Friday, November 29, 2013
The school I was in for the last two weeks is a real oddity in the New York City Public School System. Its a small high school that is an extension of the long existing middle school it shares a building with. Over 90% of the students come from the neighborhood and because of the school's relative isolation, it's difficult for students to attend the school from outside the community. The school does not screen the students but they informally review applicants that apply from outside the neighborhood. This is a true neighborhood high school.
Demographically the school has about a 50-50 split between Hispanic and South Asian students with a smattering of Black and White students as well. Like all small schools there are no self-contained special education classes even though the school claims that 10% of the students are classified as self-contained. The question is why and is this common for all small schools? There are few English Language Learners and of course few if any "over the counter students" are assigned to the school by the DOE. Most of the teachers are young but not all. The Administration is a "mixed bag" with the well-liked Principal being the "good cop" and his two Assistant Principals being the "bad cops". More about them later.
The students are well behaved and the Principal's "zero tolerance policy" for misbehavior is a deterrent for the student body. The Principal is unhappy with the "career and college readiness grades" of the school which is lower than the average city school and has tried different approaches to improve the scores and improve Regents passing rates. To achieve his goal he has brought back the 5-1 program for all Regents Sciences. Meaning all students have five days of instruction and one day of lab during their lunch period. Like all small schools the students complain of inflexible schedules, lack of extracurricular activities and few optional courses.
The negatives are few but significant. The most obvious are the two Assistant Principals who are as nasty as they are pretty. Many of the teachers are terrified of them and will try to have the Principal intercede and mediate problems with the two of them. The new teacher evaluation system is a weapon in their hands and the staff is worried about how they will use the weapon on them. My first encounter with one was to report to her office for assignment as a "push in teacher". She was on the phone so I sat down, she stopped her phone conversation and told me "don't sit down, I will be off the phone in a minute". Five minutes later she finished her phone conversation and lectured me by saying "don't touch the students, don't yell at the students' and don't curse at the students". Then she gave me my assignment as I stood with my coat and bag during the entire time in her office. Last year the other Assistant Principal told a female ATR the following "did you show your students porn or did you hit a kid"?
Other negatives is the long commute by mass transit to the school, lack of a bathroom key and no teacher's room. The Chapter Leader never bothered to show her face or introduce herself to me or the other ATR and that is totally unacceptable in a small school.
On the bright side there is plenty of parking, the staff is friendly, and you are allowed out of the building during the school day. I would gladly work in the school if offered a position even with those horrible AP's..
Saturday, November 16, 2013
I spent last week in a nice school that is of medium size and is located in Central Queens. The school is screened and is 90% Hispanic. Like many screened schools they do not have self-contained Special Education students or a significant amount of English Language Learners. There are no hidden vacancies but were trying to obtain a special education ATR to cover a recently reported vacancy until they hire a new teacher (newbie?) sometime in the future.
The school treats their ATRs with respect and were receptive to the ATR rights. The only issue was that ATRs were not allowed to park in their garage even when the ATR was covering an absent teacher who had an assigned parking spot! Not nice if you ask me. A definite case of disparate treatment.Therefore, parking on the street on Monday and Tuesday is an issue. Another negative is that the school has no Chapter Leader and nobody wants the responsibility. Another big negative is lack of a real gym or outdoor facilities for sports and no computers in the teacher's room. Finally, the school gets approximately 50 over the counter (OTC) students and they stand out like a sore thumb in this screened school. During my week there the other teachers were talking about problem students and it turns out that they were almost all OTC students placed in the school by the DOE.
While the school is screened its puzzling that they cannot attract White and East Asian students to the school considering what it's specialty is and the easy access to neighborhoods with large percentages of these two demographic groups but I wasn't there long enough to get that information. Like most schools the classes have rosters of 34 students and the undersized rooms are cramped which accounts for the higher than normal noise level in the classrooms. In some classes the teacher has to give up their chair and desk so that the student has a place to do their work. These classrooms should have no more than 25 students as far as I am concerned. Despite some of these disadvantage the students are generally well-behaved and respectful primarily because it is a screened school.
The school is a nice place to work in with a supportive administration and experienced teachers and if they gave me a parking space I definitely would take a position at the school.
Friday, November 8, 2013
The school I was in this week was a small school. However, unlike the Bloomberg small schools, the Administration worked hard to make me feel welcomed and the experienced staff treated me as one of them. As you can guess this small school was created before Mayor Bloomberg was the Mayor and is very different from the many other small schools that I have been traveling through. This school did not replace a large school but was created as an extension of a college located across the street. The students were well-behaved and there was a real connection between the students and teachers. More importantly, the class sizes were small 20-25 for most classrooms.
The school is screened with only high 2's and 3's with no discipline problems selected and are accepted to the college when they graduate. Few, if any, over the counter students are assigned to the school. There are no self-contained Special Education students or English Language Learners in the school like most of the small schools in Queens. The school is somewhat diverse with 75% being Latino with minorities of Asian, White, and Black students making up the rest of the student population. The curriculum is somewhat limited as in all small schools and Social Studies teachers teach Physical Education and Health because many of the students take college freshman courses in history at the college. Unlike many schools, this school did not have any hidden vacancies.
This school is one of the handful of schools that do not give Regents but requires a student portfolio instead. This allows the teachers more flexibility in teaching the courses. The teachers do not seem to be concerned with the Teacher Evaluation System and the Danielson Framework as they believe the Administration wants to fully collaborate with the teachers and being there and experiencing how the school worked, I believe there is reason to believe that's true. This school truly is collaborative and the "students do come first"
There are some drawbacks to the school. The limited curriculum, the location if you are coming from the east (traffic is terrible) and the lack of free parking in the area. I also don't like the idea of a mini semester during January when students can get extra credits, sounds like another form of "credit recovery". No Chapter Leader at the school as nobody wants the job. Finally, I don't like the first name basis between students and staff.
Overall this is a good school and I would be proud to work there, if offered a position.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
I was sent to a school that once was an exclusively a vocational school but over the last decade or two saw this school evolve into a rigorous academic school. The joke is "that at one time this school attracted the auto mechanic now it attracts the mechanical engineer". This school, like most large high schools have very experienced teachers and reasonably behaved students. The school over the years has become predominately South Asian with small minorities of East Asian, Hispanics, and Blacks. Sopme of the programs are screened while others are not.
The school is overcrowded with over thirty students in every class. The school has suffered budget cuts and even with the overcrowding , had to excess two teachers and not replace five others who left the school. The students complain that the shop rooms have out-of-date technology and that due to budget cuts when things break down they are not fixed. The school has self-contained special education classes and it seems that a minority of these students were transferred to the school from the small school complex just to the south. The small schools apparently send their self-contained special education students to the school I was in. One real problem is that the incoming freshman class seems to be academically weaker and more badly behaved then any group before them in the last 20 years. The staff believes that's the result of all the closing schools that force the remaining large high schools to pick up these low performing students. Many senior teachers told me they will be retiring in the next two years as they see big trouble down the road.
This school, like all the large comprehensive schools in Queens get their share of over-the-counter students and the teachers complain that the small school complex to the south don't seem to get any. The Administration is not good as the Assistant Principals and Teachers don't see eye-to-eye, especially on what's required by the Danielson framework. For example the AP's want the teachers held responsible for the hallway bulletin boards when it's the administration that is responsible for the hallway bulletin boards. Another example is that the AP requires that a detailed lesson plan be part of the observation requirements as they don't understand the difference between a lesson plan and lesson planning in Danioelson. A word to the APs, its about the lesson and how its implemented not what's on a piece of paper!
Overall I enjoyed my time at this school and there is plenty of parking with only Tuesday bring a small problem. I would certainly feel at home if I was to be offered a position at the school