Thursday, September 9, 2010

What About Principal Accountability? Bronx High School of Science Redux

Sure, it's all about quality teachers.

Bob Drake responded to an article linked below on Ed Week about principal accountability. By the way, if you go to the link you will read about Leo McKaskill, the deposed principal of Brooklyn Tech, who by the way, was exposed by the investigative journalism of fired NY Teacher reporter Jim Callaghan (who has an article on this week's The Chief). All references to the stories Jim did on the case have disappeared from the UFT web site.

If you search this blog you will find loads of articles on the BHSS situation. Bob Drake was one of Bronx HS of Science principal Valerie Reidy's victims. Reidy had received an honorary PhD and called herself "doctor". Drake, a real PhD made some objections. At some point Reidy was called a "quack". Tee-shirts and cartoons appeared. Students would mutter "quack, quack" as they walked by. Revenge was swift on her part against students and teachers.

One sophomore student was accused of bringing up the cartoon below from my blog. He was threatened with suspension and even expulsion. His parents had to take off from work to come up. He appealed directly to Joel Klein. To no avail since he backs any principal actions short of eating babies (and that is also questionable.) He was suspended for a day. Years later when he was elected to a student council position as a senior he was tossed off by Reidy for that transgression. Nice citizenship they teach over there.

Back in Oct. 2007 I put up this post:
The Bronx High School of Science "Quack" story has been humming as the mainstream press seems to be getting involved after our post a few days ago. It has been interesting following the postings of the kids at the school as some seniors worry about revenge by school administrators and guidance counselors in relation to getting into college while others talk about leaving their legacy so future generations do not forget the "quacking" story. One former student commented that his favorite Reidy quote was "Asians speak Asian." The animosity towards Reidy by the kids seems to be more intense than that of teachers. And I received an email from a parent leader that indicates many of them feel the same. WOW! Reidy has united parents, teachers and students.

Call it for the revenge of Bob Drake, the untenured PhD chemistry teacher who Principal Valerie Reidy hounded out of the system. Drake enjoys a job at a public school in Conn. at mucho times the salary. THANK YOU, VALERIE REIDY! Betsy Combier has a bunch of stuff on Drake and Science on her parentadvocates web site. The cartoon from the Riverdale Review, which has done a number of stories on the case, was posted by the students on facebook. Andy Wolfe in the NY Sun did a piece in May 2005 and we should see some articles today or tomorrow in some the NY Dailies. And check out the blog of a former student here.

Erich Martel was lucky in that he was transferred away from his principal. As a senior (Ph.D., 30 years of college teaching) but untenured teacher in NYC I found myself, after two years of "satisfactory" teaching, on the wrong side of a messianic principal at one of the other elite NYC high schools. She demanded one type of lesson plan (developmental lessons), and subscribed to pet education theories long debunked by education researchers. Harassment came on a nearly daily basis, often by subservient assistant principals chosen for that trait and no other.

The principal stated her philosophy to me, "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way, but I'll win." And win she did, since the NYC DOE blindly follows the will of its principals, resulting in my being barred from ever teaching in NYC again at any level for life. As with Lee McCaskill at Brooklyn Tech HS, she has driven off excellent teachers, some who retired early rather than put up with what most people -- but not the DOE -- would define as harassment.

While there may be some poor teachers in the system, those that do not quit after a few years, and are granted tenure after review, deserve praise for showing up and teaching oversized classes day after day after day, particularly with the reprehensible behavior of students these days. The problem with high schools is the administration, not teachers, particularly the "absolute power corrupts absolutely" principals and their enablers. It is disgusting to see that the New York Times, as you mentioned above, fails to castigate administrations and blames poor student performance on teachers.

Students seem to feel that, as Woody Allen observed, "80 percent of success is just showing up" -- that they deserve at least a B if they attend class, even if unprepared, lacking completed assignments, and even if lacking a pencil. The elephant in the room is the Asian students, who, often despite language difficulties, perform at the highest levels, and now exceed 50% of the students at the high school I was driven out of. They succeed in the very same classrooms that others fail. Might their success be due to their preparedness, their parental involvement, their desire to attend the best college? Exactly how can a teacher, with five classes per day (often with several preparations) and required lesson plans and other administrative duties, possibly be responsible for the inspiration and success of each and every student when those students refuse to aspire to anything more than class disruption.


  1. Teachers at the school and Lynne Winderbaum begged Weingarten and Mulgrew to cover this story in the NY Teacher for at least two years.
    Callaghan said in The Chief that Mulgrew took out his reference to Reidy lying under oath!
    Wow- is our union worse than the Teamsters?
    When you add up JFK (maria colon) and Fordham HS for the Arts (Blige going after chapter leaders) and you add the fact that Vargas and Barr did NOTHING to help the teachers, you have to ask yourself HOW Vargas and Barr and Mulgrew are profiting from their inaction.
    This is beyond incompetence and indifference.

  2. One of the major problems members have in dealing with their union is the non-militancy the leadership maintains in the face of harassment and blatant violations from principals. I believe that the major cause for this in action is the fact that the lawyers are determining the course of action to take. Weingarten started the ball in motion after she became president. Her major victories have come thru legal recourse not by any real militant action. Discounting rallies for public consumption and to appease the members what has the leadership done the past years to use its clout to oust abusive principals? In every case where administrators were removed it was due to the action by the people in the schools, not by the leadership of the union. When the New York Teacher withholds facts such as the principal of Bronx Science lying while giving testimony, that should be published and attacked by the union. It will not happen as the lawyers and the direction that the leadership really seek is common ground. Common Ground means lying down something that has become the pattern of the UFT leadership for many a year.

  3. The non-militancy existed long before Weingarten and goes back to the post '68 strike. In '75 Shanker opposed the strike and then sold it out and accepted the layoffs of 15,000 members, tremendous cuts, loss of preps, etc. How as that militant?
    The lack of militancy comes from their philosophy and anti-left concepts. Note that the most militant unions around the world are left and the UFT/AFT is anti-left and always has been.

    I know this is a simplistic explanation at this point. A bunch of us are reading up on UFT history and getting some clear insights.


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