Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Inspiring Rikers Teacher Runs Afoul of Jail's Rules



By MICHAEL WINERIP

Published: January 25, 2006, The New York TImes

JEFF KAUFMAN, a teacher at the Rikers Island jail, has a reputation as a good educator who cares about his student inmates. In 2004, without the aid of computers, his students finished first in a citywide stock market game competition against more than 50 high schools.

Jeff Kaufman taught at Island Academy, the Rikers Island jail school, for eight years. After a complaint from the principal, he was removed from Rikers and reassigned despite praise from peers and inmates.

Elizabeth Lesher, who oversees the competition, said that at most schools, "students gather around computers, research stocks via Web sites such as Yahoo Finance, Market Watch or Nasdaq and enter their transactions online."

"The classroom environment at Rikers was very sparse," said Ms. Lesher, a director for the Foundation for Investor Education. "No attractive bulletin boards, no computers with Internet access and no industry specialists visited the classroom to provide investment ideas." Mr. Kaufman's students relied on the newspaper and his class lessons. That, she said, "speaks volumes about the teacher. Obviously I was very impressed."

In 2003, Mr. Kaufman's students won a citywide playwriting competition. In 2000 and 2001, he arranged for the student chorus at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens to visit Rikers at Christmas and perform for his students.

Don Murphy, a fellow teacher, said Mr. Kaufman became so popular during his eight years at the jail that in 2004 he was unopposed in the election for union representative at Island Academy, the Rikers school, which serves about 1,000 teenage inmates.

David Lee, an inmate serving time for assault, who earned a General Educational Development diploma with one of the highest scores ever at Rikers, said no teacher worked harder. Mr. Kaufman made special arrangements for Mr. Lee to take college correspondence courses, spent his lunch hours tutoring him and then proctored each of the three-hour exams from Excelsior College.

In July 2003, Mr. Kaufman was off for the summer, but made special trips to Rikers so Mr. Lee could take his next college exam. "All the teachers were on vacation and school didn't begin until September," Mr. Lee wrote in a letter sent to this reporter from Rikers. "But Kaufman comes here to Rikers not once, but twice just so that he could give me the test on a hot summer day. He didn't have to come; he could have stayed home with his wife and kids."

"Mr. Kaufman wasn't only a teacher or test proctor," said Mr. Lee. "He inspired me to aim higher in life."

But on Friday, Mr. Kaufman received notice from his principal that he was no longer permitted to teach at Rikers.

His crime? "Undue familiarity."

Mr. Kaufman had given Mr. Lee his home address so the two could correspond by mail and try to arrange for Mr. Lee to take another of those Excelsior College exams while the inmate was in solitary confinement in the summer of 2004.

There is no allegation of anything improper about the content of those letters. Copies of 20 letters provided to a reporter by Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Lee mainly talked about learning. In one, the inmate thanked the teacher for sending books to him in solitary ("the Bing") and wrote that he was spending so much time reading, up to 12 hours a day, that he was getting headaches. "I don't mind being here at the Bing but I want to be able to take the test," wrote Mr. Lee.

Mr. Kaufman wrote back urging patience, saying that he was trying to work out arrangements with correction officials. "If your head begins to hurt from reading, stop. Your body is telling you it's enough."

How did school and correction officials know that Mr. Kaufman had given out his home address? Mr. Kaufman told them.

On Sept. 12, 2005, the Rikers principal, Frank Dody, sent out a security memo, in which he spelled out in writing, for the first time, what was meant by the prohibition against undue familiarity: "All contact with current/former students outside of the school area (home, upstate facilities) in the form of letters or phone calls must be authorized by the principal."

Mr. Kaufman read the memo, requested authorization and showed the principal a recent letter from Mr. Lee. Within days Mr. Kaufman was yanked from Rikers and placed in a holding room in Brooklyn for teachers under investigation.

Mr. Kaufman says he thinks the real reason he was investigated was that he had testified at a City Council hearing in December 2004 about how bad the Rikers school's services were for inmates being released. "That really upset Frank Dody," Mr. Kaufman says. "He wouldn't talk to me for months. He's using this incident to get me."

Mr. Dody said he was upset, but that's not why there was an investigation. He said that even though he had been principal six years and had only recently spelled out the rules in writing, anyone who had been at Rikers as long as Mr. Kaufman knew you weren't supposed to give out your address. "Teachers here have to live by the corrections rules," Mr. Dody said. "While the rules don't always make sense, even to me, they're in place for a reason, to keep everyone safe."

Mr. Dody acknowledged that the letter Mr. Kaufman showed him had nothing compromising in it. "From my reading of it, I didn't really see anything of any nature that would raise my eyebrows," Mr. Dody said.

Thomas Antenten, a corrections spokesman, said that once the principal made the decision to refer the case, officials had to investigate. "We take undue familiarity very seriously," he said. "Giving an inmate a personal address could lead to deadly consequences."

Inmates like Mr. Lee say Rikers has lost a rare, good teacher. "It was a wrong decision to demote Kaufman," Mr. Lee said. "I'm the one who initiated contact in order to see what options I had in seeking a better education."

David Lee was a 16-year-old junior with a B+ average at Francis Lewis High in Queens in January 2002. He says he got mixed up with the wrong people, and was at a Flushing apartment when a fight broke out and a man was stabbed to death. Mr. Lee pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in return for an eight-year sentence and is being held at Rikers pending the trial of a co-defendant charged with murder.

Within four months at Rikers, Mr. Lee took the G.E.D. In the middle of the test, he says, a brawl broke out and someone threw a chair at him, bruising a rib. Still, he comes from a family of good students, and even bruised, he finished with a top score. His younger sister, Sonia, is an A student in her sophomore year at George Washington University, and travels from Washington every other week to visit her brother in jail, bringing books he requests.

At the Rikers school, Mr. Lee became a favorite. He showed Mr. Murphy, the computer teacher, how to use several desktop publishing programs. He was given a job doing janitorial work. With Mr. Kaufman's help, he took three college business courses and got A's. Neither he nor Mr. Kaufman knew what material was going to be on the tests and which chapters to focus on, so Mr. Lee read everything. "I would read 450, 500 pages of a textbook from cover to cover three to four times so I would truly understand," he said.

AS Mr. Lee was about to take his fourth college exam, in May 2004, he was caught with 17 packs of Newports. Smoking was banned at Rikers in 2003; cigarettes are considered contraband. Mr. Lee said he was offered a "slap on the wrist" if he'd give up his supplier but did not. For each pack of Newports, he was given 15 days in solitary, 9 months altogether in a 6-by-9-foot cell.

Mr. Antenten, the corrections spokesman, said he did not know the details of the case but added that Rikers makes no distinction between cigarettes and heroin when it comes to contraband. "It can lead to disputes between inmates that have bloody consequences," he said.

Mr. Lee said the teacher's letters helped keep him sane those nine months. "Not only did Kaufman help me pursue educational studies, but he offered moral support through the letters," he said.
The illegal letters sent to Mr. Kaufman's home are often quite moving. A July 28, 2004, letter begins with Mr. Lee thanking the teacher for the latest package of books. "You want to know what's funny," wrote Mr. Lee. "Before I was incarcerated, I never used to really read. I could honestly tell you that I read less than 10 books during my life outside and it was during my elementary school years. I wouldn't even bother to look at the cover of a book if I came across one.

"Now that I'm incarcerated, I treasure them. I'm not just talking about novels which enhance your vocabulary and reading comprehension but also self-help books. What I like about self-help books is that from reading just one significant quote which catches your eye, it could change your whole perception of life itself. From reading books you tap into the most brilliant minds of the present and past. In here they're like my most trusted friends."

At times, in the letters, Mr. Kaufman sounds like a stern father. Referring to the cigarette infraction that got Mr. Lee removed from the school and landed him in the Bing, Mr. Kaufman wrote, "We were all upset at your sudden leaving, but we have talked about consequences."

Mr. Kaufman, 50, said his background - he is a Cornell grad, a former police officer and lawyer for the indigent - makes him well-suited for teaching inmates. He will appeal the decision. "It's a place I feel I can be of most use to my students," he said.

In December, after spending more than two months in the Brooklyn holding room, Mr. Kaufman was sent to Queens Academy, where he is mentoring three new teachers. An Education Department spokesman, David Cantor, said Mr. Kaufman would soon be given a job teaching at an alternative high school.

Mr. Dody, the principal, said Mr. Kaufman's removal was solely a Correction Department decision.
But a November 2005 memo by the department's investigator, Capt. Matthew Boyd, indicates that the principal had a significant role. "Dr. Dody reports that he has determined that Mr. Kaufman's actions violate undue familiarity and I concur," the memo says.

Mr. Dody says he's not a doctor and the corrections memo is wrong.

Mr. Lee's younger sister, Sonia, wrote about his jail experiences in a term paper at George Washington that won a top a prize and was featured at a student lecture series. The paper includes the hardships her brother knew growing up, including the suicide of their mother, who suffered from manic depression. Sonia Lee plans to get a master's degree in public policy specializing in the prison system. Her prize paper calls for prisons that devote more resources to rehabilitation and education.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fight on Jeff!!!

Anonymous said...

let no good deeds go unpunished !

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how it is that Jeff didn't know the rules at Riker's.

norm said...

Anon:
I'm wondering why you don't just say whatever slime it is you are implying. Of course we take it from your point that Jeff should have just followed the "rules" and not give out his address and let the kid rot.

Why would you even raise such a question unless you are tied into the Unity machine? Winerip didn't touch on the fact of Jeff's opposition to Unity.

Your comment exposes Unity and proves to me that whatever words we hear of support for Jeff from UFT leaders are really bogus and backed by the real sentiments expressed by the underbelly of Unity that you represent.

Anonymous said...

If Jeff is looking for a job I know a few schools that would be proud to have him.

Anonymous said...

Testy aren't we Norm. If some one questions the ICE people we are all of a sudden tied to the "Unity machine". Is ICE that untouchable?

Anonymous said...

Nice ego trip Jeff!

NYC Educator said...

It's odd how sensitive the Unity people are to the truth.

It will set you free.

joe mudgett said...

Finally, a major newspaper article that views teachers in a positive light. The public needs to read, see, and hear more stories about heroic teachers like Jeff Kaufman. He is a true New York citizen. This former lawyer and policeman turned teacher who strongly advocates for his students, inmates at Rikers, is a tremendous asset for our public education system, and I am proud that he's been recognized. You can't buy better press.

Anonymous said...

I take it from some of the comments that Unity people are gloating over the fact that a teacher who was dedicated to his students and staff is in trouble?

Figures!

Anonymous said...

Jeff -- I admire you tremendously. You are a highly ethical, stand up guy. The part that I do not understand is why you ever told this supervisor that you were in touch with this student. You should have kept this little known fact to yourself. No one knew but you.

Someone once wisely told me how to deal with supervisors. "Doln't interact, don't break the rules, don't ask for help." If you break the rules, don't tell.

Anonymous said...

Anon of Thurs, Jan 26:

It is not about knowing the 'rules' at Rikers. It is about being a caring, emphatic human being and teacher who wants to help a teenager in trouble. He wants to help him get an education so that one foolish mistake does not ruin his life. Jeff did what he could do. Jeff is really needed at Rikers; by his students and other teachers. Anon: could you last one day at Rikers? Could Randi?

Norm said...

Yes anon I am testy. I've been at UFT politics since 1970 and I know the players. I've run into an amazing number of teachers through the years. I know what the average teacher in schools generally know about internal UFT politics. Or care enough to go on a blog an attack Jeff. People might not agree with ICE people but never do they engage in personal attacks like you do. Why would they? And why would they bother? There are relatively very few players in all the caucuses including Unity. So if people make comments like yours they are not just a regular teacher but one of the players. And those who say what you said so snidely are certainly not part of the opposition. So you are either Unity or a Unity wanna be. I would bet my TDA. Big money there. So why not just tell us which Unity person you are (I bet probably an Exec Bd member or one who attends Exec bd meetings) like a good boy?

Anonymous said...

That's right, Norm, someone who has seen Jeff's antics at the DA needs to be in poliical caucus to see how foolish he has been. Seeing ICE people like Jeff screaming horribly unprofessional things to our brothers and sisters at the DAs in Sept, Oct, and Nov I clearly show how destructive, oppotunistic and venomous you guys have been. I would'nt beleive it if I didn't see it myself.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I appologize. Saying what I see must make me a political hack.

Anonymous said...

Hey the Dec DA was really good. Why don't you talk about stuff like that more. You guys only complain about negative things (unless it's about patting yourselves on the back).

Anonymous said...

I think it's in bad taste for any Unity hack to gloat over this.

Time to show some class!
(Even if you don't teach one)

norm said...

Anon. says:
"Seeing ICE people like Jeff screaming horribly unprofessional things to our brothers and sisters at the DAs in Sept, Oct, and Nov"

Why don't you repeat one thing Jeff screamed at the DA? Just a few words you might remember Jeff (not someone else) scream out. You had 3 DA's to collate all the horrible things Jeff must have screamed out.

Maybe "point of order" is an unprofessional" term in Unityese. And I admit to doing that quite a few times myself when Randi willy nilly ignored any orderly rules of order. I can tell you loads of stories if you really want to hear them (which I know you don't.) Yes, I admit to doing some "antics" at the DA to get heard over the years when Randi intentionally started ignoring me when I turned more critical of her (she called on me all the time before that.)

Here's how I know you are tied into Unity - it's the standard tactic of personal attacks on Jeff in particular (and don't we know the reason for that since Unity views him as a possible candidate against Randi.)

In fact there are maybe 5 people I can think of at the DA who are directly connected to ICE. They must be pretty loud to drown out the Unity chorus (and by the way, in 20 years as a delegate and chapter leader want to hear what Unity people shouted at me over the years?).

So let's be specific about what unprofessional witicisms Jeff may have screamed.

And let's distinguish legitimate criticims of ICE which I might even agree with as opposed to attacking people personally as you do. Exactly what policy of ICE don't you agree with? I know. You consider the tactics used as obstructing the work of the DA. But Unity and you (let's say you are just a neutral party for the sake of argument - but how neutral can you be if you find the way the DA is run does not call for some protest?) own such an overwhelming majority. So just call the question and be done with it. Oh, sorry, you guys do that already. Except when the question is called and Randi says "let's not." And then suddenly it's not. Now that would call for a POINT OF ORDER (sorry for cursing.)

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen: Take it easy. We know it is about values which supersede rules. Jeff dealt in the realm of values; Rikers responded in the realm of rules. But I am asking a serious question that can help us in the future. Could Jeff have avoided this situation by never telling the supervisor? I am advocating that if you break the rules, keep it to yourself. Don't tell. Please, someone, lets discuss the issue and the implications it has for how we deal with APs and principals.

Anonymous said...

To Anon-

Do you know what an Ex Post Facto Law is? Read Jeff's story closely, he told the principal after the memo came out about what he was doing. If administration would have told him to stop at that point, then maybe you would have a point. However, that's not what happened.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of principals...

Does anyone out there know the real story behind the removing of Curtis High's principal??????????

It seems she had the backing of both teachers and parents. Yet, the DOE would not answer direct questions about her removal. On the other hand, the morons at Brooklyn Tech still rule the roost.
What gives??

Poster of Jan. 26th said...

To Norm:

I wasn't implying 'slime,' although you apparently can come up with some on your own.

I am not tied to any Unity machine. Why you find it necessary to vilify anyone who doesn't fall into lockstep behind your opinion as a Unity supporter is ridiculous. This is not the way to garner support for your side.

I have no idea why Winerip didn't mention Jeff's opposition to the Union. Maybe he didn't think it important.

What I said, and reiterate here, is that I find it odd that Jeff was either unaware of the rules, or purposely chose to violate them. Either way, he should not be returned to Rikers. Teachers in sensitive assignments should pay particular attention to the rules and serve as role models for the students.

And just for clarification, I'm neither an Executive Board member, nor a good 'boy.'

Anonymous said...

To Anon of 1/29 at 9:56 a.m.

Kindly talk to me in a polite tone of voice. I am not stupid.

No, I do not know what Ex Post facto Law is. Why don't you explain it to me?

In my professional opinion, after years of experience in the working world, i am again posing the question. If you inadvertantly break a rule; if something becomes a rule whereas it was not a rule before and if, in your actions, you mistakenly violate this new rule, what do you do? I think you keep it to yourself. I am talking about how to handle this new contract; how to cope with new rules that may not have been around a few months ago. It seems to me there is only one answer; if you break a rule, keep it to yourself, attempt to rectify it on your own and move on. You cannot be straightforward and honest with these supervisors. It simply does not work. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Again I don't understand why you guys don't talk about something positive that we can all agree and on? The Dec. DA was really good and allowed for a variety of opinions to be heard. Instead there is alot of negativity.

Norm said...

But anon:
OK. Let's assume you are not tied to Unity. But in one of your posts you seemed to be outraged by "unprofessional" things Jeff yelled out at 3 DA's. Yet you refuse to say what they were. This is a personal attack on Jeff and not from somone "who doesn't fall into lockstep behind your opinion." That is why I am vilifying you. If you can quote the horrible stuff Jeff yelled out then I might even agree with you that it was unprofessional. Tie your orignal post "I'm wondering how it is that Jeff didn't know the rules at Riker's" with your subsequent ones and it is clear your original post is not innocent but falls in the area of "slime." You clearly have something against Jeff. And you fall into line with the general Unity criticisms of some of the things he does (not all of which I agree with myself) to try to get democratic procedures enforced – that makes you a Unity sympathizer in the sense that you feel there is really no need to make a big deal about democratic procedures or lack of.

It is also interesting that the only comment you make on a amazing story that has tremendous impact is to question Jeff's actions. Since the goal of Unity both on the surface and underneath by some union officials – the underbelly of this story is how they have dealt with the chapter at Riker's, even going behind the backs of the acting chapter leader to meet with the principal privately – is to undermine Jeff's integrity, yes your comments make you aligned with Unity.

Norm said...

To Anon who want us to talk about the "wonderful" Dec. DA:
I sat for almost 3 hours in the visitor section and wondered why I an wasting my life. Randi responded to every single person and ended up speaking about 75% of the time instead of the usual 90%. I guess that's progress. And 30 people got to vent. Or whatever. Clearly a PR move to counteract the outrage of members over the October DA. Basically an extension of the usual Q&A.

I was at a small meeting called by a group of teachers at PS 262K who had invited ICE and TJC reps to speak and Randi showed up. Her very presence at a meeting of 10 people demonstrated her concerns about the disaffected members.

The PS 261 teachers, (who had joined the demo outside the Oct DA) had a chance to express their feelings in a very intimate setting. This discussion, where Randi actually had to raise her hand and be called on by the chair, was very open and it may even have been me who suggested that DA's should have this type of open, if not intimate, discussion. A week later the "special" Dec. DA was announced and voted on at the Nov. DA.

I have no easy answers to how to make a DA more open (following the rules would help), but when Randi and I communicated regularly years ago I used to badger her to reform the DA. Like have her report come at the end of the meeting and have a regular open period for a half hour or so. Or a debate with 2 points of view. I'm sure we can come up with lots more ideas. But that's all for now.

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Anonymous said...

To 12:13 am.

An Ex post facto law is to punish someone after the fact. You can't punish someone for doing something that was not a violation at the time the person did it.

Jeff told administration what he was doing as soon as the memo came out about undue familiarity. He was punished for what he did before that memo came out. That is wrong, wrong, wrong!

I hope this was polite enough. No offense was intended.

Anonymous said...

Principal Dody must have found this blog. Not even the worst of Unity hacks could say something against what happened to Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Norm,

You've confused two or more posts. I have no idea what Kaufman said at any Delegate Assembly, and frankly, I'm not sure it's relevant. My post (Jan. 26th, 11:24:54) wondered how it was he didn't know the rules. My post(Jan 29th, 9:53:01)was merely shock at your tone and venom. It seems that if you question anything here, you're instantly lumped into this evil 'Unity' entity. Reading the posts, I can only conclude that you are equally guilty of everything you your opposition of. Sorry I intruded into your hate fest. I actually thought you were an alternative blog open to dialogue between NYC teachers. My mistake. You only want to hear yourself repeated ad nauseum.

Anonymous said...

Correction for above:

*...guilty of everything you accuse your opposition of.

Anonymous said...

THE REAL REASON JEFF KAUFMAN WAS REMOVED FROM RIKERS ISLAND
FROM SOMEONE WHO WAS THERE!

At one time Jeff was a respected union leader at AHMIA then something horrible happened, he became drunk with power. Jeff wanted to be the principal, but guess what, that position was already filled! and when he couldn't get his way, he second guessed every decision his administrators made,in an attempt to turn things in his favor and turn the staff against all of the Assistant Principals, especially Frank. Jeff was at war with Administration over power and not for the good of the teachers but for the benefit of himself. It became apparent that Jeff's war was purely personal when all of the Paraprofessionals were laid off and Frank moved heaven and hell to rehire them. Jeff, 'Our" union leader fought to have the Paraprofessionals removed, citing that their rehiring wasn't fair. his words were "Other people should have a shot at their jobs". Jeff again began to wage his own personal war even at the expense of the hard working people he had been elected by to protect. Someone on the blog stated that revenge is a dish served best cold, well Jeff has had plates of it and he's so full of vengeance that he has become blinded by it. I was a teacher at AHMIA and I know where all the bones are buried and who did the digging and believe me Jeff's hands are far from clean and by no means is he, or ever was a victim. Jeff's sense of fair play? well let me dig up two sets of bones for you;

1) In Jeff's absence he ran for chapter chair re-election. Unwilling to give up his seat he and Donald Murphy intentionally mislead the staff into believing that "Jeff would be back any day". all the while both Donald Murphy and Jeff Kaufman were fully aware that Kaufman was not, and could not return to the island because he violated a Dept. of Corrections mandate stating that civilian staff can not fraternize with inmates this is called "Undue familiarity". Every September DOC holds a security meeting and this among other things are outlined and explained to civilian employees. he appointed his friend and cohort Donald Murphy to "unofficially" be chapter chair in his place. It wasn't until the next year that Mr. Murphy won the election after running under the guise of Jeff Kaufman. (Doesn't this have the feel of a Bush election LOL)

2) The student who jeff was removed over had received Jeff's address and other personal information and was convicted of a serious infraction while being incarcerated and was placed in solitary confinement for a hundred or more days. This is the innocent kid that knew where Jeff lived. Can anyone imagine why corrections wouldn't want an inmate to have your address?
Even after he was personally advised against putting his family at risk, Jeff neglected to heed the warnings and continued to violate DOC regulations.It wasn't until Jeff realized that he had gotten too involved with this inmate that he chose to tell Mr. Dody about "The Situation" who then went through the proper channels of informing DOC and then DOC officially removed him from the island. The rules are the same for everyone and Jeff was treated like any other staff member would have been treated for the same violation.
With all of that said, it would behoove me not to mention the underhanded tactics of Donald Murphy; as i said before at one point Jeff was a trusted union official, that is before he allowed his quest for vengeance to cloud his judgment. But even on Jeff's most warped day, which would have included refusing to participate in any school activities with the exception of the stock market game one year. Murphy couldn't wear Jeff's left shoe when it came to the confidentiality of a union members grievance or other personal information. Many union members were afraid to grieve or ask for guidance with a situation for fear that he would divulge their personal business.In one instance Mr. Murphy's response to a paraprofessional in danger of losing her job was " Well that's what she gets, I mean, you know, she doesn't want help, so I'm not going over there!" I have to tell you that I could not believe my ears! There was also a time when Murphy accused the principal of practicing exclusionary tactics when it was he himself who was guilty of that accusation. There were a group of Union reps for each site that were hand picked by him and the staff had no choice in who would represent each building. Many teachers were upset by this, some contacted the union only to be told that there was nothing that could be done about the unfair practice. My 4th year at AHMIA was spent listening to Murphy rant and rave about the principal (Mr. Dody) giving cushy jobs to white people, if i am not mistaken Mr. Murphy is Afro American, and had the cushiest job of them all;he produced a school magazine, and had a very small pull out class of about 5 to 7 students, never had a lesson plan and always had the lights off during supposed instruction. The man was so out of control that in the middle of a staff meeting Mr. Murphy brazenly called the principal a racist. I was utterly shocked and disgusted by his unfair use of the race card and his unprofessional behavior. I must admit that i don't know what AHMIA is like now but this is ju st some of what i experienced as a teacher at that facility.

Jeff Kaufman said...

It is difficult to respond to anonymous above because much of what anonymous says is just factually incorrect. Of course he or she if free to draw their own conclusions about my motives but it is important to be clear about what happened on Rikers.

It is clear from anonymous's writing that he or she has not been a teacher on Rikers for long. Believe or not I enjoy teaching and have no interest in leaving the classroom. What is perceived as a threat to ultimate principal power and control is just a teacher trying to empower students who face decisions that most of us never dream of facing. When an administration perceives that they are really providing these students with education he would not remove physical education from most of the school (our students were locked in their cells for a good part of the non-school day and could do recreation in the "yard" where only the gang leaders could walk safely. If he cared about our students he wouldn't remove most of the vocational programs that we once offered. He would not lead by allowing his subordinates to run their sites in any hostile manner they chose leading the DOE's own EEO to find that an AP wasn't really racist "but could be perceived by his staff as being racist" after almost 20 DOE and DOC staff complained.
If the principal was truly interested in providing education to incarcerated students he would work toward making the transition to home schools possible by providing transferable credits instead of devoting all of his resources toward the GED which only a small fraction of the students could qualify.

The paraprofessional example cited by anonymous is a case in point. After the para layoff when we lost 26 paras at the end of the 2002 school year the Union did nothing to guide them toward unemployment. In the fall it became apparent the school could not function without the paras. (As a side note only a couple of paras actually worked in classrooms. None were assigned to Special Ed students and most did office work). I received a call from our sister school on Rikers Island, Horizon Acadmeny's Chapter Leader who told me of a "secret" plan to rehire the paras even though they had been layed off. I said I had real misgivings about it since it violated the contract. At that point the principal from Horizon (who was listening in to the conversation on an extension, unknown to me)began yelling at me. I quickly hung up and I don't think I spoke to that Chapter Leader again.

I found myself in a real ethical quandary; Should I permit a clear violation of the contract to go forward to favor colleagues I knew over paras who had the right to be rehired who I did not know. I chose to follow the contract and notified the union that this violation was being planned. After a few days all of the paras that were layed off were rehired so the issue actually became moot but it was a difficult decision which I support to this day. If we "allow" contract violations for our friends in favor of other union members how can we complain when it is done to us. That was and still is my rationale.

As for the address issue and "undue familiarity" it appears that our anonymous friend did not go through any of the issues that a large number of struggled with every day....are we teachers or are we surrogate correction officers. The prohibition against undue familiarty was purposely left vague until Sept 2005 when, for the first time at a securtiy meeting it was disclosed that we needed the principal's permission to communicate with former students. Still, without clarity, the first letter I received from a former student I informed the principal. When he demanded that he see it I refused and stated that if he insisted I would consider it an illegal search. He had no basis to believe that the letter contained anything improper. In fact, after I was forced to show the letter I was vindicated and verily believed I would return to Rikers. There were a handful of pro-administration, anti-teacher, members of my chapter who reveled in my removal. The administration even had some of them run against me in my absence. The Chapter held strong and not only re-elected me by a substantial margin began to question a lot of what the administration was doing.

Obviously this questioning paid off. While I don't see Dody's removal as a panacea I do see it as potentially positive for education on Rikers Island.

Anonymous, as always, you are free to email me if you feel I have not responded properly to any of your points.

BTW I don't have an administrator's license and wouldn't dream of getting one.