Wednesday, November 7, 2007

School Report Cards - Way to go 318

DB comes through again

IS 318 in Brooklyn didn't get an F but a B. Note the item below from Elizabeth Green's NY Sun article on school report card grades:

John Galvin, the assistant principal at a popular Brooklyn middle, I.S. 318, said his school's leadership met to discuss their new grade, a B, but decided not to make any changes. Moving to an A, he said, would require spending many hours on small improvements, moving students who are already passing tests to get just one
or two more questions right on a standardized test.

He said test prep would leave students bored, not stronger learners. "We're not going to give up doing art, music, chess, robotics — all the great programs we have during the day that gifted kids are interested in — just to make sure they get a better or equal score than they got the year before," he said. "We do care about the test, but not enough to sacrifice.

Full article posted at Norms Notes.

Pat D. Teacher and Parent comments on ICE-mail:
Way to go 318! It's a great school with so much to offer their children. Kids and parents knock the doors down to get in. My daughter had the best three years of her school life at this school. She learned to enjoy learning along with the opportunities she was offered in the arts, sports and cultural aspects of life. The staff is very dedicated, receptive to parents and proud of their students. You couldn't ask for a better school environment. These marks don't mean anything but an increase in scores. My school got an A. But so many of the kids are struggling and have a long way to go.

I've had a long-time relationship (I tried to get a job there in 1968) with people at the school and they have always had these great extra programs that attract kids from all over Williamsburg and Greenpoint. People don't fight to get in because of the test scores. The school could get an "F" and it wouldn't make a difference to people in the community. Except that the Tweedle bureaucrats might pressure them to drop things like chess and robotics to get an uptick in scores. They were the first school I got involved in robotics back in 2001 and that coach is now an AP there.

The smart admins, led by Fred Rubino who has spent his entire career there as a teacher and AP, know what people really want as an education for their children. They know that making the school attractive to a wide variety of students by offering great programs ends up raising test scores because they attract kids that do not need as much test prep.

The machine is ALIVE

The long-time now retired principal Alan Fierstein was a product of the local political machine in District 14. The destruction of such machines was one of the major goals of the BloomKlein assault on the schools. I once fought the machine with the original activist group "Another View in District 14" in the early 70's, which evolved into the CSW Caucus which eventually led to ICE. But that's a story for another time.

The machine went under cover under BloomKlein and I don't care much for the current boss, but it still controls many of the schools. I know all the players - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I've been writing lately that things were better pre-BloomKlein (and was shocked to actually read Diane Ravitch say something along those lines.)
In my last few years in the system I worked at the district level in instructional tech support and saw almost all the schools close up. You know what? There was a hell of a lot more good than ugly.

Alan Fierstein is a prime example of someone who I originally viewed as a hack - the gym teacher/coach becoming a school leader type, but grew to respect him. He never said he knew about teaching reading or math but trusted people who did know how to do these things.
Fierstein called me every year to ask if I had any kids for him (we weren't a feeder) and I would get as many kids as I could into 318 to keep them out of the local middle school catastrophe we fed into.

One time, one of the smartest kids we every had (one of the 3 Asian kids in our school) and a member of my robotics club, was accepted at the top middle school in District 32/Bushwick due to the intervention of someone who got her a waiver. When Al heard he put on a full-court press and come September the kid was at 318 and had a great 2 years there, going on to Stuyvesant.

When we were distributing lit during the 2005 contract vote in the Bronx, we went to eat on Arthur Ave. As we walked into the restaurant, from the back came the distinctive voice of, "Oh, oh, the restaurant just got painted red." Al was never subtle. He invited us to join him and his wife and we had a blast, though my buddies felt they were sitting with the enemy – Al is not shy about talking about the union, which, ironically, made him principal. Al waxed, as poetic as Al could get, about some of the current ed policies. If you run into him don't get him started. Al passed the school into Fred's hands, so they've has consistent leadership for over 30 years.

There are other schools in District 14 that currently have good leadership that came out of that machine. Many of the principals were chapter leaders because the UFT District rep who became the district superintendent, the legendary Mario DeStefano (who died of cancer in the mid 90's) was the boss. One of my battles with the machine was how a union-run machine could be so willing to violate teachers' rights. Over time, Mario and I worked things out (he was not very happy when I became a chapter leader,) but that's another story for another time. There are too many another stories.

That these machine principals still exist in Tweedledom, with pretty high marks from my teacher buddies, is a sign that they are mostly not running their schools into the ground and also that the shadow machine still is in operation, just waiting for BloomKlein to exit. (One school that I won't finger, has the perfect principal and AP, both former teachers there. Someone in the Tweed bureaucracy got something right.) Though I can point to some machine-created horror stories (
the first school I taught at has a machine-made decimator as principal and the chapter leader has started working with ICE because the union is so inept,) generally my contacts say they prefer a machine principal to someone out of the Leadership Academy, or one of the other Tweed attack dogs.

The two schools I was based at
for over 30 years have gone over to the enemy and the long-time staffs have been, or are in the process, of being decimated. The true impact of BloomKlein in so many schools - massive instability at the ground level.

Tweedles often believe that in the corporate world one shouldn't supervise the people you once worked with (we heard this about Joe Girardi's becoming Yankee manager) and they have often applied this to the NYC school system, to disastrous effects in many places where a popular and competent former teacher is passed over for some hack.

IS 318 is a prime example of a school community where complex relationships forged over many years between parents, teachers and their former colleagues who they have come to trust as their administrators, can make a school work. It is a lesson that hopefully the successors of BloomKlein, who are simply not interested in lessons that will really improve schools, will learn.

With mayoral control authorization coming up again, people should not throw out the idea of an improved local community control that existed pre-BloomKlein. Sure, there will be political machines and patronage (does anyone think there's no patronage through mayoral control?) But with oversight, a system could be put in place that could work.

Of course, with the UFT having always backed centralized systems, as epitomized by mayoral control, the very idea is impossible.

Read the fabulous review of IS 318 in Inside Schools.

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