2014-02-28 / Columnists

School Scope

Who Protected Marcella Sills?
By Norm Scott
Norman Scott

The media seems to be enthralled over Marcella Sills’ magic disappearing act as principal of PS 106 in Far Rockaway ever since the NY Post reported the story a short time after Bill de Blasio and Carmen Farina took over the running of the school system from the Bloomberg/Walcott/Joel Klein team. Remember, Sills came out of Klein’s Leadership Principal training academy to take over at PS 106 in 2005 when Kathy Cashin was running Region 5. Michelle Lloyd-Bey became District 27 Superintendent not long after.

A Google search reveals many articles and much commentary on the story on my part and others in The Wave and on my blog (Ednotesonline.org – plug, plug) going back at least six or seven years. I contend the extremely pro-Bloomberg NY Post had the story long before they printed it. Why did they wait so long? To protect the Bloomberg administration from having to answer questions. And to dump the story in the lap of their successors, whose policies the Post so adamantly opposes.

After the Farina visit to the school people were upset that Sills was not removed immediately. But that’s not the way due process works – both for teachers and principals. Though I really don’t get this due process thing for people who are bosses who have enormous power to affect the lives of students, parents and staff. An investigation was launched by the corrupt Office of Special Commissioner (SCI), which often takes a very long time. With the media scrutiny they came back with a scathing report in record time. Sills must go through a 3020a hearing before she can be terminated (the word the DOE uses).

Most of the stories in the media don’t scratch the surface when they focus on Sills’ lateness or non-attendance. Actually, Sills was performing a humanitarian act when she didn’t show up because the school was a so much healthier place when she wasn’t there.

But then again, does the media care that Sills destroyed or tried to destroy the careers of so many teachers? To many in the media, if not for the time card issues, Sills’ driving out those highsalaried lazy incompetent senior teachers would make her a hero. But we do see some exceptions and once the NY Post and reporter Sue Edelman got their teeth into the story they ran with it. (Hey Sue, how about some kudos to The Wave and EdNotes for breaking so much of the story years in advance?)

The Post allowed Patricia Walsh, a 27 year and special education teacher at PS 106 from 2003 to 2009, to tell the real story. Walsh asks: “Where did the money go? PS 106 received millions in extra school funding to help low-income kids. It didn’t go to pay for teachers who left and weren’t replaced. It didn’t go to the payroll secretary Sills didn’t have so no one kept track of her absences.”

Every year PS 106 was given over $3000 for library books and that money was diverted with no accountability. Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey was informed year after year.

Walsh puts much of the blame on the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott administration. “To show just how clueless and uncaring the administration was — in December 2013, PS 106 received a glowing report. At the time, there was no mandated gym, no special-education teacher (I had left and wasn’t replaced), no books, no art and no extended-day services! Sills opened state exam booklets earlier than allowed and asked teachers to discuss how to read a passage to help students better understand it, which was cheating. When told it was illegal, she had a fit.”

In Atlanta, Superintendent Beverly Hall, a former supervisor in the NYCDOE, and 34 others were indicted in a massive cheating scandal. Sills will be lucky not to go to jail.

Walsh points to common tactics used by bully principals like Sills. “You were either a friend of Sills or an enemy, and if she didn’t like you, she’d rip you apart in reviews. Retaliation was common. When a teacher signed her name to a letter sent to officials expressing her concerns about educational practices that are adversely affecting children in our school, she was reprimanded for more than one hour by two supervisors from the Department of Education. Teachers learned to remain anonymous.” The teacher transfer rate grew to 60 percent. Higher-ups were notified and kept protecting Sills. “Letters began to flood the district office, superintendent’s office, mayor’s office, chancellor’s office, UFT and the special commissioner of investigation just three months after Sills took the leadership position. But rather than addressing our concerns and dealing with the cause, the staff was reprimanded and scolded for not signing individual names. Now see why! Sills strategically targeted and harassed staff.” You ask where was the union? Helpless at best, or joining the protection racket at worst (UFT District Reps during this period: Marilyn Cooper and Marilyn Manley.) Walsh says, “Meetings, letters, e-mails, reports to the teachers union... all proved... futile. Every letter, every complaint reiterated her absence, lateness, inappropriate interaction with children, parents, staff, even falsification of reviews. Sills was never held accountable.”

In addition to Dist 27 Superintendent Lloyd-Bey, Children First (or Last) Network 531’s William Colavito (WColavito@ schools.nyc.gov) and Joseph Blaize (JBlaize@schools.nyc.gov) and Cluster 05 leaders Debra Maldonado (718-935- 2480) must have their feet held to the fire. And UFT District Reps during this period, Marilyn Cooper and Marilyn Manley.

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