Sunday, December 15, 2013

John Elfrank-Dana Teaches a Lesson About the Life and Death of His School

John does a great job here. I'm looking forward to a Part 2 where he tells us exactly what the UFT did over this time. I'm cross-posting here but if you want to leave a comment go directly to the link at Labors Lessons.

Murry Bergtraum High School - A Case Study for the Mayor Elect

Foreword: What started off as a reply to a member regarding the missing teacher comments from the report cards and their distribution in the middle of the school day- creating much tension and animosity, as expected towards the faculty by several students grew into a blog post. In other words, just another administrative debacle in what is amounting to the most chaotic year in Bergtraum's 30+ year history, and right after its first "F" on the school report card. Or, is it deliberate? 

...I wonder if Principal Almonte did this deliberately (report card debacle)? I can't believe it. I find her actions more and more inexplicable. We were warned in the blogosphere the summer of 2012 that she was coming in as a closer. Notice how she is silent regarding the collocation of a Moskowitz kindergarten coming in Bergtraum, while several other principals speak out against collocations. Were the warnings true? Is she here to put us down?

The solution to collocate the old Bergtraum out of existence, ironically, acknowledges what I have been saying all along - that no school that was sent high academic and social needs kids in large number from half way across town will be successful. So, a breakup/shrink out of Bergtraum can be ONE response to that. Except, in the DoE's plan the teachers play the roll of the fall guy, not its own misguided policies and, perhaps, incompetent/sabotaging school administration (expect a lot of Ineffective ratings this year)
51 from the faculty and administration, out of about 150, left last year. Most fled by getting jobs elsewhere, hastened retirements... The large number of teachers excessed by the principal in June was never approved by the network, and therefore, never official. No attempt was made by the administration to update these teachers- hence many were surprised when they learned in August they were never in excess. Is the principal's goal another 50 to leave this year?  

Look at the action steps from the Manhattan Superintendent's Early Engagement meetings with some staff last month- Inquiry Teams! I could have told her- "Been there done that- the last 7 years." Perhaps it was deduced from the advise of teachers new to the school this year- several attended these sessions. Or, is it that she knows the plan is to phase the school out? My reference to the issue of trust in principal's competence and veracity (painfully revealed in the LE Survey of last year and our own in-house survey this year ) and how no reforms are going to work unless that issue is resolved apparently fell on deaf ears with the superintendent. We got an "F" for security as well. There too, the Department of Education sees no need for change... Stay the course! Sorry to sound so conspiratorial. However, when information is not shared with us, when there's no other explanation than this is deliberate mismanagement that connects all the dots- where does that leave you? Remember, the backdrop is the mayor's statement that he'd fire half of the teaching force if he had his druthers. Add to that the great union busting effect of shrinking large schools - many new small schools have no UFT chapter, and it makes sense for the agenda of the Moskowitz' and other privatizers.

Meanwhile a program that was working - Freshman Academy, and a highly functional department, social studies, were decimated this year. The leaders of the academy and department fled the school- chased out by the principal. Why would what works (at least works better than anything comparable in the school) be deliberately undermined by the school administration? 

The high need students should have good community high schools close enough to home so that social workers and attendance teachers could make visits to several students' homes a day (see details in SchoolBook article). Also, that parents can easily come to parent association meetings and  to the parent/teacher conferences. The school has been a ghost town on these occasionsIf a student is strong enough socially and academically, let them commute to school. Bergtraum could be a good neighborhood school serving Smith and Rutgers houses as well as the Lower East Side and Tribeca area.  You'd have a diverse student population with plenty of 3s and 4s (higher level students) to balance out the others, as well as no one racial group dominating the population. 

Where were the Bergtraums during the 10 year dismantling/sabotaging of their school? Silent and even rubber stamping the closure of schools and collocation of Moskowitz here on the Panel for Educational Policy. Murry Bergtraum was a union man from what we were always told. Now, Judy Bergtraum, a Bloomberg appointee to the PEP has voted for the collocation of the union-busting Eva Moskowitz in the school that bears her father's name. 

The onslaught on the UFT members of the school continues unabated. If Principal Almonte believes that an F school cannot have Effective teachers, you will see an inordinate number of Ineffective ratings of teachers under a tunnel vision application of the Danielson rubric. Combine it with the programming chaos this year and its discontinuity for student and teacher programs. The result is guaranteeing failing grades on tests used as part of the teacher evaluation when compared to more functional peer schools. Furthermore, it assumes the faulty premise that teachers have the lion's share of responsibility for student success ignore much research that the home accounts for four times or more impact on student success than teacher quality. But, studies be damned- we are told time and again "instruction is the problem here". Of course, it can and always should be improved. But, we will not be scapegoated for failed DoE policies that account for the systemic setup for failure at the school.

The lessons for a mayor elect intent of changing the course of educational reform are the following: 

Community Schools: The needier the student population, the closer physically families need to be to the school.  
Genuine Collaboration: Trust is a prerequisite for collaboration between the school's leadership and staff and is essential for the implementation of reform. Give School Leadership Teams real power over school budgets. C-30 hiring committees made up of school stakeholders that select administrators the final word instead of just a recommendation. 

School Democracy: Only transparency and shared decision making can produce such trust. The finger of accountability runs up the chain of command, not down. Dictator principals, a hallmark of Bloomberg/Klein ed policy, need to be sent packing. 

Leadership Responsibility: School leaders need to adopt the Harry Truman model- "The buck stops here." Our principal confuses passing the buck for "empowerment" of her staff. She took no responsibility for the school's programming debacle.

Leadership that Walks the Walk: We call repeatedly for our principal and assistant principals to teach a class of their own so they can lead by example; show us what Effective teaching looks like. No dice in the new technocratic Danielson rubric interpretation system. The principal explained all the administrators' time is now spent becoming experts as evaluators. I call them Compliance Clerks, not educators. 

If Bergtraum High School is to die Mr. Mayor Elect, don't let it die in vain. Instead, understand what really happened here. If Bergtraum will be resurrected in a new way while embodying the spirit of excellence it once had, come talk to us, the students, parents and teachers about how that can happen. All we ask is that you give us a real chance at success. 

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