Thursday, December 25, 2008

Letter to State Ed Commissioner: Stop Academic Apartheid

Jamaica High School UFT
167-01 Gothic Drive
Jamaica, NY 11432

December 18, 2008

Mr. Richard P.Mills
State Education Commissioner
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Via email:
& fax: (518) 473-4909

Dear Commissioner Mills:

We recently received a copy of a letter from Garth Harries, Chief Executive Officer for Portfolio Development, sent to you in response to our letter to you dated August 20, 2008, about the situation at Jamaica High School. Mr. Harries does not adequately address the central themes of the original letter: separate and unequal schools existing in the same building, what we call “academic apartheid,” and the need to lower class sizes so that all students have an ample opportunity to succeed. We would like to meet with you to investigate the issues further and take corrective action.

The State provided the City with Contracts for Excellence funds and in exchange, required the city to adopt a plan in which class sizes would be reduced to 23 in high school classes, as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Settlement. Instead, the Department of Education has taken away valuable space from our students to give it to Queens Collegiate, the new selective school placed within our building and is planning to take even more space away from our school in the years to come. Taking this space away from Jamaica High School will make the goal of substantially lower class sizes for our students impossible to achieve.

As we stated in August when referring to the city’s class size plan, approved in the fall of 2007 by the state, the DOE pledged that “decisions regarding the co-location of a new school or program in an existing building will explicitly take into account the decisions and plans principals have made regarding reduced class size. It is important to be clear that the DOE will not place a new school or program in a building at the expense of those schools and programs already operating within the building and that these decisions will be made in consultation with school principals.”[i]

Mr. Harries in his letter claims the following: “The evaluation of available space throughout the system is based on the Standard Instructional Footprint that is applied to all schools sharing space.” He adds that “The DOE honors a school’s current class size – or an approved plan to reduce class size in the case where a principal has not previously been able to do so – but we also expect that the school is making full use of specialty rooms consistent with this footprint.”

If we do the math, we can clearly see that Mr. Harries’ “footprint” system is flawed at Jamaica High School. Our school has 57 regular classrooms and seven special education classrooms available. In addition, we have four labs, two music rooms, five computer rooms and one room used to house students who have been suspended. This is what is available for our roughly 1,500 students. We expect our population to grow or at least hold steady due to the recruiting efforts we have made in the community.

This year, we have already lost five full-time classrooms to Queens Collegiate for their incoming grade nine class as well as some lab and gymnasium space for part of the day. In addition, we have lost two other classrooms that have been turned into office space for our school because Queens Collegiate took away some of our administrative space as well. As Queens Collegiate grows by adding a grade ten class next year, we will be compelled to give up three more classrooms. In subsequent years, we understand Queens Collegiate is slated to expand to include grades 6-12 which will require Jamaica to relinquish even more of our classroom space. We will clearly not have sufficient space to lower class sizes significantly. Queens Collegiate will also be taking additional lab space and a greater portion of Jamaica’s gymnasiums. This unsustainable situation would seem to indicate that DOE is not intending to honor any commitment to significantly lower class sizes at Jamaica High School.

Let us examine the current class size situation. The latest DOE figures show Queens Collegiate has an average class size of 22.5 while Jamaica High School has an average of 26.1. As of December 9, 2008, Jamaica High School had 61 classes filled to the UFT contractual maximum class size of 34 and an additional six physical education classes at the cap of 50. When we delve into the numbers further, we see that there are 132 subject classes that have class sizes with over 30 students at Jamaica High School and 18 physical education classes over 45. These classes are far above the goal of 23 on average that the city has adopted for academic classes.

In order to reduce our class sizes from a maximum of 34 to 23, it would be necessary to create 70 additional classes and hire 14 extra teachers. There is no way these class size reductions can be achieved with the number of rooms allocated for Jamaica High School, especially as the number of rooms available to us will shrink as Queens Collegiate expands as planned within our building. Those 70 additional classes needed for class size reduction will require classrooms. Even if it were possible to program each particular classroom for eight periods per day, nine additional classrooms would still be required to meet the goal of 23 per class. Instead, we will be losing more classrooms to Queens Collegiate making the goal of substantially lower class size virtually impossible to attain.

It also needs to be understood that Department of Education class size figures should be examined very closely to ensure that they are accurate. The DOE often links classes on the register, making it appear that class sizes are smaller than they actually are. For example, we have Spanish classes that are linked with Spanish honors’ classes, since there are not enough honors’ pupils to run separate classes. Therefore, on the school’s organization chart there will be a Spanish 3 class with 23 pupils and a Spanish 3 honors’ class with 11. They both meet at the exact same time, in the same room and with the same teacher, but the DOE lists them as separate classes and can claim lower class sizes. In reality, there is one class with one teacher providing instruction for 34 pupils, rather than two smaller classes as reported.

Mr. Harries claims that Queens Collegiate has greater per pupil funding compared with Jamaica only because of “some start up funds.” He says, “New schools receive additional start up funds in their first year to off-set the cost of setting up offices and outfitting instructional spaces, i.e. classrooms gymnasiums, labs, etc.” Queens Collegiate is using Jamaica’s science labs and gym space; therefore it appears as though the start up funds are being utilized to outfit a school that is technologically superior to the school with which it shares space. Look at a Queens Collegiate classroom and compare it to a Jamaica High School classroom. While Queens Collegiate has smart boards in all of their rooms, Jamaica does not. While their rooms are freshly painted and both of their offices have brand new furniture as well as new equipment, our facilities are for the most part dilapidated. It is clear to anyone who has eyes that these are separate and unequal schools within the same building.

Mr. Harries seems to believe that Jamaica High School can improve student achievement if we reorganize into Smaller Learning Communities. Research shows, however, that class size, not school size is a critical factor in student achievement because it is within classes that instruction takes place. Without smaller classes, these learning communities will make little difference.[ii]

Moreover, when Mr. Harries analyzes school demographics and statistics, his comparison lacks validity. Mr. Harries claims: “In 2007-08, the new schools’ incoming 9th grade student population included higher percentages of African-American and Latino students, English Language Learners, and students that performed below grade level standards on 8th grade exams than schools citywide. In addition, new schools enrolled an equal percentage of 9th graders who require special education services as schools citywide.” Mr. Harries compares new schools with overall citywide averages instead of comparing the demographics of a new school with the school it is sharing space with or replacing, which would be a proper assessment.

If we examine the student characteristics of Jamaica’s current pupils and compare them with Queens Collegiate, the numbers are revealing. According to each school’s DOE school web page under “Statistics” on the “Register” page, Jamaica has a student population that is 58% Black and 18% Hispanic while Queens Collegiate has a student body that is 42% Black and 16% Hispanic.

In addition, the “Register” page shows that 14% (214) of Jamaica High School’s students are English Language Learners while Queens Collegiate has only one English Language Learner. Jamaica also has a higher percentage of students who have Individualized Education Programs than Queens Collegiate. Queens Collegiate has no students who are in self-contained special education classes (Most Restrictive Environment); they only educate the more moderately disabled Least Restrictive Environment special education students. However, 5% (81) of Jamaica’s pupils have Individualized Education Programs that call for the Most Restrictive Environment. In fact, we know of one student who was transferred from Queens Collegiate to Jamaica this semester because the new school could not accommodate the pupil who needed a self-contained program. If Jamaica had only one English Language Learner and no self-contained special education students, we could no doubt project that our test results and our graduation rate would rise accordingly.

Furthermore, many of Jamaica’s students are currently being treated unfairly as it is now the middle of December and there are still 14 classes that have no regular teacher. These classes are being covered by Absent Teacher Reserves who are working out of their license area or by teachers filling in for an extra class each day. The administration does not have the money to hire full time teachers to teach these classes. Ten of the classes are in self-contained special education and the others are in math. There is also a bilingual history class for students whose primary language is Spanish that is being taught by a monolingual teacher who speaks no Spanish. Many of our most vulnerable students are being short-changed because our school is not properly funded to be able to employ enough full time teachers to cover the classes we have.

As was stated in our August letter, the State Education Department has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that DOE makes a commitment to reducing class size at Jamaica HS to the levels in its state-mandated proposal to 23 -- as soon as possible. If this is not possible given space constraints, DOE should be required to find another home for the more selective Queens Collegiate. Having a better funded, better equipped small school that has lower class sizes within our building is harmful in many ways to Jamaica’s students. We need to end “Academic Apartheid.”

We would also like to note for the record that we are not criticizing the educators who work at Queens Collegiate or their students. Their teaching, administrative and support staff work in a very professional manner and we respect what they are trying to achieve. All we are asking for is equal treatment for our staff and pupils.

In addition, we are fully cognizant of the reality that New York State and New York City are presently operating under very tight fiscal constraints. Therefore, it would be a very wise financial decision for the DOE to consolidate Jamaica High School and Queens Collegiate into one Jamaica High School with one administration. The administrative savings would be substantial and those funds could be used to lower class sizes for all pupils, including those with the greatest needs who are predominantly served at Jamaica. We also strongly believe that using scarce resources for smaller class sizes rather than smaller learning communities would be a more effective investment to improve our students’ opportunities to learn.

As the State Education Commissioner is an official who has the authority to mandate the lower class sizes and equity for all pupils, we are asking for a meeting with you or a State Education Department Representative as soon as possible at Jamaica High School.


UFT Chapter Committee
Jamaica High School


Chaz said...

Way to go James. Your post speaks volumes about the unequal treatment between the two schools. Tweed's fuzzy math is very obvious on how they favor the small schools. However, based on previous history don't expect that Lame Duck Mills to do anything about it.

Anonymous said...

Though I agree with the message in your post, I wish you wouldn't throw the word Apartheid around so lightly. Even though they are both injustices, I don't think that it's fair to compare what is happening in your school to the system of government that oppressed millions and kept Nelson Mandela in jail for over 20 years. The term gets devalued when you throw it around like that for dramatic effect.

I remember being a young buck in the early 1980s protesting against Apartheid with little Steven. Damn right we weren't gonna play Sun City. I think I still have my dashiki in the attic.

Ty Johnson; BBA, MS, MPIA, J.D., D.P.M., Representative of the Lollipop Guild, undercover super lover, and personally recognized as a good samaritan by Judge Judy in 1998.

Anonymous said...

What would you like to call it?

Anonymous said...

How about just using "inequity"? Maybe that would make Mr. Johnson happy.

Some interesting characters here.

Anonymous said...

Since we are back to separate and unequal schools, apartheid works for me.

Anonymous said...

Separate and unequal is already in the letter.

Anonymous said...

wish every's school's UFT leader would write to Commissioner Mills about what's going on in their schools. What is Randi doing to encourage this kind of grass-roots activism? This school even got their school secretary to sign the letter (and by the way, why are the principal and ap's MIA?) Also, why doesn't the UFT get the PTA executive board and SLT parent members to co-sign?

Marge Kolb

Anonymous said...

Is there no administrative remedy for team work ? Public Education is not for sale to corporatism !End the mandates on NCLB !

Anonymous said...

Wow, James. I'm in awe that you haven't ended up in the Rubber Room on some trumped up charges. You're a fighter and that is not appreciated by the UFT or the DOE, yet you're still standing. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

As a former teacher and rubber room occupant, I must say that I have never witnessed more indifference from teachers, administrators or from a union.

The money changers are winning. None of my children or my family's posterity will ever commit their lives to public service if I can help it.

Anonymous said...

Sort of cuts through the big lie of "Put Children First." Reminds me of the kid who said 'the emperor has no clothes.'
I think the UFT Chapter Committee at Jamaica HS models for both adults and children the democratic spirit and critical thinking skills most needed in our schools and union today.
Its more than a letter to a lame duck State Ed Commissioner, it's a step towards a new model for educator unionism.
A UFT Chapter Committee has set a higher standard for solidarity in one letter than we have seen from the UFT AdCom in their nearly 40 years of inveterate white racial opportunism.
I am heartened by the Jamica HS UFT Committee's willingness to see that social justice is union business and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jamaica HS UFT Chaper and ICE:
Your letter to Mills is a powerful expose' of what is going on with the city's "restructuring"
and what has been going on for decades at all levels of schools where smaller selective schools
with smaller class sizes (often with corporate sponsorship) are installed.
Your letter can truly inspire other chapters in similar situations to analyze and
challenge the disparate treatment which sets the stage by government for "school failures" which will then be
unfairly blamed on teachers.
We, as ICE, should work on getting this expose' to our teachers and especially encourage
teachers in similar situations to do the same. How can we as, an activist oriented caucus,facilitate this process?
Clearly, this issue is related to what ICE has begun to undertake organizationally -- closings & the ATRs.
How can we, as the rank and file, organize around this disparate treatment and effect some change?
Clearly, Comm. Mills, government and UFT bureaucrats will not!
At our next meetings, let's define what actions we can undertake collectively to mobilize and
build our movement of educators.

Angel Gonzalez

Anonymous said...

Since I am retired from the school system, I would be glad to go around to schools and spread our message.

I could explain about the rubber rooms, how ATRs are selfishly making substitute teachers obsolete, why Teach for America is actually the devil, and how now, by way of Randi, Chancellor Klein really controls the national teachers union.

Our members need to be informed. I can think of nobody better suited to speak the truth at schools besides me, James, Jeff, Vera, Chaz, and the rest of ICE. The Unity won't do it.

Speaking of which, maybe Vera could host another get together where we could distribute literature and recruit new activists. If we serve cookies and cake they will come.

Knowledge is power!

Ty Johnson; BBA, MS, MPIA, J.D., D.P.M., former advisor to Governor Spitzer, stunt double for Danny Glover in "Predator 2", and personally recognized as a good samaritan by Judge Judy in 1998.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Johnson, would you be able to come to my school in district 13 Brooklyn?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Johnson, I would ask for an ICE speaker to come to my school in the Bronx, however I do not agree with ICE's stance that "ATRs are selfishly making substitute teachers obsolete". That sounds very myopic to me. ATR's are the ones being taken aadvantage of.

ed notes online said...

Anon 9:22
That is NOT an ICE position but an anon comment on this blog. Please do not take these comments as ICE positions. ICE has no position on subs vs. ATRs.

If you want an ICE speaker to come to your school send us an email. I can be reached at

And Mr. Johnson, can I assume you are the same Mr. Johnson who has attended ICE meetings?


Anonymous said...

Does that mean that ICE is formulating a position on Subs vs. ATRs?

ed notes online said...

Not as far as I know. There is no conflict between subs vs atrs. Our position is that there should be no atrs and if there are it should be based on seniority.

I do not think it is a bad idea for schools to have some new teachers assigned permanently to cover classes. I was atr for a year and a half when I started in '67 - they board had overhired and we were guaranteed a job. We had 2 or 3 in my school, all new non-traditionally trained teachers from a 6 week summer program.

I angled to be an atr because I felt so unready to teach. When there was no one absent I was given the chance to see others teach. Really a rational way to train new teachers.

Anonymous said...

Dear Norm,

What are ICE's positions?
Not core principals.

"Our position is that there should be no atrs and if there are it should be based on seniority."

Where can this be found? I've been told that ICE is democratic
and transparent.

What candidate did the ICE caucus endorse for President? Please explain the rationale.

Thanks so much,
On the Fence

Anonymous said...

talk about fighting over nothing. The last comment is strange. Go to the ICE website and you can read the positions. Look at the platform from 2007 and 2004. It's easy to find.

Anonymous said...

The ICE leaflet can be downloaded from the ICE web site:

Why Are More Schools Closing?

What Can We Do About It?

At least seven public schools across the city have been targeted for closing. From Red Hook, Brooklyn to the Rockaways to the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx, all doomed by School Report Card grades of D or F, which are based on a single year's achievement scores. The decision was made unilaterally without hearings or
community input.

This new round of closings affects more than 300 teachers and nearly three thousand students. It follows six years of school reorganizations under Klein and Bloomberg that have directly affected tens of thousands of
students and left more than a thousand teachers still without positions. Teachers in the targeted schools lose their school communities and the relationships they forged over years. Practical knowledge that school veterans have developed is discarded as new schools are set up in their place.

The drama of school condemnation only obscures the deteriorating conditions of learning. Class sizes have increased. Buildings are overcrowded. The Daily News recently reported that 17,000 students lack access to a school library. Dozens of overcrowded schools use their libraries as classrooms. Others have librarians
working as teachers. Such a dismal lack of the basics is not accounted for on the school report cards. It must be obvious by now that the DOE's obsession with accountability is more about controlling people than the improvement of anything.

Grading schools with yearly achievement scores stifles creative and relevant pedagogy. It leaves no room for setting long-term educational goals. The ever growing pool of excessed teachers is created to keep all educators on the defensive, uncertain and in fear. It's time that we joined in an effort not only to resist more
closings but to take back our schools for our students and their communities.

The Independent Community of Educators has recently formed a committee to address both the plight of our colleagues in closing schools and the teacher reserve. We will explore school closings in relationship to:

 the City's failure to provide viable alternatives for poorly functioning schools
 our loss of seniority, due-process and tenure rights
 scapegoating and discrediting of competent educators
 the City's reckless policy of continuing to hire new teachers
 navigating the morass of the open market and the new counter-incentives for hiring ATRs
 valid evaluation of teacher quality and performance
 threatened termination of competent ATR educators and their impact on quality services
Join us Jan. 7 - 5 PM at the Skylight Diner on W 34th St, (west of 9th Ave) for discussion and planning.

ATR Committee of ICE-UFT
P.O. Box 1143
Jamaica, NY 11421
Tel. 718.601.4901 ~

Anonymous said...

It appears that my comments were erased from EdNotes, so I'll repost them here. I have had an epiphany...

Ok, I've been thinking about this a lot the last few days. The problems within the UFT are just too much. Even though I have been enjoying retirement, I would be willing to give it up and I would like to throw my hat in the ring and run on the ICE ticket against Randi in the next UFT Presidential elections. I know it is a few years off but I want to start now. I feel that I have a lot to offer and working with my colleagues in ICE we can bring some real change.

My platform is simple; a return to activism, taking it to the streets, publicizing real obtainable data, no more school closings, no more unjust rubber room placements (and compensation for our members when they are cleared), we will provide food at the delegate assemblies, no more ATRs selfishly taking pay checks from substitute teachers and making them obsolete, and we will crush all of our adversaries (both in the DOE and in the UFT) like Stalin would. The guy in the "Karate Kid" said that mercy is for the weak, I agree. Also, compromise is for the indecisive. People should be called out on their nonsense and games. Kleinbloomgarten needs to go take a hike. We can beat them with our cast ballots. Nothing can stop ICE when we all stand together united!

Once in my old school we had a guidance counselor who did not practice solidarity and she was constantly trying to get teachers in trouble. We took care of her, we stuck bananas up her car's tailpipe. Eddie Murphy did that in Beverly Hills Cop. It was inspiring, as I hope to be, and it worked well. The problem was resolved.

We need to do something comparable to the current powers that be. They need to go.

Speaking of the future elections, I would also like to run with that John Powers guy as my Vice-President. From what I've read I can tell that he is committed and that he puts a lot of effort into things and tries really hard. Since he is young I can teach him a lot and mold him into a great leader. He will be like my Darth Vader or Tojo. He will educate others by speaking ICE principles and beliefs by my side.

You heard it here first, in the next UFT election vote the ICE ticket; Ty Johnson as President, John Powers as Vice-President, Jeff Kaufman, James Etirno, and Michael Fiorello as Executive Board Members.

The future is now! Yes we can! We are ICE, we are strong! We are ICE, we are strong! Who is with me? Like Paul McCartney and Wings said, there is no end with what we can do together!

Ty Johnson; BBA, MS, MPIA, J.D., D.P.M., future ICE candidate for UFT President, proud Caroline Kennedy supporter, and personally recognized as a good samaritan by Judge Judy in 1998.

Anonymous said...

I'll support you Ty. I find your views to be very refreshing.

Anonymous said...

God help us.

Anonymous said...

Consider me a supporter too Ty. You got me when you mentioned Stalin and Tojo.

Anonymous said...

You got me with Darth Vader. May the force be with you Ty.

Anonymous said...

Ty Johnson seems to be the perfect candidate to lead ICE.

Anonymous said...

I love this Ty Johnson guy. Viva ICE!

Anonymous said...

Ty & ICE, bringing the fun back to UFT.

Anonymous said...

I would like to arrange for Ty Johnson and John Powers to come to my school to discuss the privatization of our health care and to address ATRs versus substitute teachers. How do I get in contact with them?

Anonymous said...

Ty and company should stick to the issue which is the letter Jamaica sent. That's a serious issue.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank everyone here for the grand sentiments of support. I would be glad to speak at your schools. I will go over the facts, speak the truth, and put on a high energy show just like James Brown would.

For the anonymous poster above me, I have already mentioned that schools should not be closed. We simply can not allow that to happen. Where else will students learn, the streets? As a young buck, the only thing I ever learned from the streets is how to steal hubcaps. Not only is that immoral, but most cars don't even have them anymore.

It is time to get with the times, just like the UFT will with me as ICE president and John Powers as my Vader/Vice-president.

Ty Johnson; BBA, MS, MPIA, J.D., D.P.M., future ICE candidate for UFT President, master of the death touch, and personally recognized as a good samaritan by Judge Judy in 1998.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Johnson, please save the date January 22nd. If you are serious and would like to be involved with ICE we would love to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ty,
Time to come out of the closet. Put on that Dashiki and show up on Jan. 22 in full regalia.