Monday, May 15, 2017

The Never Ending Class Size Saga

Our school is the largest in Queens, and one of the largest in the city. At one point, we were able to come to an agreement with the city to reduce enrollment. That's probably the best thing we could've done, but alas, the numbers soon exploded again. It's open warfare walking the halls at peak times. I avoid certain hallways and calculate shortcuts to make it to my classes on time.

Here's the thing, though--no matter how overcrowded we get, everyone in our district is entitled to attend. That's not a bad thing. It's great to have a neighborhood school, and every neighborhood should have one. We're one of very few surviving comprehensive high schools, the most requested in the city if I recall correctly, but we're a victim of our own success. There was a lose-lose mentality under Bloomberg--your school was either closed for low test scores, which indicate little more than zip code, or overcrowded as Bloomberg actually instructed students who chose so-called failing schools to attend schools like ours.

Forgive me for repeating myself, but this fall we had dozens of oversized classes, and the arbitrator ruled that this issue could be resolved by teachers missing one day of their C6 assignments. I found this outrageous and indefensible, and raised a little ruckus over it. This got enough attention that someone at DOE pulled about 40 selected seats from our school. That will help marginally, I suppose.

On March 28th, an arbitrator ruled that my school, Francis Lewis, along with Hillcrest, Flushing and Forest Hills, was to come into compliance or create classes so as to enable it. I was very happy about this, and shared it with my staff. This was the "plan of action" called for by the UFT Contract, and it was a pretty good one.  Alas, I then learned that the DOE had yet another step it could make if the "plan of action" was, you know, meaningful in any way.

So there was a "compliance call," a term mentioned absolutely nowhere in the UFT Contract. I don't know what happened at the other schools, but after numerous conversations with my district rep, I suggested that if it proved impossible to fix class sizes, I wanted qualified teachers to help out in oversized classes. That is, I didn't want them sending someone like me to help out in chemistry labs, about which I know nothing, at best.

So now, in our high school, there are a bunch of substitute teachers qualified in the subject areas helping out, Sadly, this will last for only four weeks of the entire school year, and will end when Regents testing begins. It's true we have those two days after all grades are in and recorded, as demanded by former Chancellor Dennis Walcott, but I'm not sure what difference they make.

So here's the scorecard at my school--for nine months administration was able to oversize classes in violation of the UFT Contract. Aside from sitting through a couple of hearings, there was no consequence whatsoever. Imagine what would happen if you or I acted in flagrant violation of the Contract for nine months in full view of everyone and then continued to do so with moderate compromise.

I'm gonna grant that the UFT class size committee helped a little, in that my district rep. took my input on what would be an acceptable settlement if we couldn't reduce class sizes, and that my idea was in fact enacted. I don't know if it makes me a pessimist, but I can't help focusing on the fact we lost 90% of the year as opposed to sort of winning the other 10%. I fail to see how this is much of a win for UFT teachers or NYC students who sat in and continue to sit in oversized classes. NYC already has the highest class sizes in NY State, and exceeding them is an outrage.

That said, UFT tells me that this ruling will color future rulings. Will my administration make sure class size regs are followed next year, unlike the previous eight years I've been chapter leader? Will the arbitrators be guided by this precedent, and/ or common sense in the future? Will Bill de Blasio continue the outrageous policy of dumping kids into public schools whether or not they have space to accommodate said kids? Will they keep surrendering space to Moskowitz Academies even as these insane policies are in place?

Keep watching this space and I'll let you know.
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