Wednesday, March 12, 2014

QUEENS UFT TO ATRS: WE'LL FIGHT YOUR UNSATISFACTORY OBSERVATIONS ONLY WHEN ADMIN. TRIES TO TERMINATE YOU

Between the NYSUT election campaign, a ridiculous quality review for my phasing out school, trying to keep up with the notorious Danielson Framework's absurd demands and of course helping to take care of the family, my plate is kind of full.  However, I have lately been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to fight multiple unsatisfactory observations for colleagues who are part of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool.

ATRs were basically created by the infamous 2005 contract when former UFT President Randi Weingarten and then Chancellor Joel Klein ended preferred placement for teachers when schools were closed.

There are great teachers in the ATR pool.  Some have been working for decades and have never seen an unsatisfactory observation in their careers.  In 2011, the UFT leadership, for some reason known only to themselves, agreed to send teachers without a regular position because a school was closed or downsized into the traveling ATR circus where every week they have to go to a different school to be substitute teachers.

Since teachers in the ATR pool do not have a regular class or classes, they are not covered under the new observation system that our union agreed to have Commissioner John King impose on us last June.

The observation system for ATRs is a colossal fraud.  Roving supervisors visit and observe the ATR in one of his/her daily substitute assignments. ATRs do not know the students in front of them. The ATR is not the teacher of record so there is no accountability for the students with the ATRs. This is a pure "gotcha" system.  Since the Department of Education is holding us to the letter of so many ridiculous standards, we should respond in kind and hold them to the exact letter of the law. 

When a former colleague at Jamaica was given an unsatisfactory ATR observation, we filed a grievance based on numerous procedural violations. While preparing for the grievance, I looked, as I usually do, for documentation to prove that procedures were being violated. It is a waste of time to study the content of the observations as our union leadership gave away our right to grieve inaccurate/unfair material placed in our files in that horrific 2005 contract.

Article 8J1 of the current contract, the part covering teacher evaluations, states: "The reviews must be based on the agreed upon characteristics of good teaching, including consideration of positive student learning outcomes and parent involvement."  How is someone covering a class for a day (an ATR) supposed to involve parents?  It's impossible. Notice the word must in the contractual language. 

The contract also talks about linking teacher performance to a school's education goals and related professional development activities.  What does a roving supervisor coming in to see someone covering a class have to do with any of this?

In addition CEO Memorandum 80, which clarifies contractual Article 8J, says teachers new to a school are supposed to have an observation early in the term by a principal and then should be able to decide, in consultation with a principal, whether they want to be observed formally or choose another way of being reviewed.  No ATR I know of was given this option.

I also reviewed a document called "Teaching for the 21st Century," the paper which is the basis for the evaluation system and is embedded into Article 8J of the contract.  I found pages and pages of material in Teaching for the 21st Century to prove the ATR observation system is completely illegal. 

For example, on page 12 it says the following in paragraph 2, "The Publication Teaching for the 21st Century, the new teacher review resource handbook, will be distributed in a three-ring binder to every New York city public school teacher and supervisor."  Did any ATR get his/her copy?

There is so much more.  On page 23 we see the following in a section called Developing School-Based Procedures: "Both teachers and supervisors must have input into developing a school's procedures for annual teacher performance reviews."  Did any ATR have any input into these procedures?  I don't think so.

Then there is another gem on page 23: "Teacher performance review procedures must be developed at the school level by teachers and supervisors which integrate the Characteristics of Good Teaching with the school's plan for achieving its educational goals and objectives." Again, notice the word must when discussing teacher participation in setting up review procedures.  However, ATRs are not involved in any of this development.

I could go on and on but I think the point has been made.  We have a very strong case to throw out this observation system.

We of course lost our grievance at Step I (principal's level) but felt some confidence when the UFT agreed to take it to the Chancellor's level.  I should have known better. Upon reviewing the documentation, we discovered the Union would only ask that a prescriptive remedial plan be removed from an ATR observation but they would not ask for the observations, which are all being done illegally, to be stopped.

When I questioned our representative at the hearing (a very decent guy who I respect and have a good working relationship with), he told us we could fight these numerous procedural violations if the Department of Education tries to terminate a tenured teacher in the state mandated 3020A process.  I told him I respectfully disagree with his view.  This is what the grievance process is supposed to be for. Why wait until someone is going to be terminated? Stop the cancer at the first sign of it?

Unfortunately, my phone is ringing constantly with other ATRs complaining about unsatisfactory observations. 

I would like to leave it up to the ATRs as to what we should do.  Do you think we should file a class action grievance, or other kind of action, to stop the DOE from observing ATR's in violation of our contract? Or should we wait until we are about to be terminated before we take a stand?



25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am not an ATR, but a CL who has dealt aplenty with the Queens version of the UFT. I say version, because I do believe that The Queens UFT has it's own special spin that I cannot see existing in Manhattan or Brooklyn, maybe Staten Island. The spin that comes with many goodie two shoes working in the schools, thinking that it won't happen to them because they are better than everyone else. The spin that comes when incompetents are rewarded with administrative positions and kept in those positions by a system out of control.
I say class action grievance. Too many careers and lives have been hurt, this has gone on for too long.

Anonymous said...

I agree. We need to fight the unfair atr observation process. As an atr i was recently observed and thankfully received a satisfactory rating. Mr. Stark my field supervisor was suprisingly fair, helpful and treated me like a professional.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous above,
And have been treated professionaly

Anonymous said...

Most definitely class action is the way to go. This is an embarrasment and it is harrassment..they want the ATRs out

Chaz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaz said...

James:

I agree that we must take action. While I did receive a "satisfactory observation", its unfair to be evaluated based upon a strange school, classroom, and where you hold no ownership of the student grades to keep them in line.

This is just a DOE policy to force ATRs to retire or resign and the union should take a proactive stance on this travesty,

Anonymous said...

Stark is awful

Anonymous said...

And when you go to a 3020-a hearing the union gives you a lawyer like Mitch Rubenstein who tells all his clients that he a got then a great deal! Take 3 months and resign there is no way you can win. Mean while you fire Mitch Rubenstein and hire your own lawyer, and he tells you there is no way you will lose your job over these false charges, but the hearing officer will give you some kind of a fine because he has to give the doe something or they will mot renew his contract. But that's still better than uft lawyer Mitch Rubenstein who wants you to resign so he does not have to do any work. After all he gets paid any way! Many people I know fired him and hired their own lawyer from their own pocket and the won the right to keep their job with a fine. Bottom line it will cost you too much money to go to a 3020a hearing. By that time its too late! You have to hire your own out of pocket lawyer to go up against a hearing officer who is looking to please the doe even if you prove you case right. Mean while the uft is not looking into how many of our brothers and sisters have been told by uft lawyer Mitch Rubenstein to resign there is no way you can keep your job and then they do after they spend their own money and hire a private lawyer

John Lawhead said...

Yesterday a room of ATRs in Brooklyn heard the UFT's Michael Sill say that U observations by field superintendents can be challenged on procedural grounds. He went on to say “we're not going let anyone get terminated” because of negative evaluations of ATRs with students they've just met. I have not heard of the UFT supporting a Step 2 against an U observation report for an ATR anywhere in the city. Maybe they have. Unless we hear otherwise we should assume this lack of support is not just Queens. I know ATRs who have had annual U ratings overturned but then retired rather than face another year of observations by a field supervisor. This challenge to annual ratings is too little too late.

When I used to come across other ATRs I would ask them “What school were you excessed from?” Instead I've also found that many teachers are in the ATR pool because of unsubstantiated charges brought by a principal. Teachers, including myself have been removed from our schools because we dissented and made administrators uncomfortable. Some of us blew the whistle on our school to outside authorities. This intentional use of ATR status as a penalty is an abuse of power that every teacher, parent and the public should be aware of. Any punishment requires due process and those in positions of authority have to answer why such arbitrary and unfair punishment was allowed to happen and continues to happen.

I agree with Diane Ravitch that we need public hearings, some kind of a Truth Commission to help the current leadership understand how the NYC DOE went so far off track.

Anonymous said...

Class action is the way to go Being proactive is the only way to let powers that be know that we mean business File the class action lawsuit and get a good lawyer.Don't wait until the horse is gone to try and close the gate I am not an ATR but I realize that any of us could be one on the drop of a dime and ATRs are getting the short end of the stick.If we don't hang together ,then we will hang separately.

Mr. Portelos said...

I'm not an ATR, but also get calls from ATRs. I'm glad you posted this James. I might be an ATR shortly when my 3020-a decision comes out. In the mean time I urge both ATR and Assigned Teachers to come to our Dont Tread on Educators workshop on April 7 in Brooklyn. We will share and strategise on how to best defend ourselves.

https://www.facebook.com/events/788720834489441/

Please join us!

Anonymous said...

I am an ATR and was never notified about the Brooklyn meeting. Why?

Mike Sherwood said...

There are rumors that the city will offer added seniority in lieu of full retro. If true, wouldn't that go a long way toward solving the ATR problem, since many ATRs and other senior teachers could retire early?

Anonymous said...

I think he has been really helpful with me this year!

Ibeth said...

James thank you for always defending our rights...we teachers must be more aggressive and stop allowing our Union in selling us out short....

Anonymous said...

Yes fight this at every level.

Anonymous said...

starl needs to be fired

Anonymous said...

stark has been fair. better than other field supervisors

Anonymous said...

Stark is a disgusting vile piece of garbage

James Eterno said...

To John Lawhead-I was at Step II with a teacher challenging an unsatisfactory observation on procedural grounds. That is what this post is about. Every ATR observation should be grieved.

I'm sure if the UFT grievance people seriously look into it, they can find more procedural flaws than I did.

The Truth Commission idea was discussed at the end of last year when someone asked me what the new administration should do to fix the schools. The public needs to know how bad it has become. Teachers need to be free to speak without fear of reprisals. De Blasio should publicize what a mess he is inheriting.

Anonymous said...

And that is his good side.

Anonymous said...

So far so good with the infamous Mr. Stark. What are the names of the other field sup? Any reports on them? What about that guy at john bowne, the principal who dates a lot of female subordinates

Anonymous said...

Just heard Mr. Stark had a rough day with people grieving his unsatisfactory observations. Come on ATRs, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

he seems to be a fair man. it might be these atr's are really that bad. not fact just a possibility

Anonymous said...

File a class action lawsuit now! This abusive and vile ATR observation practise must be terminated now. Also this bull......plan of assisstance with these morons,liers and mean field supervisors.