Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Farina's Compliance Clerks and the End of Educational Leadership and Unionism

In an email 12/23/15 to fellow educators I discuss the end of educational leadership and unionism and the triumph of compliance and intimidation:

I am back after 6 months on medical leave. The Compliance Clerks (formerly known and principal and dept. AP) have wasted no time in investigating (formerly known as observation) my classroom- 6 times in the past 5 weeks. All drop-ins. Superintendent was in one, principal in a couple, principal's mentor in another and AP in the rest. 

I suppose I should be grateful they are here to help. But, that's not the case. The new model, hence the term- Compliance Clerk, is just to evaluate; to determine who they can run out. I got this from the principal's mentor last year in a meeting, and it's the only explanation that makes sense. When I said the principal and AP have very little experience and subject matter expertise, nor do they even teach a class, it is obvious they have zero capacity to lead by example. He said that's not what they are here to do. The new model makes them just a kind of Compliance Clerk or Danielson rubric technicians (my interpretation). It's valid, and I respect the mentor's honesty.  But, that's not the impression they give.

Since they are not here to help, I won't waste my time with the illusion of due diligence in the form of feedback meetings, pre-formal observations, etc. Why participate in a fraud? This new model may not have hit your school but it will eventually. It's bad for the administrators too. Imagine being put into a situation where you are pretending to lead but cannot?

And speaking of Illusions; the UFT (teachers union) plays its part too. They have put in place an appeals process and the APPR (Annual Profession Performance Review) complaint form to give the members the feeling like they have recourse for unfair evaluations.   I have been a chapter leader for 9 years and have yet to see an appeal reverse a decision more than once out of dozens of cases, or an APPR complaint have any kind of impact. If I am wrong let the UFT publish its statistics on rating reversals as a result of their appeals process. But, don't hold your breath.

The grievance process is the same illusion. Yes, you can file a grievance, let's say for illegally excessing your newly elected chapter leader (a true case a Murry Bergtraum).  You file a grievance, it goes to Step 1 after a week when you meet with the principal. He/She always upholds their decision. You escalate to Step 2 if the UFT agrees. If they do you wait a month or more for a step 2. They did in this case. During the step 2 the principal brushed off the call in the Step 2 process and you have to reschedule. This was back in November. Still waiting... Maybe by August the step 2 will happen. Then the UFT, if the past is any guide, will reject going to arbitration when they find out they lose at step 2 (which is assuredly the case). The result: Murry Bergtraum High School has no union representation. The first time in over nearly 40 years. 

Score 1 for the Compliance Clerks. Score 1 for the UFT? Since new teachers hired to replace senior teachers run out of the system pay the same dues, the UFT doubles its money as two teachers paying the same amount of dues each at the bottom rate can be hired. 

Do you think it needs to change? There's a UFT election this spring. Tell your colleagues not to throw their ballot in the garbage for a change. The vast majority do. Mulgrew was elected by retirees (why he campaigns in Boca Raton, Fl.). There are good people running against the Mulgrew/Unity old guard. MORE and Solidarity. While I know Francesco Portelos as a courageous fighter,  I am endorsing MORE as I think they have the most democratic form of organization and also have a strong leader in Jia Lee. We need a democratic union for a start. 

Happy Holiday and In Solidarity!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Like Teaching a Class with no Mobile Phone Discipline

This is exactly what it is like trying to corral a group of teenagers to focus on a lesson with no social discipline or mobile phone impulse control. See video:

Teachers, can you relate?

Thursday, April 09, 2015


...a true patriot in the service of all that is right and fair in education in the service of children. It has been my honor to serve as Nicholas Weber's representative at Murry Bergtraum. I invite you to explore his thoughts on this, his new web site.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Buddha in the Classroom

This was sent in an email to staff, expats of Murry Bergtraum and the Chancellor.

As our PD the last two weeks has told us- greet students with unconditional positive regard. Don't punish, but look at yourself. See how you can grow together to a better relationship. After all, discipline is about relationships and compassion, not punishments. I agree wholeheartedly. 

The problem is that Buddhist philosophy doesn't pass muster at the Principal's Leadership Academy. Machiavelli is the prevailing philosophy when dealing with "subordinates". Is that the message from the top as well?

The damage done is to drive cynicism even deeper in us. Below is a quote from an article about the extent of the Chancellor's Buddha nature

"The schools chancellor, who defined her first year on the job as a mission to restore “joy” and “respect” to the classroom, has, of late, been encouraging hundreds of city principals to identify and get rid of their weakest teachers. “The teachers who are not up to the job, you’ve got to get them out the door,” FariƱa said to a large group of high school principals at a conference in late February."  
If there was every effort to develop the "bad" teacher it would not be such a blatant contradiction of the Chancellor's pledge to bring "joy" back to education. But, that's not what we are hearing. It's because of the void in leadership. Type A personalities, that belong on Wall Street (to be blunt the Chancellor's way), have flocked to fill the administrative vacancies created by the explosion of small schools. They often have neither the experience or intent, to develop teachers. Their job is to fire. We have experienced that first hand at Bergtraum going on 5 years now. It's Social Darwinistic to terminate without a meaningful intervention. 

The culture of the school must be consistent from top to bottom. Everyone deserves patience, understanding, compassion and support. I would give the Chancellor the benefit of the doubt that she did extent the possible patience and support to teachers who needed it before she wrote them off. I hope she conveys to the new principals to get their Buddha nature up.


“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein

John Elfrank-Dana
UFT Chapter Leader
Murry Bergtraum High School

Monday, January 26, 2015

Opportunity Knocks


If we don't have Regents exams on Tuesday we will have nothing to grade on Wednesday. This creates an opportunity. How will we fill the empty day? You have an opportunity before you. Send your principals a memo directing them to fill the day with mandated PD or perhaps allow your army of teacher-creators to convene their own meetings with the only direction to provide some new ideas about teaching and learning that may be applied to their practice. Each group can take notes on what transpired and submit that for supervision.

Is such a departure from compliance culture possible? With a "Progressive" mayor running education in this city now I would think nothing more appropriate. What would give me the moxie to propose such a departure? It appears to work in the private sector.

Take Google:
"We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative." source

They give their engineers 20 percent time during their week to work on whatever they want however they want so long as it's related to Google. I proposed this to a DoE deputy Chancellor about five years ago only to have it scoffed at. But, that was a Bloomberg educational administration.

Google is not the only one doing this. Atlassian, a software developer and others also give "free time" to their creative staff. "... an increase in autonomy occurs only when
employees are truly free to work on any project they desire. Freedom to set one’s schedule
within a defined group of tasks is not the same as freedom to define one’s tasks." source This is from a study in the Journal of Strategic Leadership.

The only structure I would recommend would be to give your teachers some quiet time first for their minds to wander but on thoughts related to their teaching. Then groups convene and share, themes are identified and a regrouping along shared themes for refined collaboration with tentative proposals that offer resources and methods for experimentation and evaluation. A report is generated for the group and shared with the principal. These ideas can go to you and you can decide if another session in the Spring would be worth it. Just an idea.

Or, you could do the predicable: Common Core, Danielson, Online Grading/Smartboard Tech, Learning Board mandated, seemingly ad nauseam,  time. As for me, I believe your teachers have creative potential and don't always need to be lead by the nose to the next task. I believe they have an innate need for mastery which requires a degree of autonomy and purpose.

Not sold? Here's a brief intro by motivation expert Daniel Pink:
Believe in us Chancellor.



Monday, September 01, 2014

Gaza Reader

On Gaza: I have been active on Facebook and present here an anthology.

July 18, 2014
What are the odds an Israeli will be killed in a car crash compared to the odds of being killed by a Hamas rocket? About 100 to 1. 

Love Israel? Send money for drivers ed and not weapons. Oh yes, and tell them to end all illegal occupations and blockades too.

July 31, 2014

At a pro peace rally in Indianapolis 

This refers to any religion

August 10, 2014
Israeli employees fired for speaking out against attack on Gaza. 
If Israel is a democracy, and they have a free press, then this practice should stop. Gideon Levy, the Haaretz journalist and commentator, has had his life threatened for being critical of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. 

Dozens of Workers Fired Because of Facebook Posts

07 August 2014By New Israel Fund
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, dozens of Palestinian Israelis have been fired from their jobs for expressing their opposition to the war on social networks. We spoke to Gadeer Nicola, a lawyer and coordinator of the Nazareth branch of NIF grantee Workers Hotline, to hear about the efforts to fight back and promote freedom of expression. See full article

August 10, 2014
Can I, as a US citizen, donate to this organization?

B'Tselem is the Israeli human rights organization. The bulk of my information comes from progressive Jewish and Israeli sources. 

Families bombed at home, Gaza, July-August 2014 (initial figures)

 11 Aug 2014
During the fighting in Gaza, dozens of residences were bombed while residents were at home. The following infographic lists members of families killed in their homes in 72 incidents of bombing or shelling. In these incidents, 547 people were killed, including 125 women under the age of 60, 250 minors, and 29 people over the age of 60. Mouse over the houses for more details.
The figures B’Tselem collected regarding the number of Palestinians killed in the course of the fighting in the Gaza Strip are very preliminary, and are still being cross-referenced and checked. In the months ahead, B’Tselem plans to further investigate the incidents, including confirming the identity of the individuals killed and whether or not they took part in the hostilities.

Sept. 1, Postscript by me.
Remember 100 to 1 Israeli death by car crash as opposed to Hamas "rocket"... Rockets are the excuse now since it was revealed Hamas didn't kill the 3 Israeli teens. But, that was revealed too late. So, like the rational from WMD to Democracy the US used in Iraq, Israel plays the slight of hand. 

August 10, 2014
I don't share the voices of extremism here. Whether it's Palestinian extremists calling for the extermination of Jews (which the vast majority do not) or Israelis who call for the extermination of the Arabs (as which the vast majority do not). This young man's opinion I believe is that of the mainstream in the world.
BTW, is an invaluable source of information for anyone wanting a progressive Jewish analysis.

August 19, 2014 Dershowitz vs Chomsky debate Israel at Harvard
Israel/Palestine: A great debate between two prominent scholars for background.

Play Video

August 26, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mulgrew's Myth

No wonder so many softballs were thrown at President Mulgrew tonight in the seminar. I don't recall a single question from a high school teacher. Was there one?

I did spot the high school Vice President and a Chapter Leader in the studio audience. But it was one PS question after another. Either way, it would have just been another softball.

Mulgrew opened with his own myth. That the UFT doesn't want a contract that hurts the children we serve. But, this one does! My question of - Why is there nothing about class size reduction in this contract? Which I submitted 15 min before the start on their online form but was not asked. I suppose if I asked - Why is there nothing to reduce the testing of our students in this contract? Or, Why is there nothing to bring back enriched curriculum with arts, music, and electives? I suppose these wouldn't have been asked either. And, for us teachers: Why is there nothing to reign in bully principals? 

I have always asked myself, Would I stand for my own children to be educated in this way? With class sizes so large, with high concentrations of high need students, with stripped curricula? This has always been the driving force behind not being able to keep my mouth shut about this system.

Instead of a meaningful discussion we got redundancy; another rehash of Unity contract propaganda. How many times was he asked if retro was paid after one retires? How many references to the career ladder combined with a murky mix of Prose schools?

There should have been a rebuttal afterward from an opposition caucus. But, let's be real. This crowd is so insecure it has to rig everything in advance. There's no way they will allow an intelligent dissenting opinion to penetrate the ditto head culture. They are counting on most of the members to say "F---k it!," Hold their noses and check the "Yes" box.