Monday, December 13, 2010

Is Murray Bergtraum Principal a "Closer?"

Most of you have heard about the so-called student riot at Murray Bergtraum last week when the principal ordered the bathrooms shut. A contact there told me the day the new principal, Andrea Lewis, arrived last summer, she was a "closer" – a principal intentionally sent into a school (to supposedly save it) but with so little skill at relating to people in the school community that they would become so alienated they would amenable to the inevitable announcement that the school would be closed.

The poster principal for this strategy was Jolanta Rohloff who was sent to the troubled Lafayette HS as the ultimate closer. I knew someone at the Leadership Academy, that failed Eli Broad supported principal training center that requires candidates to kill a pet dog before being allowed to run a school, who was with Rohloff and when her appointment came they howled with laughter because she had proven to be so inept. (A friend who got a transfer there went in to meet Rohloff the first day and Rohloff attacked her for getting a UFT transfer without every seeing her teach and then proceded to start U-rating her the second week of September, eventually driving her out of the school and almost ruining her career.)

I heard from a former teacher at Lehman HS a year and a half ago that the new 25,000 dollar bonus baby principal was also sent in to be a closer - and last week Lehman appeared on an endangered school list, in addition to all the cheating scandals.

See: 3rd negative study on NYC Leadership academy

So when Bergtraum students organized a protest - we are not calling this a riot but organized chaos- attention was focused on a principal who did not seem to have a clue on how to run a large high school.

In a post on the NYC Parent blog The underlying causes of rioting at Bergtraum HS,
Leonie Haimson wrote
On Thursday, December 9, students rioted in the halls of Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan. The latest straw that broke the camel’s back was the announcement of the new “executive” principal, Andrea Lewis, who received a $25,000 bonus to run the school, that none of the students could use the bathrooms for an entire day – a punishment for a fight that had broken out between a couple of students the day before.
Her announcement led to rioting in the halls. More on this at GothamSchools, which broke the story, here and here; and NY 1 has video.
But as John Elfrank-Dana, the UFT chapter leader points out below, in a missive to fellow faculty members, the anger that erupted last week was also the result of deeper issues -- the awareness on the part of students that they are receiving a “junk education.” Indeed, Bergtraum is another NYC high school in which rampant overcrowding, large class sizes, fraudulent credit recovery, and other learning conditions have worsened considerably as a result of the wrongheaded policies and educational and neglect of this administration.
John sent both Leonie and I this email. It is so powerful that it bears being sent around the ed world, as much for the way that John is standing up for both students and teachers as for what he has to say. What is clear to me - if the teachers could join the students in their activities after being treated the way Andrea Lewis, the closer - maybe Bloomberg should make her Chancellor since he is looking for a closer - they would.
Subject: So Much Junk... So Many Suits - A debrief of Last Two Days...

Many of our students chose to vent their outrage on Thursday in the form of running wild through the halls. A very dangerous situation. Hundreds participated. The principal's announcement of curtailment of bathroom access no doubt precipitated this action. Try and spin it how you like; that's the overwhelming consensus.
However, it seems to me that was just the last straw, i.e. that the revolt wouldn't have happed if it were not for a deep seated resentment brewing in the students. That resentment stems from the fact that they know they are getting junk education. They understand that they aren't getting their needs met by this system. That they need smaller class sizes, more family and guidance support, a genuine curriculum and not some cookie cutter/corporate template imposed upon them like Kaplan. They know that elsewhere in this city and country there are schools with class sizes of 12 or so, with students using the latest in computer technology to engage in enrichment activities not meaningless drill exercises and credit recovery fraud. Where teachers, who are not over-stressed and threatened by U ratings on a daily basis, are patiently providing needed individual attention to their needs. You won't find in the affluent suburbs; those parents would be outraged. They know all this, but they don't know they know it. As Palo Freire, the education theoretician, said that education is making the subjective objective. Not quite objective yet, the junk education is what the students would understand is the source of their rage.
The principal's curtailment of bathroom privileges was perceived by them as a slap in the face, adding insult to injury. It was, I believe, perceived by the students as punitive in nature and not to protect them. It was also ill conceived to create a demand overload situation for the nurse's office; which has many other vital services to provide students. While the principal does damage control with focus groups of students there's also the concern expressed by some of you that maybe she's on a fishing expedition to find evidence for blaming the teachers for the incident. If you hear of any such notion from students that this is the agenda of these meetings, do not discuss it with them or probe. Just let me know what you heard. As in my class yesterday we had a special lesson on student rights and responsibilities as well as creative and constructive ways to redress grievances. This should be the focus of moving ahead with our students.
Yesterday morning we saw a major operation of support by the UFT. Some of you met Michael Mulgrew and myself in the hallway. He brought with him a delegation of union personnel who are committed to providing the necessary means for protecting the students and staff. He sat at one end of the table, flanked by me and UFT reps, while at the other was the head of security for the entire DoE system. Present also was Glen Rasmussen, our main security liaison with the DoE and about 5 other suits from the DoE and our Network Support Group, and, of course, the principal. The discussion centered on the plans for the day and the short-term road ahead. It was understood that other volatile eruptions were likely if we didn't take appropriate action. We will meet throughout the week, myself, the administration, special reps from the UFT and DoE security to monitor and put together a more concrete plan to secure the school. Any suggestions and/or information you can share would be greatly appreciated.
At the morning meeting the head of DoE security commented that there was significant improvement in the school's security numbers (incident reports) compared to last year. Whoa! I thought, would my members really think that things have dramatically improved?! Therefore, at the end of the afternoon meeting I had to call out the "elephant in the room" that no one is talking about. I said that "morale in this school is at an all time low!" That we won't get as full support from the staff if they continue to feel harassed and intimidated by the spike in U-ratings. That many teachers fear that there will be retaliation for reporting disciplinary problems. It's because they feel the administration is out to get them. Against this backdrop the security situation in the building cannot improve.
I referred to the beginning of the school year that when, after he called for support for a classroom situation, the same teacher was told (within ear shot of his students at least) by the principal who came that he's getting a U for not having a lesson plan (forget the fact that he did, in the form of the NY lab book, but was too frazzled to point that out). That got around to the faculty the message: You ask for help with discipline and it will be held against you.
Second, that just yesterday during a class a girl's cell phone was stolen, the likely perp was asking to go to the bathroom, and the teacher, thinking on her feet, denied him. An SSA and Dean were called. The dean was reluctant to have the boy in question's bag searched by the SSA but chose instead to chastise the girl for bringing her phone to school and was going to leave it at that. Fortunately, the victim herself then went into the boy's bag and produced her phone. When the teacher went up to the dean's office to report it, another dean told her there was no need to as it was resolved. Mr. Rasmussen stated that's a Level IV infraction and should have produced an occurrence report. I will follow up. But, I am afraid this kind of thing goes on in the school on a daily basis. While I am confident MOST of our deans don't sweep things under the rug, I have to assess if we benefit at all from those who assist in keeping the school's crime numbers down.
No doubt you will hear the response: "They're gonna close the school! So, see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil!" However, they will close the school whenever they want for whatever reason they want. We could improve the stats (either by intimidation to pass 80 percent or more and/or scrubbing Regents exams scores and bogus credit recovery) or in a real way.
The DoE has closed improving school for real estate to open charter schools. All we can do is do the right thing by the school community; stand up for what is right and decent for our students and staff and be public about it. Our staff must be treated like professionals with fairness and respect, parents need to be parents and provided school support. Last and not least, the students must be given what they deserve; a quality education. Without this, we will measure success though quietly putting out fires and suppressing reports of incidents in the school while cooking the books on student achievement. Such a fraud produces a house of cards. And when that house of junk blows over, all suits in the DoE's army may not be able to erect it again.
In solidarity, John

John Elfrank-Dana
UFT Chapter Leader
Murry Bergtraum High School
I sent Leonie's and John's comments out to listserves and here are some responses which you can read below the fold. But first I wanted to mention some...

How amazing to read this link I picked up at Gotham  - An assistant principal at Grover Cleveland HS in Queens is bringing geocaching to his students. (Times) -  just a day after being introduced to this very gentleman by a very good friend of mine when they both came to see my performance at this past Saturday's "Odd Couple."

And thanks to the well wishes for my dad after the bleeding/emergency room visit Friday night - and by the way - the people in the ER were great. (I Need a Vacation). Today's visit to the dentist went well and he has his uppers with the lowers coming in a few weeks. No Peter Luger steak for him 'till then.

And finally, kudos to the principal who reads this blog and gave such a great welcome to the young lady friend of my cousin who I recommended for a job- and actually found a way to offer her some hope in a very tough market.

Mark Torres commented on Bergtraum
Thank you for posting this email so that folks can get a real sense of what happened at murray bergtraum high school. we need to counteract the misinformation being put out by the commercial media, doe and the uft leadership.

However, what happened at murray bergtraum was not a riot...the students were disciplined and pulled off a non-violent protest in which no one was hurt, no property was stolen or broken, and everyone returned to class when it was all over. yes it was loud, yes it was massive and yes it was effective. let's give the students their kudos for being disciplined and righteous.

your brother in struggle,

Mark A. Torres
People Power Movement
As did Sam Anderson
Education Activists,

Brotha Mark is right: White media and liberals have the ongoing kneejerk reaction to youth of color selforganizing a fightback. Angry Black/Latino youth, to them, AUTOMATICALLY mean wild/crazed VIOLENT hordes seeking to kill whitefolks and destroy property.

It is clear that this did not happen at Murray Bergtraum Hi.

There was a spontaneous rebellion by the students against a draconian rule imposed by a negro flunky for NYC's version of subprime education. I also salute those Bergtraum students for their "discipline and righteousness".

Let's help to see more of this righteous ungovernance flow from our youth!

In Struggle,

Sam Anderson

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