"30 Schools In 30 Weeks"

My adventures as a Gypsy going from school To school in a futile search for a real teaching position.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A School Struggles To Survive With A Changing Student Body - School #10

The school I was in this week was one of the 32 schools that Mayor Bloomberg wanted closed through the "turnaround model" back in 2011.  While the Mayor's transparent attempt to remove senior teachers eventually failed, the damage was done for this school in particular. 

The school now has a majority Hispanic population with an increasing Middle Eastern component, especially Egyptians and Yemenites. This is quite a change from the Eastern European population the large comprehensive school had only a few years back.  The Eastern European student population is barely in double figures and decreasing yearly. More importantly, is the rapid increase in "English Language Learners" and the dumping of large numbers of "over the counter" students to further destabilize the school.  Many male students walk the hallways in groups of four or more during class and even as school suspensions are rising, the students don't seem to care.  Teacher disrespect among the middle eastern boys, in particular, is a common occurrence and they tend to disrupt classes with little fear of consequences.

The school staff is highly experienced and while staff morale is low, the teachers have been able to keep the school from falling into the abyss that Tweed wanted to see happen.  They are friendly, caring, and try to engage the students as much as possible.  The teaching staff treated me well and the Chapter Leader gave me a place to keep my belongings in and I received a key to the bathroom.  The Administration keeps a "hands off policy" and allows their teachers to teach, within limits.

A big negative is that the school is out of the way from mass transit and its difficult to find parking,  This will get worse next year as a 1,000 student elementary/middle school will open across the street and with no parking area.  This will mean that nearly 100 school staffers will be bringing cars to the area and drastically increase the already terrible parking problem.  Moreover, the school suffers from non-working radiators and the smell of urine in some stairwells is overwelming.  There is no teacher cafeteria for teachers to go to eat their lunch.

While I liked the school's teaching staff, the low academic levels of the student body, the travel and parking problems getting to the school, and the general student disrespect by the males in particular for their teachers makes this school one to avoid.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Escape From Purgatory! - School #9

I must have been in the worst small school in Queens this week.  It's in the top three of Chaz's "do not apply" list and I can see why.This school is one of four schools that were carved out of a failing large school in Southeast Queens and the students of the school are the type of people I wouldn't want to encounter at night. The students dress and act "thuggish", even the girls!  This despite the fact that there is supposed to be a uniform dress code at the school.  The student disrespect of the school's staff and each other is very evident and if you're replacing a teacher the students are "out of control".  Curses and threats are heard everywhere in the school and the students have little fear of discipline when caught raiding the teacher's cafeteria to get chips and soda.  I never, saw anything like this anywhere else in Queens.

The school is supposed to have uniforms but few students bother to dress appropriately and there is no consequences for not having the school uniform.  Furthermore, the physical education classes do not enforce the rule for students to change into their gym clothes and 50% of the students don't even bother to participate in class, instead they sit on the bleachers and gossip until the period is over.

The student body consists of 75% Black and 25% Hispanic and many of the students come from the many low income projects in the area.  Most of the student body are either "level one" or "level two" students with either attendance or disciplinary issues and most of the students  admit that this was the only school that accepted them.  There are no advanced placement classes at the school and the highest science taken is Earth Science which has a Regents passing rate of below 20%.  By the way, there is no certified Earth Science teacher at this school, like many other schools I have been to.

The teachers approach their day as if they are planning a battle in a war and in a school of twenty teachers, most days see an average of two teachers absent due to the high stress in dealing with this challenging student body.  It's little wonder that there is a very high teacher turnover in the school.  I pity the teaching staff when many of them are rated "ineffective" due to the poor test scores with this deep poverty and "high needs" student body.

The only good thing I can say about this school is that I escaped unscathed and I won't be back this school year.


Friday, November 29, 2013

A Nice Neighborhood Small School - School #8

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

Back To Business - School #7

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

Making It To College - School #6

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

A Good School But Storm Clouds Are On The Horizon. - School #5

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


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Only "Newbies" May Apply! - School #4

I was at one of the new schools that opened up three years ago in Southwest Queens and was shocked how young the teachers were at this school.  In some cases the teachers must wear their name tags across their necks so as not to be mistaken for a student.   An ATR Assistant Principal who was assigned to the school found that only two of the 30 teachers actually were tenured!

The school is semi-screened and has a very diverse student population with Hispanic, White, and Asian students.  There are a sprinkling of Black students who travel from outside the area to the school.  The school is strong on Latin and the Arts and accept students willing to take four years of Latin and Arts.  This reduces the electives in the school for students who would like to take let's say Computer Science?  This is another school that originally did not give Earth Science and required all the students to jump from Living Environment to Chemistry.  Just like school #3 the administration believes "if you reach for the stars. you will succeed".  However, they forget to build a spaceship to travel there.

The students are well-behaved and friendly.  They were a pleasure to cover, unlike my previous school.  There is ample parking near the school and while the "Leadership Academy Principal" was not friendly, the payroll Secretary was nice.  The young and inexperienced staff was expected to volunteer their time, "free of charge", for after school programs such as tutoring or clubs.  There is no Chapter Leader at the school since the staff is afraid of the Principal and nobody wants the position. There are stories that teachers who requested "per session" for additional assignments were "discontinued" in the last two years. That discourages teachers from demanding their rights.  Therefore, the Principal reduces the school's grade by a full letter.

I was with three other ATRs, an ATR Assistant Principal, Social worker, and Guidance counselor.   All were over 50 years of age.  In my travels through four schools all the ATRs I met were over 45 years old. Yes, Amy Arundell, there certainly is age discrimination going on here.  There were no hidden vacancies that I heard about at the school and the Physics teacher is now teaching Earth Science.  Boy it sounds like School #3 in that respect.

The school is well run, the students follow the rules and are respectful, and the classes are small with no more than 25 students in each class.  Would I like a position there!   You bet I would, except I am tenured, experienced, over 30 years old, and would demand my rights to be paid for extra work. Therefore, applying for a position at the school is a waste of time.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Car 54 Where Are You? - School #3

This school is one of five Bloomberg small schools that replaced a large comprehensive neighborhood school that closed in Southeast Queens. These schools were supposed to be academically superior to the school they replaced.  However, my experience at the campus tells me that all the DOE did was "to replace the deck chairs on the titanic".  The school I was in call their students "scholars" but most of these students are anything but "scholars". The students are ill-behaved, disrespectful, disinterested academically, and disrupt the learning environment.  In the Graphic Arts room that includes computers for the students to work on, I saw a bunch of boys looking at various guns and which ones were the best to hide in their clothes.  I had to threaten them with the dean to get them back on task.  This is a full scanning school but some students have figured a way to get there cellphones in.  For some of the students it is a "pipeline to prison".

Academically, the school is failing with the "college readiness" number of 6.5% for the 2009-12 period and one teacher told me it is under 5% for the 2013 school year.  An example how poorly even the best students do is that for the 2011-12 school year only 10% of the Physics students passed the Regents and 11% passed the Chemistry Regents.  This school thought that all the students could jump from Living Environment to Chemistry.  Well that's obviously not the case after seeing the terrible Regents scores and they are using the Physics teacher to teach two courses of Earth Science the school started this year.. Unfortunately, this error in thinking that making academically unprepared students take higher level Science would raise the students academically has caused many a student to suffer and fail needlessly.

The school is hiding an ART vacancy and is having an ATR Science teacher "babysitting" the Art students while the school has had an ART ATR in the building for the last month and she does teacher coverages, go figure the logic there?  The school is one of the worst schools when it comes to staff respect for the Administration and is on Chaz's "do not apply" list.

The school did not provide a bathroom key and the Chapter Leader never introduced herself.  The teachers' room has no UFT literature or informational pamflets from TRS.  On the bright side, there is plenty of parking at the campus and the commute was easy.

Would I take a position at this school?  "Hell no"!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Just Jam Them Into The Classroom! - School #2

School #2 is a large comprehensive high school in central Queens with over 3,400 students jammed into the school.  It had the most oversized classes in the City with an astonishing 400 of them.  The Principal has been there for over a decade and has had his run-ins with investigators throughout the years. The school is a full time scanning school and no cell phones or other electronic devices are allowed into the school.  In the last few years over 33% of the teachers, most of them senior staff,  either left, resigned, or retired so that many of the staff have less than five years in the system. This year the DOE dumped an additional 300 over the counter (OTC) students into the school that contributed to the overcrowded classrooms as many of these OTC students were not selected by other schools and many others in the area were being downsized or closed.  Contributing to the overcrowding problem is that many teachers are given full time comp time positions like Deans and advisers with no assigned classes.  The overcrowding makes the classrooms somewhat unruly and noisy, not a good environment for learning.

The student population is somewhat diverse within equal number being of South Asian ancestry and  of Afro based origin.  There are a large minority of Hispanic students and isolated East Asian and White students but they are few in number. The halls are relatively quiet as the Deans do a good job keeping the students from hanging out.  However, the school cannot attract the better students and according to the staff, even their Advanced Placement classes include many students that shouldn't be in them.  In the more advanced classes there seems to be a 3 to 1 ratio of girls to boys.  It appears that academically, the school has problems attracting males with good middle school grades.  The lack of cell phones make teaching easier since it takes away the temptation from using them. Unfortunately, many of the students find other ways to pass the time and not do the work.

Parking is atrocious, especially on Monday and Tuesday.  Teachers consider themselves lucky if they can park within a mile of the school.  Many teachers simply take a car service or mass transit to get to work. That alone makes going to this school everyday an issue.   Why the Principal didn't arrange for parking for his teachers as many other school did is a question that the school should address.  Oh, by the way I never met the Chapter Leader nor did he(she?) bother to seek me out to let me know how the school works.

The school gets a passing grade but just barely.  While I would accept a position at the school, I would not be happy about taking it.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Going Around In Circles - School #1

Yes, the Traveling ATR is back and ready to travel throughout the borough of Queens and to share my misadventures with the educators of New York City.    It's been almost two years since I last appeared on this blog and demonstrated to the two schools willing to pick me up as a classroom teacher that I am an asset to the schools in question.  However, thanks to the misguided "fair student funding" fiasco and short-sighted principals who don't  know how important it is to have a  "quality teacher" for their students, I find my self traveling in the ATR pool yet again.

I was assigned to a 200 student transfer school with a newly-minted "Leadership Academy Principal" who has no experience teaching in the New York City classroom.  The staff are mostly tenured but only have between three to six years experience. The student body are "high needs" mostly overaged and under credited and are unmotivated.  The teachers seem to be clueless about their fate under the teacher evaluation system and don't understand that the poor student growth scores, likely with these students, could result in many of the teachers getting an "ineffective rating". 

There is no teachers' room for the school and bathroom keys were not provided to the three ATRs assigned to the schoolThe ATRs were given a table and a chair in the main hall to sit at when not covering classes.  There was no safe or secure space to store our belongings.  The staff and Principal treated us with respect and didn't abuse the ATRs during our stay there.

Most of the students have very low academic levels and act and dress "thuggish" .  Many of these students are only looking to get the credits they need without putting in the work to succeed academically. The students know this is a "last chance school" and think that they can get away with just about anything as long as they show up to the school.  Many of these students disappear after lunch and come to school as they please.  This is "bad news" for the teachers because these types of students will get "low growth scores" and jeopardize their jobs.
The Principal replaced a highly popular Principal that was accused of financial issues and brought with him a very permissive policy called "restorative justice" that addresses student discipline by using meditation rather than progressive discipline and puts the teaching staff at risk.  He believes in the "circle method" of discussion and has a non-profit agency to provide counseling and social services to the students.  Many of these non-profit employees act and dress just like the students, not very professional if you ask me.There are no DOE guidance counselors to serve the students.   The Principal is hiding an Earth Science vacancy and wants to hire a friend of his in January once his friend gets certified as a teacher. 

The school is a tough school to teach in as they service "high needs" students with academic, behavioral, and attendance issues.  While the Principal seems supportive, the nature of the student body makes teaching in this "last chance school" a dicey preposition and could lead to many "ineffective ratings" due to the State's student growth requirements.  Von voyage and I wish the teaching staff well, they are going to need it.

Under no circumstances would I ever accept a position at this school, unless I want to be terminated.