Monday, June 3, 2019

LaGuardia HS and the UFT: Late to the party

UPDATE - Parent Protest at LaGuardia at 2 PM, Monday June 3.

I know a number of fairly recent LaGuardia grads from my theater work and they have been telling me this stuff for years and have not been happy but had no mechanism to organize around.The LaGuardia HS alum could be a powerful force but the UFT was the only agency with the money and outreach to do it. They didn't.... LGHS Principal Lisa Mars is an apparatchik - she has that in common with most people in Unity Caucus.  
See Daily News coverage here:

The UFT is too big a player to absolve itself 

The timidity of the UFT/Unity Caucus leadership is infuriating. The UFT was pretty silent when Bloomberg destroyed most of the vocational ed programs and closed down school after school. Entire shops were tossed out in the street.

The UFT leadership seemed to philosophically agree with the DOE that voc-ed was somehow racist - that academics and college were the way to go.

LaGuardia is one of the few trade schools left where skills trumped academics. That doesn't make it an easy school to manage - many of the students are flamboyant and "active." So Lisa Mars was sent in by Farina to tighten it up and raise the academic standing at the expense of the talent. This is right in line with the policies of the past 2 decades. 

There are people in the UFT taking background credit for the no confidence votes at LaGuardia and Forest Hills HS - two schools with Unity Caucus chapter leaders. And one thing we know about Unity CLs - they won't make a serious move against a principal without top-level UFT approval. 

This was a comment on the ICEUFT blog (LA GUARDIA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS PROTEST; TEACHERS VOTE NO CONFIDENCE IN PRINCIPAL) that defended the actions of the UFT:
The UNION members in the school are the ones who were pursuing the No-confidence. The UFT have been involved the entire time, but they do not control the administrators, that would be the DOE. The DOE has know about this principal for years, and they do/did nothing, including ignoring high up UFT people complaining about what is going on. The anti-union trolls should not post about this, LaGuardia is a UNION school.
I responded to the Unity apologist:  

What a crock. This is not new. Ed Notes has been reporting on the LaGuardia story for years so this is an old story.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016: Stop La Guardia HS for Arts Principal Lisa Mars From Changing Culture of School

Wednesday, January 11, 2017- Update: Lisa Mars, LaGuardia's Failing Principal Gets Tenure!
So what exactly has the UFT done since August 2016 - almost 3 years?

A follow-up response 
 ...Hey Ed Notes,

I’m not Unity. But I’m a member of the UFT.
I’m one of several people who have been feeding you information about LaGuardia (for years).

We continue to fight, but it is difficult when the DOE does not care or listen. The UFT does not control the hiring and firing practices, that’s the DOE job.

We have been working with newer teachers, they know the truth (and the contract) -why do you think the no-confidence vote was 119 -15?

Let’s see what happens now that our school has spent the weekend on the news, in most newspapers, and all over the internet.
How about some positive thoughts for LaGuardia?
The commentor should have been feeding the UFT leadership instead of me.

I have been in contentious debates over the years with people who make these kinds of arguments. And I am sending positive thoughts for LaGuardia but am not letting the UFT off the hook.

My reply:
My problem is that the UFT has a PR machine that is massive. They could have been hammering away for years but didn't. That is the persistent question about so many schools. You can't pat the UFT on the back for doing stuff behind the scenes while principals weed out people they don't want and the UFT sits on its hands.
I know a number of LaG grads from my theater work and they have been telling me this stuff for years. The LaG alum could be a powerful force but the UFT was the only agency with the money and outreach to do it. They didn't.
I remember teachers at LaG complaining about the Unity CL who  pushed the 2014 contract down their throats then lost the election (UFT Contract: Roseanne McCosh Responds to Unity Caucus Criticism) for CL that year but seems to be back. Unity CLs are so beholden to the leadership that they can neglect to take firm actions in the interests of the membership. I remember the Unity CL of Forest Hills HS castigating people for going to the blogs and the newspapers.

In the FHHS situation, the NY Teacher published an article by Arthur Goldstein supporting the teachers. That was a bit of progress. Why aren't regular NY Teacher reporters doing hard-hitting more official pieces on these schools, making it more official that the leadership was not hiding?

Here are the stories, petitions, etc.

Students Protest LaGuardia's Illegal Admission Policies!

LaGuardia High shared an update on Bring Fame Back to the "Fame" School! Check it out and leave a comment:
Petition Update

Students Protest LaGuardia's Illegal Admission Policies!

NBC News just conducted a lengthy investigation of the illegal and unfair admissions policies instituted at LaGuardia High by principal Lisa Mars. These tougher academic standards are causing New York City's top performers to be rejected.
Check out the NBC News report HERE!
The students of LaGuardia have staged a sit-in to protest the principal's drastic cuts in arts funding programs.
Please share with your friends, family, and everyone who wants to keep New York City's arts scene thriving. Let's bring Fame back!

Students hold sit-in at LaGuardia High School to protest reduced focus on the arts

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Students at one of New York City's elite high schools staged a sit-in Friday.

The protest was held at LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts, the school that inspired the movie and television show "Fame".

But students say they are frustrated over what they say is a reduced focus on the arts by the administration in favor of a more rigorous academic standard.

They protested what they called drastic cuts in funding for arts programs.

One student referred to what has happened at LaGuardia High School as a broken promise, that they came there from all over the city with the hope of developing their talent as singers, actors and dancers.

The students say they hope to be challenged artistically, but the school insists on good grades in traditional classes as well.

"How are we able to call ourselves the 'Fame' school where we're supposed to be giving people who are so talented a place to cultivate their craft and be who they are and discover who they are as an artist and as a human being if we can't overlook a 79," said student Jordan Pitari.

"It's a school full of people that want to perform and act and make art and do all these really special things," said student Ethan Laird. "And I can speak for myself and a lot of other people that come to the school. I didn't feel the same creative energy and the same passion for arts as I feel like I should have."

Some say there are also issues with diversity that have to be addressed if the school is to reflect the real world.

The Department of Education released the following statement:
"LaGuardia has a long and proud history of both artistic and academic achievement and we'll ensure that students are receiving the support they need to thrive. The executive superintendent and superintendent will work closely with the school community and address any concerns."

I-Team: Top Performers Denied at Top NYC Arts School Due to New Academic Standards

The new policies are sparking a debate among staff, students and alumni: Do audition scores now play second fiddle to academics? And should they?

At the city’s top performing arts high school – Fiorello H. LaGuardia – auditions have traditionally mattered most. But numerous insiders said new, tougher academic standards at the Lincoln Center area school are causing some of the city’s most talented performers to be rejected.
The new policies are sparking a debate among staff, students and alumni: Should and do audition scores now play second fiddle to academics?
Nataly Santiago is a talented dancer. At age 19, she now performs with pop-star Janet Jackson. Her mission as a child was to get into LaGuardia.
“I had my heart set on it. I just kept training,” Santiago said.

But when she got that crucial letter from LaGuardia, there was bad news.
“I was denied at LaGuardia and my heart sank to my stomach. Like it was like a god-awful feeling,” Santiago said. 
Sources inside LaGuardia tell the I-Team that in 2014, Santiago scored a “100” in her audition — a perfect score. Several students and faculty said a middle school student getting a perfect audition score is like winning a medal at the Olympics — a tremendous accomplishment and a sign of potential greatness.
Santiago did not know her score until News 4 told her.
 “I knew that I did really, really well," she said. "I didn't think that I did you know, that well to score 100 a perfect score."
LaGuardia school is led by its principal — Dr. Lisa Mars. Mars now has tougher academic standards for acceptance, one not required by principals of the past.
Insiders at LaGuardia said if a middle school student has a 79 or lower in English, math, science or social studies, they’re not even considered. In cases like Santiago's, even if a student scores a perfect 100 in the critical audition.
At LaGuardia, the new standards also count absences and tardiness in middle school.
Santiago said her grades were good but she had been in a traveling musical for the department of education so missed multiple days of school. 
“I remembered that I had 10 absences and that's when I was like, it has to be that. And if it's that, it's unfortunate,” she said.
LaGuardia is known as the “Fame” high school, based on the hit 1980 film that chronicled the life of student performers.
New York state founded the school with its emphasis on growing the performing arts. Famous graduates include Robert DeNiro, Liza Minnelli, Nicki Minaj and actor-performer Ben Vereen, who took issue with the new standards.
“Don’t do that,” Vereen told the NBC 4 I-Team. “Don’t do that to our young people. Please.” He added, “I’m begging LaGuardia to forget this system and go back to the original foundation.”
Fairness of admission policies at elite high schools in New York City has been raging amid admission questions of race, fairness, and equal opportunity. At schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, a single academic test score is critical to the application process.
But LaGuardia was founded under a state law known as Calandra-Hecht, which states that acceptance into the performing arts school requires academic evidence of “satisfactory achievement.”
Vereen said the mission of the school is “… to help, empower our young people. To give them the tools that they need in order to live a wonderful, creative, prosperous life.”
Mars took office in 2013 and installed the stricter requirements. Insiders said Mars implemented a complicated point system based on grades, state test scores, attendance and tardiness. However, if any student has a 79 or lower in any of those core subjects, he or she is denied.
Vereen is critical of the new admission policy. For him, he said it was his talent, not his grades, that took him from Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn to LaGuardia high and future stardom.
“If this standard was in place when I was a student, I would never have made it,” he said. Vereen added, “When I came to school I had a third-grade reading average.”
Choreographer Anthony Rue II, also known as Antboogie, has performed with Jay-Z, P-Diddy and Madonna. He auditioned for LaGuardia in 1995. With the murder of his sister that year, his grades suffered.
“There was no way I was making it in. There's no way,“ Rue recalled.
But he said he caught a break when a dance teacher saw his talent first, his grades second.
“And I was just so happy that I was given the opportunity to actually get a second chance to be in the school,” said Rue. “We came to the agreement and they allowed me to start the next day as an enrolled student.”
The Department of Education overview stresses LaGuardia’s dual mission is providing a “balanced educational experience that includes both conservatory-style training and a rigorous, comprehensive academic program,” adding that graduates go on “to distinguish themselves 'in every field' – not just the arts.”
The racial makeup of LaGuardia had remained relatively constant since the change in admission rules. Department of Education statistics show whites and Asians combined make up 66 percent of the school. Latinos make up about 17 percent and blacks comprise about 10 percent of the student body.
Mars declined repeated requests for an interview.
Outside LaGuardia, several talented students approached the I-Team to say they felt bad for some great artists they know who did not get in, compared to other performers with better grades who did get in.
“It’s just very unfair because then we may not have a kid who is into it, they may not have the initiative,” said Jarret Benjamin.
Gideon Asumeng said, “I had a friend who was amazing and we both auditioned at the same day and she didn’t get in. Why? Because she had one C.”
Zoe Dillon also expressed concern. “It’s a place for actors and artists, dancers and musicians and it sucks that our principal wants to change that,” she said.
News 4 obtained documents that include examples of students who had perfect 100 audition scores but were still rejected because of absences in middle school or having had an academic score just below that new 80-point minimum.
“Oh man. This is, this is horrible,” Vereen said. “Come on. This is not numbers, stats. These are people. These are children goddammit. This is our tomorrow.”
The New York City Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the concerns raised in this report. As of this posting, they had not responded.


  1. Why are you insulting the teachers at LaGuardia? Aren’t you supposed to support teachers, not slam them?
    Shame on you, you have no idea what is going on there and what has been going on.

  2. Bullshit. I'm not insulting the teachers at LaGuardia - I'm insulting the UFT leadership for ignoring the issue for so long. Kudos to teachers but also the kids who sat in and the parents who rallied.


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