Friday, November 18, 2011
Well, I just finished another weekly assignment and found this once great school is struggling to survive. This large school is in Eastern Queens and has seen an influx of "academically challenged students". Quite a few of these students were pushed out of the middle schools either due to their age , behavior, or academics, maybe all three. This school bore the brunt of the closing of Springfield Gardens and Jamaica High Schools and the result was that many of the higher achieving students that , in the past would go to this school, have decided too go to other schools farther North in the Borough.
This school, unlike the "Restart/Transformation Schools", have so far avoided that fate However, the teachers at the school have seen a steady worsening of the school environment. Too many students wander the halls, especially in the "Special Education" wing where Deans and School Safety Officers (SSOs) are not to be found. This school Administration gave out the most "unsatisfactory" ratings than any other school in the Borough which further lowered teacher morale.
The discipline in the school is uneven. At times the hallways are clear when the Deans and School Safety Officers occasionally sweep the schools. However, where there are no Deans and SSOs available, especially in the "Special Education" wing, where the students congregate and disrespect teachers who try to disperse them back to class. I heard one student tell a teacher to "suck my d**k" and another student called a female teacher a "white b*tch". This disrespectful group that reminds me of school #5 are thankfully a minority of a reasonably well-behaved student body. However, it is a sizable minority and growing and that is a problem.
Academically, the school has few higher level courses, especially in Math and Science". In those two subjects Advanced Placement courses are no longer offered and Pre-Calculus and Physics are only given to two classes. The school has a Special Education vacancy that is not advertised and a hidden Math vacancy.
The school is not in immediate danger of closing. However, they did receive a poor grade by the DOE and we all know how the DOE feels about large High Schools. There is plenty of parking in the area. The staff is friendly and I did receive a key to the bathroom and classroom (I admit I needed to ask the custodian for it). Finally, like most schools I have been to, many of the teachersand AP's did not leave meaningful work to do and the students tend to misbehave if they are not given meaningful work. This issue is an ongoing problem for many of the ATRs, not just myself. Oh yes, this was another school where the Chapter Leader never came to greet me and I never met him or her. I guess Michael Mulgrew's message haven't reached the Chapter Leaders of the schools I end up in.
If offered a position in my subject area I would probably accept it.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I found myself in another "Restart School" and expected the worst since my other two experiences in school #3 and #5 where like being part of a horror show, with the students as the flesh-eating zombies. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the school was orderly and the students respectful. Yes this school has many problems, it wouldn't be a "Restart School" if it didn't, but I must admit my stay was pleasurable.
I did spend the election day doing unprofessional development and hear the "Restart Company" speakers (ex principals from Atalanta, the cheating capital of the nation) tell the staff that they are the blame for the school's poor grades over the last three years. They blamed the teachers that "they look out the window rather than looking at themselves in a mirror" when it comes to student achievement. The short version it's the teacher's fault for the students shortcomings academically.
First, let me tell you about the good things in the school. The APO greeted me with a hello and three keys (bathroom, classroom, and elevator). The first school to actually give me a bathroom and elevator key! Second, the students were relatively well behaved even for me. Third, the hallways were empty during class time and the few stragglers were handled quickly by school safety agents who patrol the hallways. Finally, there was ample parking and the staff, including the Administrators were helpful and friendly.
Unfortunately, this was a "Restart School" for a reason. The students are low achieving as they enter the high school with serious academic needs. To expect teachers to raise the academic standards of "1's and low 2's to pass rigorous high school courses is not realistic. Because higher achieving students don't attend this school, higher level courses are not given. For example, there is no Physics and only one class of Chemistry at the school. Further, the 16 Earth Science classes are taught by teachers who are not licensed in the subject with one being a Math teacher! The result is that few students pass the Earth Science Regents and can't obtain a "Regents Diploma". To cap off the problem, quite a few students come from Brooklyn and they seem to have the most problems adjusting to the school's culture and act up both in class and on school property, thereby increasing the violence associated with the school.
This school, like the other "Restart Schools" I have been in have two vacancies that they cannot seem to fill. Moreover, they also have hidden positions where teachers left on long-term leave and are not coming back. These positions are covered by day-to-day substitute teachers from outside the DOE and not ATRs. In addition, the elimination of one day of Science means that two or three Science teachers don't need to be hired. The Principal is a "Leadership Academy Principal" who has never taught in the classroom and has an "F status" Principal shadowing her.
Teacher morale is poor as they told me that in three years, when the "Restart" money ends, they will be ATRs and the academic ability of the students the school attracts make meeting the "Restart" conditions highly unlikely. There seems to be less "ineffective ratings" in this school than the other "Restart Schools" but still many teachers fear that it will still lead to a "two-year and your terminated" and nothing the union tells them changes that feeling. I ran into the Chapter Leader and he has worked hard to tell the members that this year's evaluation does not count. I believe he is wrong but to the teachers the evaluation system is just a termination process, when combined with the uniformity low academic achievement will allow the Administration to target selected teachers.
Overall, I had a pleasant experience at the school and would consider a position there, if offered, even if the school closes three years down the road.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I was sent to another "restart school" in the southern part of the Borough and found that this school rivals the other "restart school" (school #3) in how badly run the school is. This school is underutilized and it appears that only students that were not selected to go to other schools are students there. The majority of the students come from the low-income projects just blocks from the school and almost all the student body are low achieving and struggling students.
Many of the problems in the school comes from an Administration that looks the other way on imposing student discipline. The hallways always seem to have groups of students walking aimlessly around, knocking on doors, screaming obscenities, and socializing. Even during the official attendance period, the school allows students to come in anytime during the period and require the teachers to admit them in their class and mark them "late"(in the world of the school's Administration attendance is more important than real learning). Students threatened to go to the school administrators when teachers rightfully refuse to let these students in during the last 15 minutes of the class.
The student culture of "disrespect & aggression" was the worst I have every experienced in any school. The students "disrespect" each other, school staff, and even their own teachers where cursing seems to be the norm. Many of the students use the school as a social event and believe just showing up to class entitles them a passing grade, or so teachers have told me. These very same teachers informed me that the Administration pressures the teachers to pass the students even when they don't deserve it. The culture of violence is very evident in the school as it is very common to see the male students slapping the girls in the face or punching them on the upper arm and grabbing them with impunity as if they are a "piece of meat". The girls hit the boys whenever they feel like it and simple assault seems to be the normal for both sexes at the school. The boys dress "ghetto" with pants down to their knees, hats and hoodies. The girls act just as badly as the boys with obscenities and threats in almost every sentence spoken between them.
The school has three unfilled official vacancies and science classes of only four periods a week, instead of the required five, savings the school from hiring two Science teachers. Labs are done in a classroom rather than a laboratory room and it seems that some teachers are required to teach an additional science class that is not in their certification area.
Finally, the teachers are subject to the teacher evaluation matrix and many of the teachers complained how easy it is for administrators to abuse it and some have already been through two of them and are not happy about the results. Teacher morale is low and may plummet further as the "ineffective" teacher evaluations pile up.
This is another school, I am happy to leave and for this school to survive, it needs a new Administration and a zero tolerance student discipline code that is presently lacking. I pity the teachers stuck there.