Monday, February 18, 2019

Forest Hills High School UFT Votes No Confidence in Principal Ben Sherman, 195-21

It's tough being in a leadership position. You have to really gauge what you should and should not do. My position is chapter leader, and I'm acutely aware I have to act in the interests of members. For one thing, it's an elected position. If I'm asleep at the switch, I deserve to be dumped.

It's different if you're a school leader, like a principal. Of course you aren't elected, but it's important to take the temperature of the place rather than zoom in like a Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. I watched my last two principals pretty carefully as I was chapter leader for all or most of their tenure. I know that both were slow to implement significant changes, getting the feel of the place first. I've had significant differences with both, but we manage to get along somehow anyway.

My source tells me the chapter leader at Forest Hills got called into the principal's office for a disciplinary hearing right around the time the no confidence vote took place, and not for the first time either. It appears being chapter leader in itself is an offense at Forest Hills. That's certainly one approach you can take. Go after the CL and hope everyone else falls into place like so many Stepford Teachers. (Of course, they probably have very few no confidence votes in Stepford.)

It seems like the previous Forest Hills principal did things like hire deans and place aides at student bathrooms and exits, and that evidently added a little order to things. The current principal has other ideas, according to a memo I was sent:

The Principal removed aides outside student bathrooms.  At the May 8, 2018 UFT Consultative Council meeting, the Principal stated, that rather than sit aides by the bathrooms, the “money could be better allocated in other things.” (coaches for tenured AP’s?)  Gangs of students congregated in the bathrooms.  Fights broke out.  Urine was thrown into a classroom.  A toilet was violently smashed from the wall. Students got stuck inside a bathroom.  Through all this, the Principal left the bathrooms unattended.

But the no confidence vote seems to have rattled him a bit: 

 Only now, on the verge of a Vote of No Confidence, does the Principal start returning aides to positions from which they had been removed.

Better late than never, I suppose. Deans are pretty key to running a large school. Our principal has not only appointed more deans, but, with UFT cooperation, also changed them from .4 to .6 so that they all serve more periods than they used to. The Forest Hills principal has a different philosophy, evidently:

“Mr. Sherman asked why the hallways were good at the beginning of the year.  A teacher answered that students knew there were consequences and also there were more deans around.  The number of deans has decreased by 29%.  Students are realizing that there are not adults patrolling the hallways.  Mr. Sherman stated that we have enough deans and SSA’s and that our school is also a training site“ (March 27, 2018, UFT Consultative Council minutes)

I'd argue that it's good for students to know there are adults with radios, capable of communicating with one another, in the hallways, but of course I'm just a lowly teacher. My sources tell me that student conflicts are spilling out into the neighborhood and the neighbors find them to be no fun at all. One might conclude a principal who doesn't get along with staff might have issues with the community at large.

I don't know the principal of FHHS. What I know is that there is a philosophy that pervades Tweed and dates from Bloomberg, and it is toxic. The philosophy is this--we are in charge, we will do whatever we like, and you can all go to hell if you don't like it. In fact, Bloomberg had an entire Leadership Academy in which he pushed this philosophy. Bill de Blasio did nothing to change this. The current chancellor, who I think is super smart and capable, has yet to make a dent in it either.

A better philosophy is to get to know one another and find ways to work things out. Calling the chapter leader for a disciplinary meeting because there's a vote of no confidence reminds me of this guy:


That's not a leader, and that's not leadership. Real leaders are thoughtful and careful, anticipating issues. They know that not everyone is going to like them, and they live with it. They know that when they make decisions there will be critics. Trying to intimidate teachers, especially by trying to shut down union, is a terrible move. For one thing, it only exacerbates the problem, as demonstrated by this very vote.

For another, if you were to be successful, you'd have a bunch of terrorized Stepford Teachers just going through the motions. Unless your goal is to create an entire school full of Stepford Teenagers, that's a pretty silly way to go. It's our job to bring out the voices of our students. It's our job to make them open up and speak. Maybe we can even make them sing.

Either way, shutting down the voices of their teachers is precisely the wrong way to go. There are ways to get along, and just in case principals failed to master them in kindergarten, someone ought to offer a refresher course in principal school.

On the other hand, if the principal is overwhelmingly disliked and distrusted, dangerous to the school body, and reviled by the community, maybe he just needs to go. 
blog comments powered by Disqus