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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Unwanted at Fort Hamilton, Welcomed at El Puente Academy

Here is the latest in Philip Nobile's series of RFSR's: Reverse Field Supervisor's Reports.  Instead of some DOE hack rating Nobile's performance as an ATR teacher, Nobile rates the performance of the schools to which he is sent.

The Principal doesn’t want you in the building.” Such was the frosty greeting I got when I showed up at Fort Hamilton High School last week. Had I checked my DOE email over the weekend, I would have noticed the switch to El Puente Academy. Alas, this was not the first time management has banned me from DOE property.

There is a mug shot of me at the entrance of 65 Court Street accompanied by an unsigned letter forbidding access to DOE offices upstairs without a security escort. My offense: an unspecified threat to Mecca Santana, the ultra-sensitive director of OEO, who substantiated a complaint against me for the one-time utterance of the word “Negroes” in Brooklyn’s Chapel Street rubber room. An arbitrator subsequently dismissed the charge with prejudice and ruled that my black accuser lied when he denied asking me a set-up question about “Negroes.” Text without context was fatal to the DOE’s malicious prosecution. Naturally, I grieved the threat baloney. But when I examined Ms. Santana at the hearing, she refused to answer any questions and her serpentine advocate said no such letter existed. Since HR Director Andrew Gordon would not give me a copy, I lost the grievance.

What was the problem at Fort Hamilton? “You made accusations against the school,” said an unfriendly AP. Sort of. Last March on Norm Scott’s Ed Notes blog I posted a report titled “The Dirty Secret of Regents Cheating Exposed, Part 2” that included the following passage: 

[A fellow rubber room colleague] told me a story about cheating at Fort Hamilton High School. Last year her nephew was a senior special ed student there. A resource room kid, he has always struggled with math, scraping by with 2s on standardized tests. In June, he called up his aunt to lament his math Regents. He was sure that he had flunked because the test was hard and he left half the questions unanswered. To his surprise, he received a 4, the highest possible score. He also said that his teacher tried to give him the answers, though he said that he refused.

I was in good company. The Wall Street Journal had previously cast the school in a far worse light via a groundbreaking expos√© of Regents cheating (“Students' Regents Test Scores Bulge at 65,” Feb. 2):

For instance, at Fort Hamilton High School, out of just under 1,000 students who took the U.S. history exam in 2010, none scored from 60 through 64, while 139 scored from 65 through 68. In global history, two scored from 60 through 64, while 280 scored from 65 through 68. JoAnn Chester, the principal of Fort Hamilton, declined to comment.
Declined comment? Get out of my building. Notice a pattern? Anyhow, Principal Chester’s prohibition turned into a blessing because it bounced me over to El Puente Academy, a small, perennially A-rated Shangri-La in Williamsburg. Check out these amazing statistics from Enrollment: 200; Attendance: 86.1%; Free Lunch: 84.5%; Ethnicity %: 1 W | 9 B | 89 H | 2 A; Graduation Rate: 68.9%; English Language Learners: 16%; Special Education: 21.5%; College Ready: 37.8%. I bet there is no other school in the system with such high poverty and high achievement.

A student relaxes--and learns--
in the library at El Puente H.S. 
How does El Puente do it? It’s no mystery. The school is more like an extended family than a conventional house of learning. Everybody—administrators, teachers, students, and even ATRs—is addressed by his or her first name. This intimacy creates an unusual atmosphere cocooning the kids in high expectations and wraparound opportunities for success. Although ensconced in a drab, defrocked Catholic school, the building has been smartly redesigned and refitted at a cost of $18 million. Three floors of classrooms and offices are arrayed around a short corridor assuring constant human contact. Despite the narrow confines, I witnessed not a single tense or unpleasant interaction anywhere by anybody. Pants on the ground were rare and the F-bombs infrequent. And the kids--polite, funny, attentive, engaging--I’d adopt the whole bunch.

To paraphrase Talleyrand, he who has not worked at El Puente does not know the sweetness of teaching high school in New York City. If I ever escape the ATR trail of tears, carry me back to this academy. 


  1. Does this mean a school can block your rotation? And if so I'm glad we have tenure....what if we piss-off the wrong person?

  2. Yes, I seem to be good at pissing off certain people. The truth and transparency hurts those who are in the profession to just make a career for themselves. I am expecting to be barred from a few schools who have traumatized me in the past. Blog posts exposing the truth can get you into trouble.

    I encountered a similar environment in ICE though the poverty rate and ethnic makeup of the students is different. Very relaxed, supportive place for kids to be. The principal is doing something right. The same quality of teaching happens in the "bad" schools, so those of you who want to degrade teachers, it is about the student more than anyone wants to admit.

  3. Great post, Tom! I love how so many people in DOE land are afraid to be objective and say what is going on. Didn't these people ever hear of freedom of speech?

    So true, it is about the quality of kid at a school, not quality of adult.

    As an ATR, I love when you slip up based solely on a mistake of not knowing where you're supposed to be b/c each school's schedule is different.

    I was at a repeat school and got the days of extended day wrong and was told by the principal,'well, how would you like if i called downtown and said I don't want you back?' My response was,'go ahead. would you like my phone?'

    I then had to listen to a 5 minute diatribe how so many of her staff members stay late to which I replied,'aren't they the cat's meow?' suffice to say, that did not go over well