Saturday, April 22, 2017

Unsafe at Any Speed at CPE 1

I sat down today with people from a school we'll call Central Park East 1, and I heard stories. This is a school conceived in democracy, now taken over by a former accountant. (I have nothing against accountants, by the way. Mine is a great guy, though I wish he'd have gotten me a better refund this year.)

Let's say that the CPE 1 principal had hired a former friend upon arrival. I don't actually see any issue with hiring a friend. Maybe your friend is a great teacher. One the other hand, if six months later this friend was up on 3020a charges, it kind of makes you wonder what friends are for.

CPE 1 has a different culture than that of most schools with which I'm familiar. For example, when the former principal left, the school community took it upon themselves to search for a new one. The superintendent found this inappropriate, and told them to cease and desist. In July, current principal Monica Garg was brought in.

The school held a C30 process in September, and the community, which had wanted to be part of the search, was not notified until candidate selection had closed. I've been a chapter leader for eight years and I've been to many C30 meetings. They're different, depending on whether you're choosing a principal or an assistant principal. For an assistant principal, you meet, make recommendations based on what you saw, and then the principal chooses whoever she likes, regardless of what you've suggested. For the principal, you meet, make recommendations based on what you saw, and then the superintendent chooses whoever she likes, regardless of what you've suggested.

Maybe in the past, at CPE 1, it was a meaningful exercise. From my experience, C30 is a pro forma process that attempts to leave you with the impression that you are part of the choice. But really, you are not. Mercifully for the folks at CPE 1, there were only three candidates. I believe I've sat through as many as seven. I wasn't at all surprised to hear the sitting principal got the gig. It was only then that the big fun started.

The new principal, I'm told, did away with classes, reduced the roles of people who'd been valued by the school community, and did not seem to see eye to eye with the school's mission. Therefore, in January, tenured teachers signed a letter of protest to the community. This was sent out through school email, something I'd never do, but was evidently not unusual in their school culture.

Within that month, I'm told, Principal Garg dug through years of files, and started filing investigations. Teachers had gotten pay for summer retreats. Evidently the principal did not approve. We don't know exactly why the CPE 1 chapter leader and others are sitting in the rubber room, but we know the place had changed. A lot of teachers chose not to return this year.

Such practices, evidently, are a big part of the playlist of city-trained principals. Dump all the vets. Kill institutional memory. Let the new teachers know that they need to take a side, either the school leader's side or the one that gets you fired. And make no mistake, probationary teachers are fired for bad haircuts with no due process rights whatsoever.

Of course if you're the sort of person who does things like that, you might as well try to get the teachers who remain to rat out one another. It doesn't really matter whether or not the person you want them to rat out is guilty. If, for example, the UFT chapter leader isn't inclined to rat out a colleague, you can always send said chapter leader for 3020a, you know, to join your former friend.

And it doesn't matter who says it's not true. Let's say, for example, you charge some teacher of some atrocious act against a student. Let's say the principal improperly interviews this elementary student alone. Let's say the young student later denies the charges to the parent and had wanted the parent present at the interview with the principal. In fact, let's say the parent defends the charged teacher against the charges.

That means diddly-squat to the DOE.  Let's say UFT says it's DOE’s job to fix it. Let's say DOE says it's UFT’s job to fix it. What's a school community to do? What if this school community is extraordinarily astute and doesn't buy pat excuses? Let's say it compiles an extensive portfolio of violations of chancellor's regulations and outrageous behavior on the part of the principal. Let's say the schools chancellor, a Bloomberg remnant, is no help at all and speaks to the school community like they are a bunch of spoiled children, exactly the way teachers ought not to speak to students. Let's further say that DOE sent a person to check things out. Let's say that person said the sitting principal has to go, and the Bloomberg remnant chancellor ignored the advice.

I have sat with some of the most intelligent and persuasive people I've ever met, and I'm persuaded that this school was created with a mission that's being perverted by its current leadership. I heard that one of the very first changes introduced was the introduction of test prep. It's like they want to replace a progressive school, a beacon in our community, with a Moskowitz Academy lookalike.

Curiouser and curiouser. At last week's DA I heard Howard Schoor explain that we could not pass a resolution against this principal because once we do that, we can no longer negotiate with the DOE. That's hard for me to understand. Of course I'm just a lowly teacher, and a lowly elected Executive Board representative, so I have no idea what goes on in high-level negotiations between DOE and UFT. 

This notwithstanding I don't understand this UFT-DOE negotiation process at all.Why is negotiation finished once you make demands? I'd always thought that was how negotiation began. But according to Schoor, the UFT cannot do its work if we support a resolution to support CPE 1. That's why we have to, you know, support them without actually writing we support them. Once you write it, evidently, you aren't really supporting them.

Go figure. If anyone better versed than I in the nuance of negotiation can explain why resolving in writing to support our brothers and sisters under attack at CPE 1 would hurt the cause of defending them and preserving their school, I'm all ears.

Inquiring minds want to know. 
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