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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Do you trust the UFT?

Here is the image that graces the front page of the latest edition of the UFT's New York Teacher:

Brothers and sisters of the ATR: Are you howling with laughter? Are you cringing? Vomiting? Smashing your computer?

We at NYCATR have decided to leave the comments about this image to you, the readers.  Please send us your thoughts by commenting on this blogpost.  We recommend that you use the following format:

I do not trust the UFT because... 

Picture credit:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why does the UFT ignore the ATR?

Why doesn't the UFT pay much attention to the hundreds of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve? Why did the UFT promise to meet with them and fail to do so? Why did the UFT promise to print an article about the ATR but printed little more than a footnote?  Why has the UFT failed to do anything about the ATR teachers' lack of representation in the UFT Delegate Assembly?

Philip Nobile has an answer that most ATRs will find to be a good fit.

Why won’t the UFT meet with ATRs? It’s a no-brainer. Rubber- room teachers under suspicion had de-facto chapters with elected liaisons who had monthly rendezvous with top dogs like Michael Mendel and LeRoy Barr at 52 Broadway. They got respect. But not us, all in good standing. We are the union’s homeless, abandoned on the battlefield, disenfranchised by Mulgrew et al. 

A homeless family

Back in September, we had to twist arms to arrange borough meetings. Amy Arundel and Barr made the rounds in October, preening solidarity while denying our right to a chapter. Brooklyn Borough Rep Howie Schoor, not a bad fellow out of the foxhole, pledged a repeat meeting and guaranteed timely responses to our inquiries. 

Would that it were so. There has never been a second meeting and nobody at the UFT will say why. I reached out to the leadership four times this month without luck. On February 1, curious about the emergence of field supervisors, I wrote: 
The DOE's cockamamie plan to observe ATRs cannot be ignored. The UFT saw this coming, but as far as known, since ATRs are not in the loop, you guys have done nothing to protect us. The least you can do now is agree to ATR meeting in the boroughs--just like last October. Howie promised more meetings then. Can you give us a date?
On February 2, Amy Arundel, Our Lady of ATRs, responded in a terse email: “no teacher has been u-rated.” 

My same day reply: 
Good to hear from you. Yes, we know nobody has been U-rated...yet. But why wait and face a fait accompli? If I may say so, it's your job to get ahead of, not behind, the curve. 
The question on the table now is: What is the UFT doing about this development, if anything? You know that the DOE is up to no good with field supervisors. But you are keeping us ATRs out of the loop.  
The obvious next step is another ATR meeting in the boroughs during which you can consult us, your constituents, about our rising concerns. So tell us--will you arrange a meeting asap? 
Arundel went silent. 

On February 3, I emailed my Brooklyn District rep Tom Bennett, et al., about his nonchalant, party-line comments re field supes, and  I recast the idea for a meeting: 
The DOE did not consult the UFT on this arrangement. But that is no excuse for the union’s passivity. For example, Amy’s Antoinette-ish throwaway: “No one has been u rated.” 
Marie Antoinette offers a plate of cake.
You owe us solidarity. You can start with borough meetings, and fast. To the leadership: will you or won’t you call a second ATR meeting as Howie Schoor promised at the first one in Brooklyn? We deserve an answer. 

The leadership must disagree.  As for the courtesy of a reply, forget it.  Ever willing to extend a golden bridge of retreat, I gave Schoor another shot on February 8th:

Now your'e breaking two promises--not only your pledge to have another ATR meeting, but also to quickly answer ATR queries. 
I don't get it.  Why won't you say yes or no to a meeting?

What’s not to get? Mulgrew et al. regard ATRs as an inconvenient marker of their impotence. They surrendered on grievances, seniority transfers, linking evaluations to test scores, and first year incompetence appeals except for 13 percent. ATRs could be next. It’s easier to sell us out when they don’t look us in the face.

Photo credits:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Hardship Travel Grievance, by Philip Nobile

Philip Nobile, NYCATR's resident gadfly, has been complaining for months about his treks from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to the far reaches of Staten Island.  He finally had his day in court; unfortunately, the court was located at 65 Court Street, where only kangaroo courts are permitted to convene. 

Scene: Office of Lawrence Becker, Chief Executive, Human Resources, 65 Court Street, Brooklyn

“Sometimes you like the schools you go to on Staten Island,” said Mr. Becker. “I read the blogs.”

The now visible hand that controls my transient work schedule was playing with me during a February 6 Step 1 grievance hearing. I came to protest the contract-busting, ninety minutes-plus commutes to the borough across the sea.

UFT special rep John Settle argued that such treks violated Article 18B of the Agreement that entitles teachers to seek a “hardship” transfer if their one-way travel exceeds ninety minutes by public transportation. I presented four MTA trip planner printouts proving that my voyages by subway, ferry, and bus to the College of Staten Island High School, McCown Expeditionary School, Port Richmond, and Tottenville were in violation.

Mr. Becker did not blink. He merely asked whether the Agreement included rotating assignments like the ones ATRs get. Mr. Settle said no, but added that they weren’t excluded either. ATRs have lost so much, he said, that they should not be burdened further. Nevertheless, he was speaking only for me because not all ATRs would necessarily share my aversion. The narrow, yet precedent- setting remedy sought: Cease sending me to Staten Island from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. This was the stimulus for Mr. Becker’s wry comment about my hymn to Tottenville High School.

A diamond in the rough 
It would not kill me if I were reassigned to this gorgeous diamond in the rough. Still, the contract is at stake. What if I lived in Queens or Nassau County? If I win, other ATRs can, too. But we grievants seldom triumph at Step 1 and it is unlikely that the Grievance Committee in the Brooklyn borough office would take my hardship case to Step 2. Consequently, Mr. Becker is probably the court of last resort. “I contacted Larry Becker who said the decision will be issued shortly,” Mr. Settle emailed me last Friday.

Best case scenario: The grievance is granted; on behalf of the DOE Mr. Becker apologizes and gives me four long weekends for my pain and suffering.

Worst case: Hello, Staten Island. 

Diamond in the rough picture credit:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Tale of Two Resolutions

NYCATR's best-groomed writer, ATR in Perm, strikes again.

Yes, the progressives are to be applauded for raising the ATR resolution. It had some important elements, such as clear, practical provisions for helping teachers to pursue new licenses.

However, crucial aspects are missing from the resolution:
  1. Borough-wide elected representatives for ATRs. 
  2. Rejection of any open-ended or loosely-defined ATR evaluation procedure by “field supervisors.” (We can't forget Michael Mendel's publicly wondering out loud that the one thing that we could be evaluated on is classroom management.)

Furthermore, the December resolution lacks the qualitative substance of the November resolution.

"Kids, let's make a Venn Diagram."

Resolved: The UFT will mobilize all members to rally at Tweed & City Hall at the earliest possible date, to demand: 
1. Until Every ATR within a license has a position, no new hiring in that license. 
2. ATRs with arcane licenses, or licenses in which there are few positions, be allowed to recertify in new licenses without loss of tenure or seniority. Those who have comparable and valid state licenses should be grandfathered into those state licenses.  
3. Audit principals’ hiring for possible race and age discrimination. 
4. Restore the contractual right of excessed teachers to the closest vacancy in their license.

Compare that earlier resolution to the December one that Mendel and company endorsed:

Resolution on Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) placements:

WHEREAS the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) crisis is a clear and direct result of New York City Department of Education (DOE) policies and mismanagement; and
WHEREAS even though efforts to resolve the crisis have been partially successful, the DOE still has not kept its promises nor met its moral and professional obligations to ATRs and has thereby wasted valuable human and economic resources; and
WHEREAS maintaining fairness and increasing productivity in the city’s teaching force require that the talents of all educators be utilized in service to students, parents and school communities; and
WHEREAS solutions to the ATR crisis need to be proposed and implemented without delay in order to maximize productivity, teaching and learning in New York City public schools; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) call upon the DOE to create a recertification program for ATRs for designated shortage areas and allow participating ATRs to take the requisite course work at the City University of New York (CUNY) free of charge or be reimbursed for the related costs of attending a private college or university at the CUNY rate per credit; and be it further
RESOLVED that the UFT urge the DOE to require that all ATRs be given an opportunity for permanent placement in vacancies in their license areas in their district or high school superintendency before the DOE approves any new hire in a license area where an ATR has not been given an opportunity for permanent placement; and be it further
RESOLVED that the UFT urge the DOE to place all ATRs into vacancies in their district or high school superintendency after September 15 of any given year on a provisional basis; and be it further
RESOLVED that the UFT urge the DOE to allow principals and ATRs at the end of the school year to either mutually agree to have ATRs as permanent staff members or allow them to return to the ATR pool.

Key points on the ATR issue that the resolution skipped over in the December version:
a) Unity-UFT created this mess with its approval of the 2005 contract (granted, this part will never fly, until another caucus replaces Unity's dominance);
b) the excessed position explosion stems directly from the schools closure policy (the urgency of which Unity only woke up to in the last couple of years);
c) the degradation of student programs leads to the mass demise of certain licenses: the student block programming of doubled-up English (“ELA”) and math classes (e.g., 5 periods of ELA alternated with math, to meet NCLB test mania prerogatives) crowds out student exposure to the arts, foreign languages (especially those other than Spanish), science, social studies and school libraries, thus creating the mass excessing of ATRs(ATRs are especially alert that instead of in-house art or dance instructors, these topics are delivered sporadically from private foundations outside of the DOE, and Rosetta Stone software is replacing live foreign language instructors.)
d) ultimately, the ATR crisis is the direct result of the UFT's somnolent response until Winter, 2011, to Bloomberg's tidal wave of school closures. The break-up of the large high schools directly relates to the narrowing of course offerings and the explosion of ATR numbers. (of course, the wave of school closures so far has mainly hit the high schools; wait 'til they hit elementary schools, the bedrock of Unity support.)

I applaud the progressives for their ATR resolutions, Michael Mendel for apologizing for dissing the October ATR resolution and the UFT District Assembly bosses for authorizing assent to the resolution,but I'd like to know which part of the December resolution tackles the issues of ATR representation, possible race/age discrimination in the ATR excessing patterns, the DOE refusal to abide in good faith to a hiring freeze and work to place ATRs in assignments in their licenses, and the argument that the massive elimination of/excessing of job assignment categories should NOT be leaving the system.

At core, the notion that ATRs must wander the system, hat in hand, begging for a position is more of a free-market situation than a system that a union can be proud of.

Picture credit:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

ATR teachers return to original placements and ponder end-of-year evaluations

A classroom at Washington Irving High School

Thomas Forbes, a veteran NYCATR correspondent, filed this report from Washington Irving H.S., the school where his ATR odyssey began this fall.

This week the members of the ATR club were returned to our first placements, mine being Washington Irving HS.  I have traveled to a total of 13 schools, eleven of which were nice places to be due their ability to select students. The tone and respect which are evident in these schools is due less to the quality of teaching, and more to the quality of the student.  I have met a multitude of interesting and fascinating students and teachers alike.  Administrators are consistently distant and contact with UFT representatives has overall been a very negative or missing element of my school year.  The state of the union at the school level is dismal. 
At Irving, the recent announcement of the school being phased out has lowered staff morale. On Monday there was a staff development day and the first workshop was centered around data and how it should be used to help your school.  Within minutes, questions and comments were coming from a variety of the teachers.  The presenters from a contracted organization were humble enough to give up and not push the topic too much.  Staff wanted to know why this was not presented a couple of years ago before their fate was sealed.  The various presenters worked with small, willing groups of teachers for the remainder of their time. 
One reason why this sort of debacle happens is because of the way administration is structured within the school.  A very nice but not qualified person who assumes the role as business manager is performing the role of the APO.  He is most likely not credentialed as a supervisor and should not be making educational decisions related to staff development, curriculum or much at all beyond the finances of the school.  I was disappointed by the chapter leader’s response that he should be getting paid $30,000 a year more for doing the job. 
There are also a very confusing and not effectively managed array of small learning communities overlapping with departments.  AP’s, master teachers, and learning community coordinators all make this administration very top-heavy--a hallmark characteristic of Bloomberg’s management style in the DOE.
Top-heavy management
The real tragedy I discovered is that the Special Education Science teacher I have been covering for all week has been on “jury duty” since September. The students have received none, I mean zero, instruction, and were begging me to be their teacher.  They all took the Living Environment Regents in January and all failed.  I think it is a “repeater” class.  They all passed with a 75 and received a P for their lab work even though they did none.  It would take a strong teacher and a few weeks to get these classes in line.  I imagine these kids will end up getting an IEP diploma if they earn all their credits. 
I spoke about this with Henry Rodriguez, the HR person from the network who was in the school on Thursday counseling people as to seniority and their future employment plans in the DOE.  I chuckled at some of the comments I heard him tell other staff members: missing personal files, where databases are being checked and attempts are being made to find missing information, we want you to finish in this school for the next three years and we like your energy and nonsensical things like that.  He was aware of the science vacancy and his response was that there is not any money.  I just sat there and thought about all the money Bloomberg has wasted, the way staff is allocated within the school and the phasing out of the school has not yet been approved by PEP.  I guess we all know the vote of that group anyway.
The ironic part of this story is that this very personable, intelligent and gentle man who is Principal is apparently getting rewarded for running the school into the ground and failing to enforce any meaningful semblance of the discipline code.  I have heard “FU” being said to a half a dozen teachers this week by students.  Students hanging in the hallways, coming late, and leaving early are the norm.  When probably 25% of the student body cuts their last class or two, and the same amount miss their first and/or second class--how do you ever expect the school to achieve?  It was set up to fail as I posted on last September.  As an outsider, it appears the Principal did exactly what was expected of him--run the school into the ground--and he will be rewarded for his efforts.
The ironic part of this is that this Principal will end up giving my end of the year rating because I will have spent more than 20 day in his school according to Amy Arundall of the UFT.  She tells me this after telling me that the DOE and the UFT have not determined how end of the year ratings will be conducted.   They are making this stuff up as they go--or maybe they have it all planned out and are continuing to run circles around the Unity-led UFT.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Nightingale meets Newspeak

Some ATR teachers have recently reported that Field Supervisors have asked to see their lesson plans.  This is a very odd request to make of a teacher who has no schedule and can be sent at any moment to "teach" any subject on any grade level.  

One teacher, Rodney Nightingale, had the courage (and chutzpa) to contact the Human Resources department and request a clarification. Here is their answer: 

Dear Mr. Nightingale: 
Thank you for contacting our office. Your weekly ATR assignments are generated based on your seniority district which in your case is D11. This includes both elementary and middle schools who both need day to day coverage by quality experienced teachers such as yourself. The level of lesson plan preparation will vary by school, and we encourage you to work with the principal of each assignment to ensure the best instruction to students. 
Best Regards,
Teacher Hiring Support Unit 
Division of Human Resources & Talent

Mr. Nightingale reported that he is "at a loss" to figure out HR's response.  We suggest, Rod, that you go to the public library and pick up a book called 1984 and read all the references to Newspeak and doublethink.

Picture credits:

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 exposé 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.