September 21, 2012
This week on GothamSchools, stories of controversial principals generated the most comment activity.
On Tuesday, we reported on the departure of longtime Fort Hamilton High School Principal Jo Ann Chester, who retired this week amidst an investigation into a payroll scheme that underpaid teachers for more than a year. Her exit prompted many people — some posting anonymously who identified themselves as Fort Hamilton teachers — to air their grievances about the school, their former boss and the larger systematic conditions that created:
Jennifer Rivera, a teacher at Fort Hamilton defended Chester and her actions:
The choice that Mrs. Chester made seems to have been one that was in the best interest of a.) her students–they need teachers. And b.) these teachers–they certainly weren’t “victims” forced to work for some tyrannical cheater; they were teachers who needed experience and had an excellent place to get it.
Additionally, it seems the system with it’s “hiring freeze” left no other option for this woman who exudes nothing but class, professionalism and pride in her school.
Many teachers who were withheld pay are getting backpay that could eventually total up to $300,000 and some commenters fretted about what that could mean for the school moving forward. An anonymous commenter wrote:
[T]his just screws all the students who play sports or even in the musical department because all the money to pay back these teachers are getting taken away from the students.
“Guest” suggested that the improprieties at Fort Hamilton were hardly isolated:
Principal automomy has left issues like this in the background for a number of years. This school is not the only one to do this. The problem is that many of the teachers were uncertified teachers, which means they are not highly qualified. That is against both state and federal regulations. Additionally, the hiring freezes imposed were put in place to ensure that the ATR pool was given sufficient opportunity for interviews, since many of them are good teachers – teachers whose schools excessed them for budget purposes or teachers in closing schools. If there were not teachers available, then the principal should have gone through the appropriate channels to ask for an exception to the hiring freeze, which if documented appropriately, may have been granted. This was a game – hiding money, saving money and skirting the contract and regulations in place. A good principal learns how to manage the complications of running a building. S/he does not knowingly break the rules and then expect to be allowed to continue.
Then Last night, we reported about the ongoing tensions between teachers and the administration at New Explorations in Science, Technology, and Math, or NEST+M. For the second time in three months, members of the school community expressed frustration with the principal after she gave out ‘unsatisfactory’ ratings to several well-liked teachers. In response, teachers announced yesterday a boycott of the school’s Curriculum Night.
In the comments section, the story generated heated debate between teachers and parents, who came out divided on how the situation was handled.
Many parents expressed support for the teachers. “Former NEST Parent” wrote:
My child had several of the U-rated teachers in middle school, and I assure you that the issue is not “popularity”. I object to the U ratings because these are wonderful and effective teachers, not because they are “popular”, “liked”, or “playmates” for the children.
It is widely known at NEST that if she doesn’t like a teacher, students are called in and questioned, sometimes led to make statements against the teacher. This happened to my child, who was very upset by the process. Livanis and her assistant principals are unethical, ineffective leaders, who mistreat teachers and students. They should all be removed.
But others who said they were parents criticized the decision to boycott a parent event at the last minute.
While I’m sympathetic to teachers’ concerns, I was appalled that so many of them failed to show up and do what’s best for the students. It’s about the students and they should come first. There were quite a few parents (myself included) who did not have time during their work day to read the e-mails that were sent just 2 hours before the event. So we showed up, left work early, paid for childcare, and in some cases even sent in baked goods for the teachers, all for nothing. I really looked forward to meeting my child’s teachers and learning about the curriculum and I fail to see how boycotting this event would do anything to resolve the conflicts. All it has done is hurt parents and students.