Sunday, January 30, 2011


It has been very busy since our last post. We had Jamaica's Joint Public Hearing on January 20th. While our school has been shrunk by the DOE, the crowd at this year's hearing was as enthusiastic as last year's and Deputy Chancellor John White was once again not permitted to tell his tales unchallenged. Hearings went on at other schools also and we have links to coverage below.

Speakers at Jamaica included UFT Secretary Michael Mendel, District Rep James Vasquez, State Senator Tony Avella (he stayed until 10 p.m.), Assemblyman David Weprin, parents, alumni, teachers, community activists Jackie, Kevin and Kathy Forrestal and most importantly the students. All spoke passionately on behalf of Jamaica.

In addition, last week the City Council Education Committee held hearings on school closings and we were there. Four students and I spoke. Kevin Gonzalez, Tiffany Borja, Kwaja Ali, Vasudeo Ramsroop were very well received by the Committee. Several groups also held a rally on the snow day (January 27) by City Hall to protest school closings.

Next up are two Panel for Educational Policy meetings this week at Brooklyn Tech where the fates of 25 schools will be voted on by the PEP. Tuesday, February 1 at 4:30 p.m. the UFT will be holding a rally at Brooklyn Tech before the PEP meeting at 6:00 p.m. where proposals to phase out a number of schools including Paul Robeson HS will be voted on.

Then on Thursday, February 3, the PEP will again meet at Brooklyn Tech to vote on many schools including Jamaica. This meeting will also start at 6:00 p.m. but people should show up earlier to sign up for speaking time.

Below are links to media coverage of our Joint Public Hearing, the City Council Hearings and the rally and then there is my editorial on why everyone needs to be at Brooklyn Tech on Tuesday and Thursday. Hope to see all of you on Tuesday and Thursday.

Some members have told me that it is a waste of time to go to the PEP because they don’t listen to a word we say. I agree that the majority of the PEP and Chancellor do not hear what we tell them and I would add that I will be totally shocked on Thursday if we win the PEP vote on the proposal to close us. Then why bother going is the next logical question to ask.

The answer is simple. While a good turnout at the PEP meeting probably won’t sway any votes on the Panel, the judgment of the court of public opinion matters greatly. If there weren’t the huge groundswell of protest against last year’s closings, I very much doubt the NAACP, the Alliance for Quality Education and politicians would have gone out on the limb and joined the UFT in successfully suing to keep the schools open. The same holds true for this year.

Even though we won the lawsuit and our school still exists, I understand that our freshmen class was shrunk and our budget decimated because two new small schools were allowed to co-locate in Jamaica. The conditions are significantly worse compared to last year so that the public has taken notice. Jamaica’s support from the community, the politicians and the press has been just as strong, if not stronger, this year compared to last.

Hopefully the coalition that sued last year will sue again. Also, maybe the State Education Department that oversees the city will have reason to intervene on behalf of the students in the closing schools who are being cheated out of a sound basic education, a constitutional right in New York State. Without continued public pressure from the impacted schools and others, the chance of bringing successful legal action probably would diminish greatly. We can win again if we all stand up for our schools. Let’s do everything we can to stop Bloomberg from building his bridge to the separate and unequal schools of the nineteenth century.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Up Close and Personal With An Opposition

When I was first asked by my colleague to attend an "Educators for Excellence" (they use a number 4 for their middle name which rubs this educator the wrong way) happy hour at a Prospect Heights bar I was very apprehensive. The RSVP required that I ascribe to their "core principals" which include much of the "ed deformers'" agenda; teacher layoffs by ability not seniority, "earned tenure" which require certain student test milestones, and teacher evaluation systems based on student data which are also tied to merit-pay schemes.

When my colleague heard my concerns she invited me without the "Unity-style" pledge and asked me to keep my mind open. I admit that faced with this agenda it was difficult but I went anyway. I figured it would be, at least, a fun time with my colleagues and free drink and appetizers.

"Educators for Excellence," it appears, is run by a couple of new teachers who now teach 1 day per week at P.S. 86 in the Bronx. There are some interesting blog entries about them and their organization and if you are really interested you can go here and here.

When I arrived at the bar I was greeted by a representative of Educators for Excellence and immediately asked to sign the pledge. When I responded that I would never sign the pledge (I guess I couldn't keep my mind open) we immediately engaged in a civil discussion about teacher evaluation, seniority and merit pay.

"We're not anti-union, we just want teachers to be part of the dialogue," argued the rep.

How can you argue with that?

I'm not a big fan of Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's Freakonomics and its tidal wave reception but I do admit to using parts of it in my classes. In the recent movie based on their books, Levitt states after discussing how real estate brokers have much different interests than home sellers, ""If you can figure out what people's incentives are then you have a good idea on how they will behave."

Attending happy hour sponsored by this group reminded me to dig a little deeper into this group. When the Gotham Schools article was posted Stone and Morris were reported to be full-time teachers in the Bronx and the organization was not funded.

Well, things have changed as they are now funded by the Gates Foundation and certain anonymous donors and have 3 full time employees.

What is their incentive? Are they just protecting "good" teachers?

As I was leaving the rep and I engaged, once again, only this time over the ATR issue. Needless to say he argued that we shouldn't be paying teachers who can't get appointed and had little understanding of how teachers became excessed.

We parted and he invited me to meeting with Michael Mulgrew on January 25th. Could be interesting.

The evening was not a waste of time (or a timeshare style sales pitch) but gave me the opportunity to explain to several of my colleagues just what was wrong with this organization and its agenda.

And besides, when was the last time I debated the issues of merit pay, seniority and tenure with professional deformers?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Kids performed their play criticizing school closings at Jamaica yesterday. Take out the word Jamaica from the script and replace it with John F Kennedy HS or Norman Thomas or Beach Channel or Tilden, or Lane or Canarsie or many others and you could perform this piece all over the city. In fact you could show it in many cities across the country.

Below is a facebook link to a pretty good quality recording that one of the students made. I hope it works so you can judge for yourself what all of the fuss was about. Also, here are links to the current Daily News and NY1 stories on the play.

In addition to the News and NY 1, there were a number of other media people in attendance at Jamaica yesterday including the NY Teacher and Anna Gustafson from the Jamaica Times. Councilman Leroy Comrie, a representative from Mark Weprin's office, Ken Cohen from NAACP and his wife, John Lawhead and Joan Seedorf from ICE, my wife, mother in law and daughter, Jackie Forestal from the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, Bob Harris from Community Board 8 with his wife, James Vasquez from UFT, plenty of Jamaica teachers as well as retirees and hundreds of students and free speech lovers were all in the audience. I guess it is the closest we will get to an opening night on Broadway at Jamaica. There was a great buzz in the place.

I hope all of you can see the play. Maybe the students and their teacher from CUNY, Brian Pickett, will put on more performances in other venues.

On a related note, January 20 at 6:00 p.m. is this year's Joint Public Hearing for Jamaica. Come on out as we are easy to get to (F train to 169th Street; exit at back of station and walk up the hill two blocks on 168th Street.)

As I said in the last post, I went to Beach Channel's Joint Public Hearing the other night. In two years of attending these fiascos, I still haven't seen one person come and argue in favor of closing a school who does not work for DOE at the administrative level. Public be damned would appear to be the DOE attitude.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Friday at 4:00p.m. at 167-01 Gothic Drive is the time and place to see "Declassified; Struggle for Existence; We Used to Eat Lunch Together" The link below is to a Jamaica Times story on the play.

I went to the Beach Channel Joint Public Hearing tonight. It waS worse than last year's.

One of the kids at Jamaica was talking to me today and he said that they should not call these hearings because the DOE people don't hear anything we say. Can't argue with that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


UFT Secretary Michael Mendel intervened after we were losing open and shut Chancellors' level grievance hearings on right of return for excessed teachers. They are not being allowed to return to cover vacancies in their license areas. After Mendel became involved, the DOE relented and is agreeing to send three teachers who were exercising their right of return back to Jamaica.

One teacher won't come back right away because she is teaching a class as an ATR at Beach Channel and the principal there asked her to stay to finish out the term. Next time DOE puts on a story about how they can't afford to keep all of those ATR's, point them to this piece please.

Score one for the old fashioned grievance process but this should not have taken a semester. It should have been settled as soon as the openings occurred.


My colleague, Marc Epstein. has written a concise summary of the Klein years that Valerie Strauss has posted at the Washington Post website. I feel it is must reading.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Robeson Hearing on 21st

Hi everyone,

Paul Robeson High School students are organizing a rally this Thursday and next Thursday from 3:30-4 pm leading up to the January 21st public hearing in front of their school to let the DOE know that they need support and resources for the school and not a phase-out as they have proposed. On Friday the 21st we will also have a rally from 4-4:45 pm. Please come out and support them if you live around the area. The school is on Albany Avenue between Dean and Bergen Street in Brooklyn. PLEASE save the date for our public hearing on Friday, January 21st at 6 pm at our school. This is an important hearing and people should arrive early if they wish to sign up to speak on the proposal to phase out
Paul Robeson High School.

Also you can call the DOE at 2123743466 or email them at to tell them how you feel about their proposal to phase out the school. Attached is a response to the factsheet the DOE handed out when it initially proposed phasing out Robeson, which counters some of the claims the DOE is making that was put together by staff at Robeson. This might be useful info. to read before emailing or calling.

Directions to Paul Robeson High School:
The best way to get to 150 Albany Ave, (between Dean and Bergen Street) Brooklyn NY 11213 is to take the C to Kingston Throop Avenue. Walk up Fulton Street and turn right on Albany. Cross under the bridge on Atlantic and walk up 2 blocks or so to main entrance of the school. You can also take the 4 or 3 train to Kingston Avenue and walk up to Albany then take a left.
Thank you,


Saturday, January 08, 2011


The play that students of Jamaica High School and Queens Collegiate wrote, called Declassified; The Struggle for Existence; We Used to eat Lunch Together, will be staged at Jamaica High School's huge auditorium on Friday, January 14, 2011 at 3:45 p.m.

You are invited. Please come early. Jamaica is located at 167-01 Gothic Drive. Take the F to 169th Street; go out from the back of the station and walk up the hill two blocks and there is the school.

Thanks on behalf of all of us at Jamaica, QC and Queensborough Community College for the tremendous public support we received when the story of the censoring of the play went national. You won't want to miss this show.

Our Joint Public Hearing will be at 6:00 p.m. on January 20th at Jamaica. We will be having a rally before.


We will gladly post what people send us about rallies and Joint Public Hearings to stop school closings. Here is what has been sent to us in the last few days.

1. Beach Channel High School is having their Joint Public Hearing on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:00 p.m.

2. JHS 231 located at 145-00 Springfield Blvd. in Springfield Gardens, NY 11423 will be having a rally before their Joint Public Hearing on Wednesday, January 26, 2011. The rally will be at 5:00 PM and the Joint Public Hearing will be at 6:00 p.m. In their release, they say the following: "Help us stop the NYC Department of Education from phasing out JHS 231. We need your support in convincing the D.O.E. to keep JHS 231 open, so that our children can continue to get their middle school education in our own local neighborhood school."

3. GEM is sponsoring along with many other groups, including ICE, TJC, Teachers Unite and Class Size Matters, a rally at City Hall opposing school closings and charter co-locations on January 27th at City Hall. It will go from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


We have reported previously on the often futile nature of the UFT grievance process. Yesterday, that view was reinforced during a Chancellor's level hearing where an excessed math teacher was denied the right to teach a math program.

The math teacher was excessed in June from Jamaica High School. In the fall, three new math classes were created as we started the year with scores of oversize classes. At that point, the teacher tried to exercise her contractual right of return by writing to the principal to claim those classes that are in her license area. The contract is clear in Article 17B, Rule 8 that the teacher has a legitimate claim for those classes.

Furthermore, Department of Education policy and grievance precedent used since the seventies make this case open and shut. Three classes make up a program so the teacher should be sent back to the original school and out of Absent Teacher Reserve status. This should be easy. The DOE could create two additional classes to make this a complete program and lower class sizes. As of today, Jamaica still has 34 oversize classes.

Unfortunately, in the lawless world of Bloomberg, Klein and Black that we inhabit, hurting a phasing out school now supersedes the contract and any educationally sound policy. UFT rep Bruce Zihal made an outstanding presentation at the January 4 grievance conference proving that the DOE is purposely undermining the education of 1,200 students at Jamaica High School by not allowing excessed teachers to return to the school to teach legitimate programs in their license areas.

This problem is occurring not only with the math teacher, but in multiple subject areas and it is probably happening at other schools as well. Zihall accused the DOE of deliberately swelling the ATR ranks.

To my astonishment, the Principal responded by agreeing with us. He stated that he would like to bring the math teacher and other excessed teachers back but people higher up told him he can't.

Then the Chancellor's representative and Superintendent's person tried to obfuscate rather than defend their indefensible positions. The superintendent's representative attacked us for maligning the former Chancellor. He also read an email from DOE personnel specialist Charles Peeples that said the following: "Jamaica High School is a phasing out school and the excessed staff from the school are not being returned."

I couldn't believe my ears and asked for a copy of the email. The Chancellor's rep said we could not have a copy but he read its contents again and I copied what he said word for word.

Because the school is phasing out, The DOE position is that they would rather have ATR's from other schools teach classes at a school they want to close rather than allow regular teachers to stay in their original school to teach in their own subject area, which they are entitled to do by contract.

We were under the impression that it was a proposal to phase out the 26 schools and that now there is a review period and then there will be a Panel for Educational Policy vote in February. Obviously, the DOE has made up its mind and now wants to maximize the chaos for the students and staff in closing schools.

Their motives are so twisted that they are even giving a Jamaica math teacher a sixth class and paying him extra money to cover one of the vacant classes that belong to the excessed teacher. Only in the NYC school system would management waste thousands of dollars so they can further their destruction of a school.

The absurdity of this mess knows no end as the math teacher ATR has been sent to Beach Channel High School, another school the DOE wants to phase out, where she does not have regular classes in her license. Sending our teacher back and sending a different ATR to Beach Channel would actually save the city money (they wouldn’t have to pay for the sixth class another math teacher is teaching), would result in lower class sizes at Jamaica and wouldn’t hurt Beach Channel.

In my opinion, it is clear that the DOE is intentionally undermining education at schools it wants to close. They are creating as much instability as they possibly can and they see the kids as expendable pawns in their game. We can only hope that the UFT and the press will expose the injustice and force the DOE to do right by the kids and teachers.

UFT Secretary and long time personnel specialist Michael Mendel called me twice today. He told me he is attempting to straighten this situation out with the Department of Education. We will give further details when we have them.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Kids Win on the Play!

Our commenter on the last post was right it seems as The Department of Education is blaming the principals of Jamaica and Queens Collegiate for cancelling the play that criticized former Chancellor Joel Klein.

We will keep you updated when we return to school next week on when the play is scheduled to be performed. We hope everyone packs the house for the premiere.