Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bronx High School of Science in the News

The ideological battle against teachers takes a real hit with reports coming out of Bronx High School of Science for years. Here is an elite school with no achievement gap problems and high scores. According to the world of Joel Klein and his ilk, since teaching quality is the most important factor, these teachers must be of the highest quality.

Yet the school administration apparently doesn't think so. Principal Valerie Reidy is the poster girl for a vindictive, politically driven administration and the prime example of why teachers all over this nation should dig in their heels and refuse to budge on tenure or any weakening of their contracts.

Joel Klein, who has been aware of what has been going on there, has never wavered in his support for Reidy. His inaction only reinforces the case for teachers. Too bad the UFT has also failed to use all its resources to take these battles to the mattresses.

Today, there is another story about Bronx High School of Science in today's Daily News (see below.)

Education Notes has been running stories on Valerie Reidy at Bronx High for years, in particular the story of Bob Drake. He went to a PEP meeting after he was fired over the famous quacking incident at least 2 or more years ago. He was dismissed as a disgruntled teacher. And a student was threatened with expulsion when he was accused of bringing up the quacking cartoon. He wrote a letter to Joel Klein to complain and he still ended up suspended for a day.

Where has the UFT been? Bob Drake considered them less than useless in his case.

This goes way beyond the math department, which is emphasized in today's story. A teacher resigned in disgust 2006 over the fear and loathing Reidy engenders and goes after anyone who raises questions about any of her policies.


The story of UFT Chapter Chair Mel Maskin has been floating around for years, as in his letter to the NY Times from June 19, 2005, "Uproar at Bronx Science" where Maskin says: There were indeed 25 grievances filed against the principal, Valerie J. Reidy, this year. Maskin was unhappy with the NY Times piece that mentions him and Drake.

Is the UFT totally helpless? That's a rhetorical question.

For all those tenure killers, take a look at these cases. Drake, a phd in chemistry, was not tenured and was fired. He ended up being highly recruited by private and public schools outside NYC and made more money.

When Maskin retired, a royal battle ensued over his successor, with rumors of open interference by the school administrators in the election to assure a more friendly chapter leader.

Where was the UFT? Still being rhetorical.

Here are two of our previous stories.

Oct 7, 2007

Mass Exodus of Teachers from Bronx Science

May 8, 2008

Still Quacking at Bronx High


New administrator blamed for faculty revolt at Bronx High School of Science


BY MEREDITH KOLODNER
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Thursday, January 8th 2009

A faculty revolt over working conditions is rocking the storied Bronx High School of Science, causing teachers to leave the elite public school.

Math teachers in particular blame a new administrator - Assistant Principal Rosemarie Jahoda - for verbal abuse, claiming they are admonished in front of students and have had their jobs threatened.

The percentage of teachers who had stayed at the school for more than two years had dropped to 66% in 2007 from 80% the year before.

"The worst she's done is that we've lost faculty," said a tenured teacher, who like all of the teachers interviewed asked that their names not be used for fear of retaliation.

"It's gone beyond just being an unpleasant place to work."

Six teachers who were in the math department in 2007 when Jahoda arrived will have left by the end of the month.

Five cite Jahoda as the main reason.

After 20 of the 22 math faculty signed a harassment complaint last May, teachers say they were punished.

Four out of five signers received unsatisfactory evaluations for the first time, teachers said.

Jahoda did not want to comment. Principal Valerie Reidy dismissed the complaints as unsubstantiated "griping."

"The chancellor has asked us to be very strenuous in our evaluation of teaching," Reidy said.

"We have very, very high standards. We evaluate and hold teachers accountable."

Teachers say Reidy cut two faculty members from the math department this year and cut its budget by 4% when the school's budget rose by 6%.

Reidy says she was properly reallocating resources and that she has enhanced the department's course offerings.

The teachers' union representative for Bronx high schools says the atmosphere in the math department is worse than ever.

"I have never seen an entire department so unified in their complaint against a specific supervisor," said Lynne Wynderbaum.

"Any time you force good teachers to leave, the students are being hurt."

mkolodner@nydailynews.com

14 comments:

  1. Important post Norm.

    Klein and Bloom want to
    "domesticate" teachers.

    Sickening? The UFT is where
    on this? The weakening of school chapters...the fear and intimidation...testing to death..."merit" pay...teacher to teacher / peer to peer evaluations (inane and divisive)...rubber room prisons...the ATRs and loss of seniority rights...the loss of the right to grieve...the lack of solidarity and union consciousness
    because Unity fears losing power...ironically, solidarity and union consciousness building are only two steps in this equation.

    Anyone looking to unseat Unity will have to confront the political machine and business unionism.

    Our state of business unionism is tied to a lack of solidarity and union consciousness but it is also inextricably bound up with and strangled by its reliance on the democratic party.

    The question is the following:
    How can any one group run our union without becoming tamed by the democratic party. If this cannot be adequately answered...then what?

    Food for thought.

    Peace,
    John Powers
    UFT Chapter Leader
    Liberation H.S.
    Class Struggle Ed Workers

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  2. Thanks for the comment John.

    I think you are asking the wrong question. I agree about the Democratic party but raising the UFT reliance on the party as a crucial point (other than to point out how this has failed us) takes the focus away from important issues. If the rank and file were organized to stand up who cares what the parties are doing? That is where our focus should be.

    If you are leading to the issue of workers forming their own party - I ask to do what? Run for office? Engage in the political process?
    And there are many other issues beyond that. Why not the Green Party? And I would say that some people point to the Workers Alliance Party (I don't agree.)

    Those are issues not primary at this time. Let's put effort into organizing the rank and file of the UFT and hope that is going on in other unions and build alliances with those forces.

    Dealing with the other issues from that strength will change the debate.

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  3. Norm, I agree with you regarding building a vibrant and active rank and file. It is a must. And fortunately there are many of us out there (you and I included) who share common concerns and are committed to coming together to work on common actions.

    What worries me is what happens after a vibrant rank and file movement does manifest itself and wrests power from the bureaucratic business brokers of the union. Think of the TWU.

    What's more scary is how business unionism has evolved over the past 35 years or so.

    To understand how far (behind) we have come, consider these two articles from UFT.org on Shanker and the 1960 strike. Of course, I'm with you on your thoughts regarding Shanker but even he would not have let teachers sit in rubber room purgatory like some of our union brothers and sisters do daily.

    Here is the link:

    http://www.uft.org/about/history/strike_1960/

    http://www.uft.org/about/history/history_uft/

    Have a good day.
    John

    P.S. Sure, a workers' party one day would be wonderful.

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  4. Boy have times changed!! When was it? Late 80's or early 90's that there was a teacher at Science who was a member of NAMBLA. For those who do not know that is the North American Man Boys Love Association. The organization advocated men having consensual sex with boys.My family is close family friends with the principal at the time and they could not get rid of this guy. Makes sense huh?

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    Replies
    1. Who was the valedictorian of Bronx Science HS for the year 2009 and 2013? Thanks!

      Delete
  5. John
    Let me deal with just this point:
    "What worries me is what happens after a vibrant rank and file movement does manifest itself and wrests power from the bureaucratic business brokers of the union. Think of the TWU."

    Let me give you an analogy.
    Today we have a nice little robot on Mars. If I said I was worried about the type of governing bodies Mars will have after it is colonized and populated with big cities people would think I was getting just a bit of ahead of myself.

    We are in the robot on Mars stage in comparison to wresting power.

    I guess I am way more pessimistic than you. To compare the UFT and TWU is beyond apples and oranges.

    There was a vibrant opposition in the TWU. I went to the same gym as current TWU Teasurer Ed Watt when he was still a bus driver and we talked opposition politics. They had no Unity monolith to get in the way. I hate to pull the experience thing, but we've been dealing with Unity for 40 years and fully appreciate what they are.

    The articles you quote were written by Unity for their glory. I mean they have lots of quotes from war hawk supreme who is still fighting the Viet Nam war - Abe Levine.

    Remember. There was no UFT/Unity in 1960 to undercut militancy by using its immense power, money and influence. The rank and file and the opposition has to fight a multi front war against the DOE and its often ally, the UFT - do you think it impossible for a potential leader who emerges to disappear into the rubber room? (we can tell stories.)

    There were plenty of people drummed out of the system under Shanker. My district was contolled by the UFT and almost all principals were former chapter leaders and Unity. No rubber rooms but do you think there were many grievances filed?
    It was not about whether Shanker would have stopped the rubber rooms. There were none because he and the DOE were partners. Klein broke the 30 year agreement and Randi has been begging to get back in.

    As for business unionism we've been hearing about that for umpteen years. We agree but what does that mean to the rank and file?

    One more point on wresting power. I think even thinking in those terms and giving people the impression it is possible in the near future leads to dissolution and discouragement among the non-political activists. This is a long haul and there are a lot of short term goals to aim for before even addressing the big question.

    As for a workers party- I bet there are a lot of different groups out there with very different views of wha it is and how this comes about - and many of them are active in the UFT. That ought to lead to a fun discussion.

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  6. Those of us who have been battling the Klein attack on tenure for over 5 years know all too well where the UFT is on this. THEY ARE IN ON IT!!! PIP, the NYSUT lawyers, district people, are all part of the collusion.

    WHY DON'T YOU PEOPLE GET IT?????/

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  7. Hi Norm,
    Last comment for me. My kids are actually sleeping so I have a minute.

    Excuse the numbers:

    1. I like analogies like you gave. Can't help it...I'm an English teacher. But it falls short because you failed to include who financed the putting of the robots on Mars. Clearly they'd have a vested interest and the power to create the society that they saw fit to make.

    2. We are worlds away from the TWU in terms of union consciousness...no doubt...plus they have more effectiveness in terms of withholding their labor power...my point was this...The current TWU leadership was once the vibrant rank and file opposition and look what happened when Toussaint and his boys came into power.

    3. Like I said, I agree with you on Shanker and yes the UFT was young and forming...I included it as a "can you imagine some of their militant actions now?"

    Be Well,
    John

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  8. I want to clarify a few things with regard to my tenure at Bronx Science:

    I was recruited to teach at Bronx Science in January, 2003, by AP Martha Szporn, one of the finest administrators I have ever worked with, after teaching at MS/HS 146 in Riverdale. Ms. Szporn retired that summer after recommending me to become a college mentor for seniors. The following September Annelisse Falzone became AP. While Ms. Falzone exhibited the patience of Job, she was not as bright as Ms. Szporn and was clearly in Ms. Reidy's pocket. The 2003-2004 year was The Best. I loved the job as Mentor and had great success getting kids in great schools. That summer I was hired by the New Teacher program to teach new teachers at MLK HS after a number of training sessions. That assignment went well, with high evaluations.

    In September, 2004, things started off very wrong. I was assigned NO chemistry courses to teach, teaching multiple sections of freshman Research Literacy. Almost immediately I started getting "U" observations. In January, 2005, Ms. Reidy demanded that I resign as a mentor or be charged with dereliction of duty. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way, but I will win," she said. She did. When I was removed she had to give me a chemistry course. On one level I felt like Br'er Rabbit being tossed into the briar patch, but I had worked the hard, fall semester as mentor, and was denied the easier spring semester, and, since my replacement refused to help the seniors I had initiated, I continued to mentor them as I taught.

    After one observation I was told that it had been the worst lesson Reidy had ever heard in 27 years. Convinced that it, when written up, would be my 4th "U" I went on the offensive. I stood in front of the school on the public sidewalk -- Reidy would claim in my hearing that I was on school property -- and passed out bright yellow flyers and round pins branding "Dr." Reidy as a quack to parents attending a PA meeting -- the No Quack campaign had started. Some students took flyers and buttons. More flyers and buttons were created. We got in the papers and on TV. It drove Val Reidy crazy. (Ultimately that "worst" class was deemed to be "marginally satisfactory" -- go figure! But the die was already cast.)

    The pressures of the job made me very ill. I was diagnosed with diabetes, a pre-cancerous esophagus, and dangerously high blood pressure. I left school on the last day to go to the doctor and never went back. I left a PowerBook computer, antique slide rules belonging to my father, a custom walnut Go board, and several thousand dollars of equipment there that I never got back. Reidy refused to answer my letters.

    I found a job on Long Island with a miserably expensive commute and a pompous boss who, like Reidy, presumed he knew more chemistry than I did. I left in early April for a job in Connecticut and have been in that job since, making the highest salary in the district. I was not recruited for it, however, and my private school experience predated my public school teaching in Riverdale.

    Throughout my Bronx Science situation, Dr. Mel Maskin, the UFT Rep was a godsend, a brilliant strategist, a true mensch, who enraged Reidy while always behaving professionally. Mel, Helen Kellert, a BHSS English teacher, Van Caplan, a former BHSS physics teacher, and Tehilla Reiser, a former BHSS chem teacher, came to my aid in my final hearing during which Reidy and Falzone lied over and over. In that meeting I was represented by David Moskowitz of the UFT Bronx Office. Dave believed in me, and presented a magnificently cogent defense. One of the DOE people on the committee commiserated with me, but ultimately voted against me, as she was required to do.

    Aside from Dave Moskowitz I found the UFT to be ineffectual. The Bronx Office, in its monstrously extravagant building, started to pressure Dave to cut costs, and started denying him expenses for his commute from Peekskill into the city nearly every day. I was horrified that they could treat such a dedicated rep so shoddily.

    My final letter from the city stated that I was being placed on a lifetime no-hire list. It was signed by a stand-in for the actual official, and even his signature was initialed by a subordinate. A career in NYC ended by a sub of a sub. How typical!

    Yes, I went to a PEP meeting and accosted Mr. Klein, standing proudly at the side of Ed Farrell whose own un-amplified voice shook the rafters. Klein rarely listens to the public speakers. For his salary I guess he doesn't need to.

    More recently one of my former freshman Research Literacy students, who felt that the "worst" class was one of the best he had at BHSS, he brought back my "No Quack" campaign to great effect. Its culmination was the senior prank in which a thousand yellow rubber duckies were epoxied to the tarmac outside the school in an "08" pattern. His reward was that Reidy called the ACS on his parents, claiming they were derelict. That harassment ended with them getting a letter from the ACS stated that she and her husband were great parents. Their lawsuit against Reidy continues. Last month one of the No Quack protesters captured in a newspaper photo, a Riverdale resident and a senior, committed suicide with a pistol. Was he being pressured by Reidy?

    Throughout this and the current Math Teacher rebellion, Reidy retains her position, branding everyone else as incompetent and disgruntled. One can only hope that when her youngest son graduates from Cornell soon she will retire and fade away.

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  10. As a graduate of Bronx Science, I would like to set a few things straight. First of all, you are right. Many teachers are extremely disgruntled with Ms. Reidy...that's how it's been for a long time. But as for this quack nonsense, the Riverdale Press and a few other fine publications did a great job of publicizing this absurd "protest" and completely taking it out of context. Here is the truth: Dr. Drake was by no means a model teacher. In fact, when he was acting as a college advisor, he was notorious for having lost several students' paperwork. And I didn't hear any positive reviews about his performance as a teacher. He started this "quack" business my junior year, around the time of AP exam week, might I add, when the dedicated teachers were doing their job, helping us to prepare. This protest was poorly organized, poorly evidenced, and immature. Teachers refused to get involved with it not out of "mortal fear" for the jobs, but out of self-respect. There was no way they were going to sink to that level. This protest only played on the emotions of a bunch of angsty teenagers with anarchy patches on their backpacks that they bought from Hot Topic. They would have rebelled against anything if you put the picket sign in their hands. I had a US History teacher who told us that this protest only hurt any real criticisms of Reidy by putting such a poor face on the movement, and teachers remained silent rather than getting involved in something so ridiculous. Dr. Drake didn't care about the students either. If he had, he wouldn't have started this protest during AP exams, a critical time for students. All he did was make Bronx Science look bad, which I'm pretty sure lost us alumni money, which the school relies upon heavily for many of its programs.

    No principal is perfect. Ms. Reidy is FAR from it. But for a public school in NYC, Bronc Science gives a lot of kids (like me) a LOT of opportunities they would not otherwise have. I hope that they do find a better principal, because Reidy is clearly not suited to the job. But movements fronted by empty, immature rhetoric like the "quack" protests will only set us back.

    And finally, whoever implied that the student who recently committed suicide was being "pressured" by Reidy...take it back. There were a few deaths at Science while I was there. A few drug-related. Really really sad stuff. Don't blame Reidy for that. And you know what, that other student who put rubber ducks all over the school deserved punishment. If he hated the school so much he should have gone somewhere else. I consider my education at Science a privilege, because my parents couldn't have afforded to send me to a private school. There are thousands of kids who would have loved his seat. Maybe he should learn to be grateful.

    Look, my dad works in a public high school in the Bronx. I know that crap that he's put up with from the UFT, the administration, etc. Except he's dealt with gang fights, drug dealers, you name it. What he wouldn't give for a job at Science. Until someone figures out a meaningful, organized way of discrediting Reidy, things will stay as they are.

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  11. Intresting that I am notorious for losing documents when all were confined to a 3x4 foot carrel. So why did one parent give me tickets to Hairspray (Orchestra, Row K), and another to a graduation dinner where they picked up ONLY my bar tab. One mentor who was the mother of a senior, and who wanted to write her son's letter, cried when she read my letter which got him (with his great grades) into Harvard. Some students failed to follow written guidelines and missed deadlines as a result, something I could not undo. I was once told "10% NEVER get the word." Bronx Science students are not immune from that rule!

    Also interesting that Mary/Anonymous got so bent out of shape about the timing of the No Quack campaign because of the timing relative to AP exams. AP courses represent a year of work. If you leave things to the last minute you are going to get burned. I find it hard to relate my standing on a public sidewalk in the evening with AP classes during the day.

    I have been teaching chemistry for 40 year CONTINUOUSLY. I was on the graduate faculty at Kansas State. Don't you think that someone besides Reidy would have noticed by now if there was a problem IF THERE REALLY was a problem.

    I'm not perfect, but no one is harder on me than me. My conscience is clear regarding my work at Bronx Science. The fact that so many students chose to resurrect the No Quack campaign last year suggests that many respected my work.

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  13. I feel that there's a lot of blood bath going on in Bronx even inside the four walls of the school. I believe it's time to seriously considering pursing an Online Education option.

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