Thursday, September 09, 2010


The school year opened this week with great uncertainty at the 19 schools that the city tried to close last year but were saved by six judges. The Daily News and NY 1 did stories that featured Jamaica High School as part of their coverage of the opening day of the school year. Since I am the chapter leader at Jamaica and know the situation very well, I think it would be informative to explain what is going on at our facility so that people can understand how kids in closing schools are the casualties of school reform.

Back in December 2009 the Department of Education introduced proposals to phase out 19 schools but their plan was flawed because they wrote inadequate Educational Impact Statements. After the Panel for Educational Policy voted at 3:00 a.m. on January 27, 2010 to close all of these schools, the UFT (with the complete support of ICE), NAACP and others sued and won to prevent the closings.

Judge Joan Lobis decided on March 26, 2010 that the UFT was right when she ruled that the 19 schools should remain open. On July 1, an appeals court agreed 5-0 with the original decision. What was left unclear was whether new schools could still start in our buildings even though the old schools still existed. We believed they could not and wanted the UFT to go back to court on the issue to prevent the new schools from invading our space. I spoke with the chapter leader from Beach Channel and he agreed with me on this issue. I also emailed President Michael Mulgrew to no avail.

We thought we had a strong case by just looking at the flawed Educational Impact Statements. For Jamaica, the impact statement said that by phasing out Jamaica it would create space for the two new schools. No phase out equals no space for the new schools right? Well the UFT disagreed and on July 14 they basically sold out many of the nineteen schools by agreeing to allow the new schools to start in our buildings. In exchange we were supposed to get support.

Not only have we not received any help from either UFT or DOE after their July 14 agreement, our pupils have had to suffer the indignity of returning to school and being squeezed into the middle of the building in an area that looks antiquated while two new schools and an expanding third on the east and west wings install modern equipment for their small schools. It's appalling how conditions in the same building are so vastly different between schools.

Then to hear the mayor and chancellor say on the first school day that schools such as Jamaica don't deserve support is unconscionable. The corporate mindset has gone overboard. Bloomberg and Klein want to close our school so they will compromise the education of our students to prove their point. Even I am having trouble believing that people can be that vindictive against innocent children.

If anyone is thinking that someone should have told Judge Lobis about how her decision has been violated by DOE and UFT, we did. A Jamaica teacher named Debbie Saal, and I along with a student and parent wrote up something called an Order to Show Cause asking the judge to intervene as opening up new schools appeared to us to be a violation of her decision. In our petition, we asked the judge to stop two new schools from opening in our building since the Educational Impact Statement that created these schools was flawed as their existence was predicated on Jamaica phasing out, which it no longer is. We had many strong arguments saying that Jamaica’s pupils were suffering irreparable harm because we were losing so much space and funding.

Unfortunately, Judge Lobis, when she saw our papers, said because the case was closed our papers were therefore not timely. Translation, when the UFT made their deal with the DOE to let the new schools co-locate in our facility, we had no legal recourse. Since it is up to the judge to decide whether or not to intervene in a case, it means our legal options are very limited.

That's where it stands right now. Our school is open as an entity but with very few freshmen and no help coming from anywhere. Our programs are either nonexistent or a shell of their former selves. Some Advanced Placement classes have been dropped; there are no music classes; science classes meet one fewer period per week, many electives no longer exist and all ninth graders in general education, whether they are in our Gateway Honors program, Law program or are English Language Learners, are all in the same subject classes. 25 teachers out of 84 were placed in excess and Absent Teacher Reserves who don't know our school are being sent here to cover classes while our excessed teachers are sent packing all over Queens.

We have been abandoned by Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Michael Mulgrew and Judge Lobis.

Our students and staff are casualties of school reform. Can anyone help us?


CantBeBought said...

The number of students left behind is astounding. This administration has done more to hurt the children of our city and the future than anyone in recent memory. All we can hope for is that everyone learns what is really going on.

Pogue said...

A hearty thanks must go out to Mr. Mulgrew and the UFT leadership wherefore none of these destructive debacles could have be done without their help and support.

Good job.

Next up, helping Klein get that D.C. contract for N.Y.

Julie W said...

James: am wondering if Mulscrew & Co. are giving ICE-related people more of a shaft than others.

Our principal violated contract over SBOs, 6R jobs, and pref sheets last spring. I filed multiple grievances and appeals, but the Bronx office squelched them all.

It seems the blockage came at a pretty high level: Bor. Rep Jose Vargas, since other UFT staff not only agreed with me (the issues were so obvious!), had started to help, then inexplicably stopped communicating with me, each and every one of them.

I complained to LeRoy Barr, who just passed the whole thing back to the same Vargas. He stonewalled further, has NOT contacted me as promised, and has not explained why he either could make no headway with this autocratic principal or was just plain lying and never even bothered to try.

I don't think the TJC chapter leader over at Bronx Science was supported enough either. From what I heard, there was no reason for the arbitrator to suggest that he be transferred to a different school.

Back to my question: Are they purposefully, or disproportionately, avoiding ICE people?

Anonymous said...

I like the name Mulscrew. LOL in this tragedy.

Anonymous said...

I was also wondering if this treatment of Jamaica HS, which seems to be more severe than the treatment of the other 18 schools, is to excelerate the excessing of James and thus getting rid of him as a chapter leader.

I had many complaints last year from Bronx teachers who were in the Rubber Room that they were being totally ignored by people in the Bronx Borough Office, including Vargas and different DRs. They did not have that problem the previous year when the elected liaison was not in ICE.

Anonymous said...

Julie W-- I think you are right the UFT is creating problems for the ICE people. You are the only teachers that really know how the UFT and the DOE are destroying the system. Plus, the UFT doesn't like assertive and intelligent people. They want you out of the system.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if you couldn't find a civil rights group to help you. ELLs are not being given appropriate services so I would think that might be a lawsuit. I'm talking with no experience in these matters so if I sound totally naive forgive me. I'm just thinking perhaps contacting a group like advocates for children and then from there they might be able to refer you to a civil rights group that's just itching to take on the mayor. I honestly can't believe it hasn't happened already. Also, I believe there is a group that advocates for union employees whose union is not acting on their behalf. You may have to actually sue the UFT.

James Eterno said...

Already working on the ESL angle. Called Advocates for children over the summer and they wished us all the best.

Anonymous said...

Sadly the uft brokered a deal w the doe that essentially allows for the undermining of these schools. Don't have the link handy, but if u do a search on gotham you'll find the story explaining the bizarre and in my opinion tragic backroom deal that will result in the elimination of these schools one way or another.

Anonymous said...

I know it's hard to remember after all this time, and all the soul-killing work you all did last year, but at the very beginning, when the school closing stuff first reared its ugly head, I said, at one of Casey's meetings, that I felt it was really important for the UFT to take charge of the situation, and not leave each individual school to fend for itself.  Several CL's also echoed that sentiment.  Yet, what in effect came to pass?   The first set of instructions was for
every individual school to organize
its own constituents.  That, in itself, was a recipe for failure, as each school is differently capacitated, and is faced with a different situation.  Some chapters are strong, others aren't.  Some schools have strong backing from their communities, others don't.  Some schools can build better cases than others for remaining open.  Yet the central problem remains the same for all affected  schools:  The DOE, for reasons of its own -- reasons that didn't take into account the needs of students or communities -- decided to sell out 19 schools.  The UFT finally played its "Take the Case to Court" ploy, and won what should have been a reprieve for all the schools; then essentially gave the victory back to the DOE.  At no time did the UFT try to unify all affected parties to work together.  Nor did it ever call for mass demonstrations at any of the affected schools.  So, when large numbers of people turned out at one meeting or other, it was generally through the hard work of individual school leaders -- James, Seung, etc. -- though a few rank and file people did show up here and there, if the school was conveniently enough located for them.  What if 25,000 people were asked to show up at some of those meetings?  What if  joint showcasing of the plights of
all the schools had been done?  
The public at large responds more sympathetically to a  problem that is widespread  than to one that is localized.  After a while, the size of the problem begins to affect people, and they begin to wonder how an administration can fly in the face of so many parents, so much protest. 
Probably it's not necessary to begin all over again, and try to replicate all that hard work that was done in each individual school last year.  How about something like joint petitioning to the judge, or a joint presentation of all the bad things that have happened in all affected schools in the wake of the new developments.  One school's difficulties are easy to ignore; the problems of 19, all presented together, are less so.

Under Assault said...

Anon. 8:33 — totally correct to point out how the UFT's position has favored diffusion over inclusion.

You already cite examples of its anemic (collaborative?) response to DoE aggression. Other instances would be Mulgrew's encouraging us to demonstrate at the Jan PEP meeting. People heard him say: "We want a circus of chaos. We have a permit [!] . . . I want everyone from the D.A. there . . . community, kids, coming out." (Obviously just for show, I mean how many people can an auditorium hold?). Another example: arranging (or tolerating) a handful of street protests at various venues (e.g., at the Bronx Courthouse and the offices of state officials) that got practically no advertisement and just about zero media coverage.

All you hear from Mulgrew is "We lobbied at Albany...", "We taught them up in Albany...," "Our political arm is working non-stop for the members..," blah, blah, blah.

If that's the case, they stink at their jobs. They've strategically and incrementally helped EdDeform debase our profession and set it into free fall.

Anonymous said...

I am a firm believer in the universe getting even. Mulgrew will not come out of this looking very "presidential".

Anonymous said...


An eloquent letter as usual. There aren't any answers, because the questions are:

'Why doesn't the DOE act in the interests of Jamaica HS students?'
'Why does the DOE launch a series of vicious attacks on Jamaica HS and then stand back and complain that the school has deteriorated?'
'Why did they take away one special program after another that attracted students interested in learning?'
'Why do they pour money and other resources into new schools in our own building and deny the same benefits to our own students?'
'Why did they take all these actions to destroy a school that for 150 years, successfully met the needs of changing populations?'
Trying to answer these and similar questions presupposes an understanding of the minds at work at the DOE. I think that Bloomberg brought in a business mentality. He and his ilk use a factory model to utilize and evaluate an event that is non-linear and cannot be entirely reduced to numbers.

But, as retired colleague John Scarinci used to say, 'Education is not filling a bucket, it's lighting a fire.' Isn't there a place in the classroom for inspiration? for individuality? For spirit, for stopping the high-speed train of Curriculum for a teachable moment sparked by a student's question?

No, no, no. Silly me, I must learn to think properly, to agree that the only thing that counts are test scores. I must learn that integrity is an obstacle to raising all students' test scores, and must be unlearned. I must learn that a teacher's pride in pouring his mind and heart into his teaching must be subverted to kowtowing to his principal with fear and trembling because job security is disintegrating. I'm glad I was able to retire before I was forced to experience this horrifying perversion of education take full effect.

Anonymous said...

But one question calls for an educated guess about an answer. Why was Jamaica singled out for destruction? I think the main goal is union-busting and making an example of a powerful chapter. As chapter chairman, you conducted yourself with lawyerly professionalism and integrity. You know the rules and the contract and stand loyally at the side of every staff person, popular or not. Whatever problems we as a staff had with students or with politicians, I was always proud to work in your school. You kept us united, as united as an opinionated staff can be, and focused on our goals and methodology for enabling students have conditions under which they could best learn. Everyone respected you and your systematic way of standing up for our rights individually and as a school.

Remember on one issue how 50 of us went to the Queens Office and packed a conference room to show our stand? It was powerful adn effective. We won that issue. I wonder if that made us more of a thorn in the side of the BOE/DOE. Post hoc ergo procter hoc? Perhaps that aroused the ire of the bean-counters who wish us to always genuflect at their dicta.

So it could be that the DOE's determination to destroy Jamaica HS is simply one more event in the ruthless union-busting crusade of the Business world's invasion of our hapless schools. They are creating New Schools that meet their requirements: administrators with no experience, no independence for teachers to maintain their professionalism without fear of peremptory dismissal, staffing with largely new teachers who can be easily excessed and fired, focus on numbers numbers numbers, just like they bean counters learned in business school.

So, James, it could be that the DOE sees you as I do, as a Fearless Leader, capable and beyond corruption. Their determination to bust our chapter could ultimately be their highest tragic compliment to us and to you.

So I sign off with love, respect, appreciation and the highest regard. I wish the best to you and to Camille and your child. Thank you. I will always be, like the rest of our staff, proud to have worked with you. Maybe some of us took you for granted, but I never did. We were all fortunate to work with you.

Sincerely yours,

Judith Pfeffer