2008-02-29 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Setting The PS 106 Record Straight
By M. Baum Reading Specialist PS 106

Baum is a long-time staffer at PS 106 on Beach 35 Street in Edgemere. Presently a reading specialist at the school, this is her response to a number of recent news articles and columns about her school.

After reading the School Scope column by Norman Scott {QUEEN BEE MEETS QUEEN BEE} and the subsequent hodge podge of fabrications by others who responded, I felt compelled to set the public straight by detailing the pure and unexpurgated truth.

I have been a staff member of PS106Q for eighteen years. I have seen many principals come and go, along with changes in policy and various respective initiatives.

First the facts: the UFT meeting was not held on the third floor of the main building, but was in fact held in the auxiliary building, fondly known as the mini-building and recently renamed by Principal Sills as the "Early Childhood Academy." I agree, all visitors should sign in following the protocol for safety, but be advised that this has ALWAYS been the protocol in the school and in fact all schools in New York City. This procedure was not a new initiative by our current principal. In fact, Ms. Weingarten signed in at the security desk and was told that she was to be "escorted" to the UFT meeting room.

The statements made by writer Miriam Rosenberg are totally false. There was never ANY mention of testing or of sabotaging test scores at any UFT meetings. I would question the lack of integrity of one who spreads such untruths as opposed to the integrity of hard working educators. It appears to most of the staff that someone is deliberately feeding the PA and President Joy Bunch a lot of "hooey" to incite parents against teachers unfairly and unnecessarily. I have also been eyewitness to some unfortunate isolated behavioral outbreaks by these few children who are sorely in need of small group educational settings and are visibly misplaced in inclusion classes. I have also seen staff members physically abused and harmed by emotionally distressed children. All teachers in the DOE are advised not to break up physical fights between students. There is no compensation or disability provided to a teacher who is hurt on the job if said teacher is hurt as a result of breaking up a fight. What about trying to subdue a student who is out of control and is throwing a fit that involves trashing a classroom and in the process becomes a threat to others? The teachers of these children are never the less held "culpable" by administration when they are faced with the challenge of maintaining decorum in a class with a large register in addition to several emotionally unpredictable students who cannot function within such a large educational setting. Making the teacher a scapegoat is not a resolution and it certainly will not make the problem go away.

We are setting ourselves up for failure if tactics of creating divisiveness amongst staff and between staff and parent body continues. Successful schools have always brought about achievement due to joint effort and collaboration of administration and staff. We need to put the children first and stop slinging mud. It is their needs that are paramount. The dishonesty and lying has to stop too.

The Klein-Bloomberg 'coalition' has, according to this writer made more than a few absurd decisions and set some ridiculous policies that have already proven to be less than wise. AND innocuous political brotherhood that determines educational policy can only bring deleterious fallout. All DOE staff members are subject to the political agendas of the administration, whether it is local or regional, PS 106 is not exempt here.

Parents everywhere should be aware that Bloomberg has worked with our school chancellor to train the Newbies who attend the Principals' Leadership Academy to act as corporate execs and clean house of 10% of their current staff regularly. This precept is based on the premise that at least 10% of workers in corporations are unsatisfactory in their production. School administrators were previously known to mold and guide staff in becoming the best educators they can be.

No inexperienced personnel in a 'beginners' position is going to perform in an exemplary manner without the personal growth that develops via guidance, mentoring and experience in the field - not even the PLA graduates. Administrators can be respected for their accomplishments, visions and initiatives and they can do so by treating their staff with courtesy and propriety - they cannot deem respect for themselves if they are condescending and mean to their staff.

In addition, the forgery of a teacher's classroom observations did in fact take place and Principal Sills has recently referred to this blatant act of deception and dishonesty as a "misunderstanding." This example of poor judgment on behalf of an administrator is unforgivable. Is this an example of a proper role model for educators, parents and students? Can trust, respect and confidence grow between staff and administrative leadership under these circumstances? Is it a wonder that teachers who were appointed to PS 106 prior to Ms. Sills' placement have transferred to other schools? Are current teachers being harassed, possibly to encourage their leave taking of the school as well? Newly hired teachers are so duped that they can only deny the truth and thus disavow any wrongdoings to colleagues. This select group is within Ms. Sills' "inner circle." They are treated royally, can do no wrong and thus support Ms. Sills with naive innocence that they are safe and secure and on her "good side." Herein lays the power of dividing the staff to avoid attaining strength in numbers. The teachers of PS 106 recently cast ballots and voted by majority to name Ms. Sills as a Principal in Need of Improvement. This is the reality at PS 106.

Mr. Cantron refers to Ms. Sills being covered with tears, snot and vomit during the course of a day. This is so absurd, it's actually funny. Ms. Sills spends most of her day in her office with minimal close contact with the early childhood population who might possibly get to soil her suits, however with a school nurse on premises, this is highly unlikely.

There has been an awful lot of mudslinging going on of late. Our teachers have been "bad mouthed" and slandered before the parent body. Spreading false rumors about professional hard working staff is hitting me and my colleagues below the belt as well. Sending letters to parents claiming teachers are abusing students (unproven and undocumented) is not only underhanded and deplorable, it is pure slander. This is a way to initiate a riot and negative impressions and it is not reflective of an interest into an honest investigation to seek the truth.

These actions demoralize staff members who are dedicated to raising standards at PS 106.

Bringing in Core Knowledge Curriculum to narrow the gap in the education of minorities and lower income populations is indeed commendable; however this initiative does not eradicate all the incidents of dishonesty that several teachers have experienced as a result of their interactions with Ms. Sills. Ms. Sills has expressed a desire for a "clean slate" between herself and the staff. This can be accomplished if everyone's cards are laid out on the table. Frankly, who would blame any staff member for their lack of trust and confidence in the administration at this point? Speaking your mind and being honest has too often resulted in retribution. That makes us all losers.

In regard to "safety" issues at PS 106, I do not feel any less safe today, than I did when I was first appointed to the school. We are fortunate to have two safety officers at PS 106. If both officers are in place, in each building, as soon as the buildings open, everyone is equally safe. The outer gates are also fire exits for all people in the building.

We cannot scramble around looking for a key that is held by one or two building personnel in the event of the outbreak of fire.

Why hasn't the community questioned the three years of scaffolding that adorned the building when no work was being done during all that time? Why aren't parents asking why most of the computers are nonfunctioning and why there hasn't been any indication of repairs ordered? Where are basic supplies for the classrooms? Why hasn't PS 106 updated and upgraded the school library in years? Why hasn't the spending budget been made available to the SLT in the past three years? All cards need to be laid out on the table on all fronts. Honesty and integrity is the road to mutual respect.

A true professional puts personal preferences and differences aside and does the job to their best ability. We cannot fail the children no matter who we like or dislike in the building.

This year is the first time since my appointment to PS 106 that I remain without an assignment in my specialty area. For years I have been privileged to provide our children with academic support services in literacy instruction and some differentiated instruction within the classroom. This year there are no academic support services for our children, other than standard classroom instruction. This lack of services is harming the academic progress of many children who fall way below benchmark levels for their grade. These children will be sitting in testing grades in a year or two and we will not be able to close the gap or educational lag in time for them to test within even an average range within the grade level.

This is an example of poor judgment by administration where personal feelings precede what is needed for the students.

I know that there are many teachers, including myself, wholly dedicated to the students that pass through the portals of PS 106. I have never seen such divisiveness in school staff as I am witnessing under this leadership. Our Core Knowledge curriculum espouses teaching of the Golden Rule (Do unto others… ) as well as many other virtues - virtues that highlight honesty, generosity, sensitivity and human kindness. We need to recognize that these virtues are applicable to all of us.

There cannot be a double standard here, one for children and another for adults.

We are one community. So where do we go from here?

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