. The PD is built around that way of thinking."

Another teacher says:

A teacher was sent for a psych observation after students in one class pelted him with cookies and soda cans- no punishment for the students for their display of delinquent behavior -Why?

The NY Post's Dave Andreatta did a story just the other day about principals' misuse of pysch exams to punish teachers who do not always "go along with the program."

I wrote my own response.

The role of supervisors should be to assist teachers in doing their jobs so they could better serve the children. There are instances where teachers came under attack by administrators before they even taught their first class and they were clearly targeted for harassment (not supervision) as early as this past September. The very first day Rohloff set foot in the school this past summer she started threatening a rain of U's before she even saw one teacher teach. She apparently goes under the assumption that if a school has problems it must be the fault of the teaching staff.

Observing teachers for what purpose? To make them better? How do you make someone better by rating them U early in the year without giving them time to make changes and improvements? And most egregiously, U's have been given because of issues of class control, not minding the fact that some classes are more difficult to teach than others, especially for new teachers. Almost every new teacher struggles with this issue and needs some time to learn the tricks of the trade. They have felt under attack from Rohloff from their first days.

Has Rohloff or her supervisors done more than observe? Have they done demo lessons? I suggest they do that and video these lessons for the edification of the teachers so they can see the proper way to do it instead of sending teachers out of the building for PD. (I would love to watch some of these videos myself.)

As to the charge that Rohloff takes the sides of children over that of teachers and attempts to use children against their teachers, the staff at Lafayette deems her "Guilty as charged."

There are many teachers at Lafayette who have been threatened with being fired and for that reason there is a lot we cannot say so as not to jeopardize them but after Rohloff does her dirty work a lot more information on her reign at Lafayette will be coming out and we will make sure to bring that to the attention of the DOE and the press.

After observing Jolanta Rohloff as a principal for less than a year the teachers at Lafayette HS rate her "U."

The latest news is that Rohloff will not only be giving teachers a U rating for the year but will make it impossible for them to work in any NYC school. For her to assume that her judgment is so final that someone is not capable of doing a good job, say in a smaller school or one with less problems, is beyond outrage. To put such power to take away people's very livelihood in the hands of one person (the untenured are totally screwed) doubles the outrage.

Some teachers at Lafayette have put out the satirical "The Development Times Picayune:A Journal of Modern Educational Chicanery and Quackery Methodology." An article on the recent staff development focusing on the PIES staff development system titled "Pies, Lies and Half-baked Ideas" claimed PIES stands for: Punitive, Indifferent Education, Elusive Content and Stifling Conformity.

Jolanta Rohloff did not exactly respond to this satirical piece with a sense of humor (that's been banned in the Leadership Academy) prompting a demo by teachers led by chapter leader Richard Mangone and UFT District Rep Charlie Friedman (who fortunately did not walk around with his hands tied) in the lobby and a march to the principal's office in protest of her interference in union activities which is forbidden by PERB (Public Employee Relations Board).

Leadership Academy training must teach not to recognize PERB to go along with a refusal to acknowledge there is such a thing as a union contract.

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