Saturday, December 14, 2013

Murry Bergtraum High School - A Case Study for the Mayor Elect

Foreword: What started off as a reply to a member regarding the missing teacher comments from the report cards and their distribution in the middle of the school day- creating much tension and animosity, as expected towards the faculty by several students grew into a blog post. In other words, just another administrative debacle in what is amounting to the most chaotic year in Bergtraum's 30+ year history, and right after its first "F" on the school report card. Or, is it deliberate? 

...I wonder if Principal Almonte did this deliberately (report card debacle)? I can't believe it. I find her actions more and more inexplicable. We were warned in the blogosphere the summer of 2012 that she was coming in as a closer. Notice how she is silent regarding the collocation of a Moskowitz kindergarten coming in Bergtraum, while several other principals speak out against collocations. Were the warnings true? Is she here to put us down?

The solution to collocate the old Bergtraum out of existence, ironically, acknowledges what I have been saying all along - that no school that was sent high academic and social needs kids in large number from half way across town will be successful. So, a breakup/shrink out of Bergtraum can be ONE response to that. Except, in the DoE's plan the teachers play the roll of the fall guy, not its own misguided policies and, perhaps, incompetent/sabotaging school administration (expect a lot of Ineffective ratings this year). 51 from the faculty and administration, out of about 150, left last year. Most fled by getting jobs elsewhere, hastened retirements... The large number of teachers excessed by the principal in June was never approved by the network, and therefore, never official. No attempt was made by the administration to update these teachers- hence many were surprised when they learned in August they were never in excess. Is the principal's goal another 50 to leave this year?  

Look at the action steps from the Manhattan Superintendent's Early Engagement meetings with some staff last month- Inquiry Teams! I could have told her- "Been there done that- the last 7 years." Perhaps it was deduced from the advise of teachers new to the school this year- several attended these sessions. Or, is it that she knows the plan is to phase the school out? My reference to the issue of trust in principal's competence and veracity (painfully revealed in the LE Survey of last year and our own in-house survey this year ) and how no reforms are going to work unless that issue is resolved apparently fell on deaf ears with the superintendent. We got an "F" for security as well. There too, the Department of Education sees no need for change... Stay the course! Sorry to sound so conspiratorial. However, when information is not shared with us, when there's no other explanation than this is deliberate mismanagement that connects all the dots- where does that leave you? Remember, the backdrop is the mayor's statement that he'd fire half of the teaching force if he had his druthers. Add to that the great union busting effect of shrinking large schools - many new small schools have no UFT chapter, and it makes sense for the agenda of the Moskowitz' and other privatizers.

Meanwhile a program that was working - Freshman Academy, and a highly functional department, social studies, were decimated this year. The leaders of the academy and department fled the school- chased out by the principal. Why would what works (at least works better than anything comparable in the school) be deliberately undermined by the school administration? 

The high need students should have good community high schools close enough to home so that social workers and attendance teachers could make visits to several students' homes a day (see details in SchoolBook article). Also, that parents can easily come to parent association meetings and  to the parent/teacher conferences. The school has been a ghost town on these occasionsIf a student is strong enough socially and academically, let them commute to school. Bergtraum could be a good neighborhood school serving Smith and Rutgers houses as well as the Lower East Side and Tribeca area.  You'd have a diverse student population with plenty of 3s and 4s (higher level students) to balance out the others, as well as no one racial group dominating the population. 

Where were the Bergtraums during the 10 year dismantling/sabotaging of their school? Silent and even rubber stamping the closure of schools and collocation of Moskowitz here on the Panel for Educational Policy. Murry Bergtraum was a union man from what we were always told. Now, Judy Bergtraum, a Bloomberg appointee to the PEP has voted for the collocation of the union-busting Eva Moskowitz in the school that bears her father's name. 

The onslaught on the UFT members of the school continues unabated. If Principal Almonte believes that an F school cannot have Effective teachers, you will see an inordinate number of Ineffective ratings of teachers under a tunnel vision application of the Danielson rubric. Combine it with the programming chaos this year and its discontinuity for student and teacher programs. The result is guaranteeing failing grades on tests used as part of the teacher evaluation when compared to more functional peer schools. Furthermore, it assumes the faulty premise that teachers have the lion's share of responsibility for student success ignore much research that the home accounts for four times or more impact on student success than teacher quality. But, studies be damned- we are told time and again "instruction is the problem here". Of course, it can and always should be improved. But, we will not be scapegoated for failed DoE policies that account for the systemic setup for failure at the school.

The lessons for a mayor elect intent of changing the course of educational reform are the following: 

Community Schools:
The needier the student population, the closer physically families need to be to the school. The corporate agenda is to atomize us. Make us consumers and cogs in their workforce. Communities can germinate democratic movements that can threaten their power. So called "school choice" is largely a sham for many students in NYC who get one of their TWELVE choices.

Genuine Collaboration:
Trust is a prerequisite for collaboration between the school's leadership and staff and is essential for the implementation of reform. Give School Leadership Teams real power over school budgets. C-30 hiring committees made up of school stakeholders that select administrators the final word instead of just a recommendation. 

School Democracy:
Only transparency and shared decision making can produce such trust. The finger of accountability runs up the chain of command, not down. Dictator principals, a hallmark of Bloomberg/Klein ed policy, need to be sent packing. Public schools in a democracy must not be modeled on corporate hierarchy. Where else will young people learn about democratic structures? Not at work, not in the family. School is what's left.

Leadership Responsibility:
School leaders need to adopt the Harry Truman model- "The buck stops here." Our principal confuses passing the buck for "empowerment" of her staff. She took no responsibility for the school's programming debacle. Strong teachers don't become administrators very often. When principals learned that they would be held responsible for Regents passing rates those worth their salt got out of city schools. The creation of more small schools created a huge void for administrative positions that needed filling. Many of the most mediocre of our profession rushed to get their administrative certificates. No wonder it's hard to find administrators who can demonstrate responsibility.

Leadership that Walks the Walk:
We call repeatedly for our principal and assistant principals to teach a class of their own so they can lead by example; show us (I am from Missouri - the "Show Me" state) what Effective teaching looks like. No dice in the new technocratic Danielson rubric interpretation system. The principal explained all the administrators' time is now spent becoming experts as evaluators. I call them Compliance Clerks, not educators. God forbid they actually have to demonstrate they can do what they expect of us!  Again, see what I said in the last paragraph- the many of the most mediocre educators become administrators to fill the demand created by the explosion of small schools and exodus of the capable who knew the new accountability on the horizon was a sham. 

If Bergtraum High School is to die Mr. Mayor Elect, don't let it die in vain. Instead, understand what really happened here. If Bergtraum will be resurrected in a new way while embodying the spirit of excellence it once had, come talk to us, the students, parents and teachers about how that can happen. All we ask is that you give us a real chance at success. 

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Philip said...

"compliance clerks"!

Anonymous said...

John the answer lies within the power of the students not the adults. Find a way to get them organized. There is great bunch of intelligent, articulate, passionate students there especially from the ex-AVID program. Rally them John. Invite them to UFT meetings or other meetings with the principal or mayor. They can make the observations and you can help them see how it´s politically driven. There is nothing to lose at this fearless and expose the real deal story to the students. In the end they are the ones who lose the most! Help them see that.

saddened by the mess said...

I agree with the latter comment about rallying the students. Unfortunately, the critical mass of former AVID and other more thoughtful students isn't large enough to arouse any concerns from administration. Our school has been populated by increasingly needier students who require extensive amounts of academic and social interventions, more than a classroom teacher can provide. The faculty is overwhelmed and angry and the entire plan was to reach this very point. Sadly, when Lewis left, the faculty breathed a collective sigh of relief only to find that the new principal was even worse. Almonte's conjures up dread on the part of teachers because she is deceitful and immune from higher-level criticism. Not even Lewis had the protections that Almonte enjoys. In the end, Almonte was simply the final straw, if you will, in the long-planned collapse of a decent school.

John Elfrank-Dana said...

I agree the students are the centerpiece of the solution. It's why I invite the mayor elect to talk to students, parents and teachers.

However, there is that critical mass of socially needy students in the building, enough to destroy the tone. You only need about 20 percent. Just like all you need is 3 or more in a class of 34 to shut things down.

These kids need to be in a different setting for their own sake as much as everyone else's. But, the system has nothing to offer and the parents are too overwhelmed to do what they need. I know, I have have 3. It's a lot of work.

Poverty makes it very difficult for people. The extra resources aren't there.

ed notes online said...

Reality of teachers organizing students is almost impossible - hasn't happened in too many places, if at all. Teachers right now need to organize teachers and build critical mass. Then worry about organizing students. Students are only around for a limited amount of time.

Francesco Portelos said...

Sounds like a nightmare. Definitely primed for collocation like mine. Except we have Eagle Academy.

You run any FOIL emails on Almonte?

Francesco Portelos said...

Sounds like a nightmare. Definitely primed for collocation like mine. Except we have Eagle Academy.

You run any FOIL emails on Almonte yet? Like all email with words "Success Academy" in it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read, however this post appears to be one-sided. You can't simply blame Principal Almonte for everything wrong at Murry Bergtraum. I will admit that she has partial responsibility. Where is the criticism of the teachers at Bergtraum? You have UFT members who refuse to change their ways of teaching which is not contributing to academic success in that building. I blame Administration, Teachers, & Parents regarding the problems at Murry Bergtraum HS. Your post appears to be flawed and bias. Let us talk about the teachers and their low passing rates in their classes and regents exams. We are too busy trying to point fingers and not accept responsibility. PERIOD! John Elfrank, you are one of the key people in my personal opinion has helped with the demise of Bergtraum. Instead of being transparent with your fellow colleagues (including myself), you have caused great division. Where is the unity? Have we forgotten that we got into Education for the children? You are so pressed in running to the media to air out our dirty laundry to the public. I blame Administration as well. We have an AP Security who does not do the work. Security sets the tone. Kids cannot learn in chaos. Teachers cannot teach in chaos. We have an AP Student Support Services who really doesn't have a clue. We have a "Brand Manager" who is arrogant and is not willing to learn from those who have worked in the DOE longer than he's be alive. We have a Principal who doesn't want to take responsibility for her actions. Although, we can't blame her for every problem in our building. That would be unfair. I no longer want to hear that before I got here this is what was happening in Murry Bergtraum HS regarding the data. Let us talk about what we are doing now in reference to the data! Because we were a D school and now with you, we are a F school. Now, 51 people may have left, but we still have good people in that building. There are some great teachers, guidance counselors, and even an alumnus of the school who is our parent coordinator. We need to have a meeting with all members of our community and come up with a plan to turn this travesty around. Is this possible? I would hope so. I do not like when there are fellow teachers that come to a meeting ready to attack instead of trying to come to the table to help bring solutions. I need everyone to check their attitudes before entering that building. It is now time for us to work and create a mass change overall or we will fail!!!

jed said...

Ok. so you don't agree therefore I am biased?

Almonte is in charge of implementing failed Tweed policy. But, she has failed to competently manage the school. See the link in the blog to the chaotic opening of the school. The first year of our new teacher evaluation system- she has set the teachers up for certain failure with the programming debacle causing lost WEEKS of consistent instruction.

Instruction can always improve- but it's not the main problem in the school. Sending high need students half way across town to go to school accounts for high absenteeism. See the link to the open school night photo of an empty hallway. But, I guess you blame the teachers or their union rep for that too.

Unlike the principal, I am elected by those I serve. If she had to stand for election I think we know what the outcome would be.

The teachers in Bergtraum have consistently gotten high marks from parents and students in the Learning Environment survey, unlike our principal. How does that happen?