2010-12-10 / Columnists

School Scope

Black and Bloom
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott I can fill an entire edition of The Wave with new chancellor Cathie Black-related stories and in fact my blog has been overflowing, along with the blogs of NYC teachers. So the process of choosing what to share for my twice monthly column is almost painful. I’ve been attending rallies and meetings of parent and teacher groups. A Brooklyn parent has filed a lawsuit over State Ed commissioner David Steinberg’s granting her a waiver – no one in the know is buying “Black’s deputy is an educator” line. As we hit deadline we have an exclusive report that activist lawyer Norman Siegel will file another lawsuit. I will be covering the press conference for The Wave and should have a report next week.

Cathie Black’s placement on the board of Harlem Village Academy as a way to get her ed creds – despite the fact that she didn’t attend any meetings – has focused attention on this scandalous school and its relation to the BloomKlein corrupt running of the NYCDOE. This school has been lauded nationally. So naturally school founder Deborah Kenney takes home $450,000 for managing 450 students. HVA loses 32 percent of their students between 6th and 8th grades and there is vast teacher turnover. Bloomberg has called the school a national “poster child” for school reform. Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave $5 million. The charter school scam in full flower.

The average class size at Kent boarding school, the school Black sent her own kids to, is 12. It is ironic that Bill Gates and other ed deformers attack teacher longevity and credentials and among Black’s first statements in public she complains about LIFO – Last in first out for teachers who might be laid off. Yet Kent advertizes: “Many of our faculty have advanced degrees and our average tenure is more than a dozen years.”

My pal NYC Educator manages to say in a few words what takes me a book:

Well, Cathie Black’s been let out of her cage after a good two weeks of Sarah Palinizing and what insights has she gleaned in the hour or two she spent in public schools? Looks like she’s fixing to fire teachers. There’s no better way, apparently, to help city children than by firing their teachers. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates have determined larger class sizes are the way to go, and Cathie is gonna help them get their wish....she wants to get rid of last in first out. Since she’s already determined to fire people, why not go after the older and higher-paid teachers? That would put a bigger dent in the bottom line. And then she wouldn’t have to bother with any of that nasty due process in that inconvenient tenure law. Oh, she wants to get rid of that, too. Perish forbid any American worker should have job security. Cathie Black agrees with everything Joel Klein did. That’s fine with me. Let her go after teachers for nonsense.

There’s a reason teachers need tenure, and that’s to protect us from demagogues like Cathie Black, who get into education for two weeks and have the audacity to behave as though they’re experts. I wouldn’t want her teaching my kid. Fortunately, she isn’t licensed to teach, and they aren’t yet handing out waivers for that.

I’ll leave the Black story for this edition of School Scope but I hope you get a chance to read my “exclusive” interview with Black in the November 19 edition of my blog.

Beach Channel and other schools are on the closing block again

Howie Schwach has been on this story so all I’ll add is this December 6 report from parent activist and class size reduction activist Leonie Haimson:

Today, in justifying the eleven school closings, with more to come, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg made the following statement: Year after year, even as we provided extra help and support, these schools simply have not gotten the job done for children.” Did they ever try systematically reducing class size? No. Most of these students at these schools continue to suffer from overly large classes that far exceed the state average of twenty students per class, as well as the goals in the city’s mandated class size reduction plan. In fact, class sizes have risen sharply in most of the schools slated for closure. For example, check out the increases in class size [INCLUDE GRAPH] at Beach Channel High school, one of the schools on today’s list of closures, which have occurred despite a promise from the DOE to make specific reductions at this school in return for hundreds of millions of dollars in Contract For Excellence funds. As Sternberg said, “…we cannot afford to let schools continue to fail students when we know we can do better.” Most parents and teachers would agree. The Department of Education’s stubborn refusal to follow the law and to allow the students at these schools to have their best chance to succeed is unconscionable, and set up these schools for failure.

Let’s remind everyone that the UFT helped sell Beach Channel down the river through its deal with Klein to allow a new school to open and help drain the freshman class.

Survival, Rockaway Style: Debuting in “The Odd Couple”

I’ve got an idea for a new reality TV show. Throw eight people onto an island – or a peninsula – and they must survive by putting on a performance of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” Even better, toss in one 65-year-old guy who has never performed before amidst a sea of veteran actors and see how long he can go before you have to call 911. Well, I did survive my acting debut playing Vinnie the card player, the whining, hen-pecked husband – true typecasting other than the part that Vinnie always wins at poker – last Friday night at the Rockaway Theatre Company production of “The Odd Couple.“ Lucky for me that in this version of Survival an actor doesn’t get voted off the island after each performance. “You mean I have to come back tomorrow and do it again?“ I asked Well, three performances down and six to go. Would I do it again? Ask me after the closing performance on December 19.

I could do an entire column – and may just do so when the run of the play is over – on this experience, one of the most challenging I have undertaken. “Norm, you were a teacher/ performer for so many years and you have spoken in public so often,” people tell me. “So what’s the big deal?”

Appearing on stage and being responsible to the other actors to know your lines and respond on cue is one awesome responsibility. The fact that I have watched in wonder while video taping every show at the RTC over the last four years and have seen production after production worthy of Broadway was more than intimidating. I have watched my fellow actors on stage in various roles over the years and despite being a newbie they made me feel right at home.

The directors, Michael Wotypka (whom I’ve known for years as a fellow teacher activist) and Peggy Page, have been fabulous to work with, as have all the other behind-the-scenes people like the wonderful stage manager, Nora Coughlin, and her assistant, Jodee Timpone ((both NYC teachers in real life). Wasn’t it just a few months ago that I saw Jodee do an amazing job as the lead actress in “Cactus Flower?”

Now she is serving me coffee backstage. The theater world can certainly turn reality upside down.

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