In Queens, no love for mayor’s speech – Queens Chronicle

Up to half the teachers at nine schools in Queens could be
replaced if the reforms touted by Mayor Bloomberg in his State of
the City last week are implemented, angering borough students,
educators and legislators who said the move was an attack on
institutions pouring their all into working with large immigrant

Speaking from Morris High School in the Bronx last Thursday,
Bloomberg said he aims to bypass the union and replace teachers at
33 struggling schools citywide — a move the mayor said will land
the city close to $60 million in education aid that the state had
recently withheld because the city and the teacher’s union could
not reach a deal on new teacher evaluations. The United Federation
of Teachers has retaliated, with President Michael Mulgrew
threatening legal action if the city tries to overhaul the schools
before negotiating with the union.

The 33 schools, including the nine in Queens, are in a federal
improvement program because of such issues as low graduation rates
and test scores, which mandated the city to implement one of four
federally required programs at each institution.

Last spring, the city announced it would use models that would
not close the schools or replace teachers, but instead bring in
educational organizations that would work with the schools’
communities to improve graduation rates, test scores and

Now, however, Bloomberg said he has the legal authority to
instead use the “turnaround” model — which the city had originally
wanted to implement last year, but to which the union would not

Additionally, the schools could be renamed.

“Under a school turnaround program already authorized by federal
and state law, and consistent with a provision of the existing
union contract, the city can form school-based committees to
evaluate teachers on merit and replace up to 50 percent of the
faculty,” Bloomberg said. “Under this process, the best teachers
stay; the least effective go.”

The nine schools in Queens that could be impacted are: Newtown
High School in Elmhurst, Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood,
Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City,
Flushing High School, August Martin High School in Jamaica,
Richmond Hill High School, John Adams High School in Ozone Park,
William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City and Long
Island City High School.

“We’re really upset about it, because our teachers work really
hard,” said Victoria Alvarado, a senior at John Adams High School.
“They do the best that they can, but it’s one person teaching 34
students. I have a 90 average, and I love our teachers.”

Alvarado’s sentiment was echoed by many throughout the borough,
including principals at the impacted schools who would only speak
on the condition of anonymity.

“It sucks,” one principal said. “We’ve made progress. The mayor
is being all, ‘I can’t get my own way and I’m gonna stick it to
people who don’t deserve it.’ To do this, to rename the school when
the school has had such a strong hold on the community, is

Principals said it’s unfair to remove so many of a school’s
teachers who have become skilled at working with populations that
often need more help — such as immigrants or individuals who have
recently been in detention facilities — and expect new teachers to
land better results, especially when the veteran instructors have
already cultivated relationships with students.

“This is going to uproot some excellent teachers,” one principal
said. “I have to get rid of how many teachers? It’s insane. We have
potentially hundreds of teachers in Queens that will be

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) did not come out
against the turnaround process, but he too advocated against
completely renaming schools.

“I believe that since these schools, and their names, have
played an integral role in the character and history of our
communities, any new name should take into consideration and
incorporate the school’s current name,” said Addabbo, whose
district includes Grover Cleveland, Richmond Hill and John

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), a Bryant High School
graduate who said many of her constituents who are students attend
her alma mater, as well as Long Island City High School, called the
mayor’s plan “not a prudent thing to do.”

“A lot of the teachers at Bryant are Bryant alumni, and they
returned to Bryant to teach because they love the school,” Simotas

The assemblywoman advocated against using one model for all 33
schools, saying each facility has different needs.

“You have to look school by school,” Simotas said. “For example,
Bryant has so many immigrant students, and it’s not fair to compare
our school to another school without that demographic.”

The union has vowed to fight Bloomberg’s plan, and sent a letter
to the 33 schools last Friday, arguing the city cannot legally
implement the turnaround model without the union’s consent.

“Our UFT lawyers have carefully examined the laws and
regulations the mayor is invoking, and we do not see any grounds
for the view that the DOE has the legal authority to take such
unilateral action,” Mulgrew wrote in the letter.

“For 10 years now, the policies of Mayor Bloomberg and of
Chancellors Joel Klein, Cathie Black and Dennis Walcott have failed
the public schools and students of New York City, with a
particularly heavy toll falling on those with the greatest needs,”
Mulgrew’s letter continued. “Your schools have been on the front
lines of these failures. Over the last two years, you were told
that … you would receive additional funds, resources and supports
to help you improve. Those promises have proven hollow, as the
mayor and the Department of Education have done next to nothing to
fix your schools.”

The teachers who are let go from the 33 schools would be placed
in the city’s absent teacher reserve pool —which principals said
would end up potentially costing the city hundreds of millions of
dollars because it would have to pay for those teachers, as well as
the new teachers who would replace them.

“The mayor has an obsession with going after teachers,” said
James Eterno, a teacher at Jamaica High School, which the city is
in the process of phasing out. “His plan isn’t cost effective. It’s
dumb on so many levels.”

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