2008-02-08 / Columnists

School Scope

Queen Bee Meets Queen Bee
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott There's a story floating around about a recent visit that UFT President Randi Weingarten made to PS 106 in Rockaway to address the issue of whether Principal Marcella Sills deserves designation as one of the UFT's top ten "Principals from Hell."

Weingarten was not happy when she was forced to go all the way upstairs in the old school building to sign in, Sills' way of showing Randi who was the boss.

Weingarten said she was going to complain about the way Sills treats teachers (and most other people) to good buddy Kathy Cashin, who appointed Sills.

Lot of good that will do since Cashin is currently fairly powerless (we'll see where she stands when the post BloomKlein smoke clears) while running a Learning Support Network where she has to hustle to get client schools.

At least one teacher at the school claims there are records of observations in her folder signed by her that never took place, and that she never signed.

If you believe the stories going around the school community, there may well be more than one teacher involved.

The Wave worked on that story in June, at the end of the last school year, but the teacher involved, who acknowledged to a Wave editor that Sills had indeed forged the teacher's name to bogus evaluations, refused to go public, saying that the school investigator was going to take care of the problem and she did not want any further trouble from the bogus ratings.

But BloomKlein empowered principals. So, what's a little alleged forgery?

I had my own run-in with the haughty Sills a few years ago.

She sure is a snappy dresser - I guess she doesn't have to worry about little kids clutching at her with affection. I came to the school to give teachers leaflets from the opposition

caucus, ICE, and she denied me access to the mailboxes, one of the few principals in Rockaway to do so. She used the term, "Not in MY school." I should have asked to see her deed.

Ironically, the literature was critical of Randi Weingarten and the UFT leadership. But no matter how critical of Weingarten I've been, when it comes to the Battle of the Queen Bees, I'm rooting for Randi on this one.

Mayoral control, school governance and the UFT

Will you be attending any of the UFT's meetings on the subject of mayoral control? I want to go, but after the last 2 contracts, I always feel decisions are already made ahead of time and Randi will either support it or some version that still gives the mayor some power. - Email to Ed Notes

UFT events like this are venting mechanisms - basically dog and pony shows. The UFT is philosophically committed to a system based on some form of centralized control which they will not be moved off no matter what people say.

Expect some tweaking of mayoral control. The UFT will support Bill Thompson for mayor and sell it as a way to have mayoral control with your own personal mayor.

When you say you are opposed to mayoral control UFT leaders will come back with: We don't want to go back to what we had.

I'm not so sure anymore. The trick to is to come up with an alternative - some kind of decentralized system that will work. Keeping the schools away from politicians as much as possible is the key.

The downfall of the old decentralized system was due to the machinations of political forces controlling the schools where "Dialing for Dollars" was a metaphor for so many patronage jobs. So, how do we minimize the use of schools as a base for political operations?

One intriguing idea is to truly empower the neighborhood school as the basic unit (not Joel Klein's phony empowerment.) Create a fair system of School Leadership Teams controlled by teachers and parents and local community forces. Let them be the ones to choose the principal from a list of people who have been certified by the state.

Form districts by giving each school one rep (or base it on a ratio of number of students). Some plans have an intermediate step of using the middle schools and its feeder elementary schools as a unit.

Each district sends a rep to a central level. The central operation would provide services and monitoring to the schools. They could also choose a chancellor to oversee things and to allocate money, which would still come from a central level. Power doesn't reside on top but at the place where it is needed - at the school level. The devil will be in the details, but it is a plan worth exploring.

The UFT did NOT endorse Hillary Clinton...

..But that didn't stop the UFT from using phone banks and telling people they did.

I told the caller it was a lie and that just because Randi Weingarten endorsed Clinton, the UFT still has rules and no body - the Executive Board or the Delegate Assembly - endorsed her. Only the AFT and NYSUT did so.

The caller said she was reading from a script. "The script is telling you to lie to people," I said. She insisted there was an endorsement. I asked for specifics - a date of endorsement. She went to ask someone and came back and said it was in the last issue of the NY Teacher. "I know it's hard to imagine, but they lie too," I said. She told me she would get the exact date of the endorsement and call me back. I'm still waiting.

How do they get away with using UFT resources, mailing lists, the building, phone banks, personnel when they did not give the members any opportunity at all to discuss whom they want to support? Do you think there aren't a number of UFT members who support Obama, particularly African-Americans? Will the Clinton endorsement without allowing for open discussion, one day come back to haunt the UFT leadership? More importantly, will Obama supporters among the membership call for a recount?

In some ways the Clinton-Obama struggle has elements of the Humphrey-McCarthy battle in 1968 that led to the election of Nixon, with the potential for the younger Obama supporters, reminiscent of the McCarthy people in '68, being so unhappy as to hurt Clinton if she gets the nomination. But there is a crucial difference. In '68, the Democrat Johnson was in office and running an unpopular war. The Bush disaster will be a very strong unifying force for the Democrats.

But then again, Hillary Clinton as a candidate might be a stronger unifying force for the Republicans. All of which makes this year's elections so fascinating.

Obama on education

I got a big response from a piece I posted on my blog by George Schmidt from Chicago on Obama's record on education.

Not very pretty, as he basically supported all the BloomKlein type reforms going on there under mayoral control.

(That still didn't stop me from voting for Obama.) If interested, email me and I'll send it to you.

Bloomberg Presidential Bid Stillborn?

The rise of McCain seems to have nailed the nascent Mayor Bloomberg independent presidential campaign to the wall. Darn it! We were so looking forward to having the entire nation get the full details of his disastrous attempts to remake the NYC school system into a model of a corporation, while alienating teachers, parents, principals and just about anyone who has any knowledge of education.

But this news is not necessarily a good thing for us. Without the distraction, Bloomberg can now focus his attention on finding a replacement for Mayor in his own image - a wealthy business/corporate type who will not reverse the BloomKlein privatization/ corporatization model.

Room With a View: The Queens Rubber Room

I had an out of body experience last week when I was invited over to the Queens Rubber Room by the gang of RR detainees who went to federal court with a lawsuit. They are calling themselves "Teachers 4 Action." Something about charging the DOE with RICO laws - why does that bring a smile to my face? Maybe charge the UFT, too, for non-support. I followed their lawyer in like a running back behind a good blocker. Can a retiree have more fun? Don't answer that! I've run out of space here but I have the full story and pictures up on my blog (http://ednotesonline.com/).

If you have a good story about local schools, Norm can be reached at Normscot@gmail.com.

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