Tag Archives: Department of Education

The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Seven

26 Oct

October 26, 2011

As I sit down to type this, I find that I lack the ability to put it all together. While this series is not quite over, in many ways this is the penultimate installment. Everything that I have written about before pales before the task before me.

To do this justice, I have to break a cardinal rule and name a real name. Jolanta Rohloff was the Principal of the school whose name I find my fingers refuse to type, yet you are about to read it below. (It will also give away a couple of names from a previous post too.) To begin, I am going to excerpt some news articles covering my time at Horror High. And though I am only posting excerpts, I urge you to click the links and read the entire articles in the name of fairness.

I spent the better part of a decade here.

However, she was far from fair. After the articles I will fill in some blanks, from her threatening to fire the entire staff, to comparing the school to Auschwitz, to peeping in windows, to rifling through teacher’s files to hounding one teacher out of the school simply because she did not like the teacher’s nationality.


Jolanta Rohloff, has managed in well under two years as principal to antagonize a large number of students, teachers and alumni. The ill will, she says, is a result of her efforts to improve a troubled school.

Ms. Rohloff has dismantled the school’s program for gifted students and pushed scores of recent immigrants into English-only classes that they say they cannot understand. She has reduced students’ grades in classes based on their marks on Regents tests, provoking several formal grievances by teachers whose original grades were overruled. She has made a series of provocative statements, including one comparing Lafayette to a Nazi death camp.

The list of complaints goes on to include having a student mural painted over and distributing textbooks two months into the term.

A common theme emerges in all, which is the view by Ms. Rohloff’s many critics that she is an abrasive, autocratic leader, bent on imposing her agenda and intolerant of dissent.

“The morale here is well into negative figures,” said Patrick Compton, a social studies teacher at Lafayette for 21 years.

His colleague, Rick Mangone, chapter leader of the teachers’ union at Lafayette, said, “Teachers are worried about how she’ll react, not how to teach.” He added, “She uses fear tactics.”


TWO HUNDRED students walked out of classes at troubled Lafayette High School yesterday to protest a decision to paint over a colorful mural they created.

Carrying homemade signs demanding the school’s new principal be replaced, students had a litany of complaints, including the reassigning of as many as a dozen teachers to other schools and apparently false rumors that uniforms will be required in the fall.

“We spent a lot of time after school drawing and painting the mural,” said Cynthia Cruz, 16, a junior who worked on the mural for an environmental science class at Lafayette. The principal “just came and threw white paint over it.”

I was in an odd position. She liked me. Why? Because before she ever met me, she mispronounced my name and liked the sound of it. Worse yet, she didn’t know she had mispronounced my name for months. No one would tell her, and I didn’t find out until after the fact. She somehow reversed my first and last names, stuck them together into one word, and thought it was my last name. For example, if my name were Willy Jackson, which it is not, she would have been calling me Jackowilly and believing it to be my last name. But she liked me and that was all it took. It was totally arbitrary but she would talk to me like a person and give me a modicum of respect while she tormented my (at the time) close friend on the staff.

Jolanta Rohloff would sneak like a cartoon cat burglar to Ms. Lake’s rear classroom door and peep into the room for a few minutes. Then she’d go back to her office and write up a “formal” observation. She’d pop in unannounced, yell at her in front of the kids, and badmouth her to the rest of the staff. Sound familiar?

It was a problem to me because I really liked Ms. Lake and thought we were close friends. (We weren’t but that is a hindsight issue.) Someone very much in the know whom I will not even hint at pulled me into an office one day and told me flat out that Jolanta Rohloff didn’t like Ms. Lake (definitely not her real name) simply because Ms. Lake was partly of German decent. You see, Jolanta Rohloff was Polish. That’s it. Because of a grudge going back to World War Two she hounded a good teacher out of the school, a school which desperately needed good teachers.

And it fell to me to break the news. This person would have told Ms. Lake personally but in her position it would be highly inappropriate so it was delegated to me. When Ms. Lake’s morning class ended I was waiting for her and we took a walk outside around the block while I very uncomfortably explained the situation to her and relayed the suggestion from the not-to-be-named person that she should update her resume and find another job while it was still in her hands.

It did not go over well.

But oddly I knew just what she was going through because I was on the opposite side of it many years ago in my first school.

Not to minimize what Ms. Lake went through, but I was miserable again. Not only was the school dying around me, but I just lost someone whom I believed at the time was very special. Now, with the knowledge of how things turned out between us, it shouldn’t have been so bad, but all I knew back then was that I was losing her. I shouldn’t say this and I shouldn’t feel this way about her but I still miss her.

The writing was on the wall from Jolanta’s first day. The school was in trouble but there was always the chance of surviving. We still had hopes, we still might move ahead, but she changed all that. Principal Stevens had been removed and she was brought in with the intention that she would restore order. Of course, that was not the way to save the school, and in the articles above you see what her idea of order was.

At the first staff meeting, this was her idea of a pep talk. These words came within the first 30 seconds of her address to us. Bear in mind, we had never met her before.

“I am guaranteed a job next year. The rest of you are not.”

She followed it up with “just as my father survived Auschwitz, I will survive Lafayette.”

Any way you slice it, she compared the school I loved to a Nazi death camp.

That comment got a lot of play in the press. Thanks to the union rep, of course.

I never did find out how he thought that would help the school.

There is more about her, much more, but I’ll let you read some of it for yourself in the news:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/07/02/2007-07 02_parents_hoodwinked_on_principal-1.html




Part One can be found here,
Part Two is here,
you can find Part Three here,
Part Four is here,
Part Five is here,
and find Part Six here.

The Blog That Was A Decade In The Making! Part Five

12 Oct

October 12, 2011

Part One can be found here,
Part Two is here,
you can find Part Three here,
and Part Four is here.

One thing that was true then, is true now, and is universally true wherever you go is that the newer you are, the more jobs you get stuck with after everyone else turns them down. That’s how I was given the job of newspaper advisor.

It didn’t seem like that at the time. My boss very casually asked me “how would you like to make some extra money?” and I naively said “I’d love to.” In reality it wasn’t that bad a job, once I realized I had to do most of it myself. My school never had a lot of enthusiasm for things like school newspapers and while I did get the students to write a couple of articles the layout and design was all up to me.

The previous newspaper advisor was still using the out-of-date methods of laying out the articles by hand on tabletop, the way newspapers were laid out in the old west. I used the very simple Microsoft Publisher program. The last few years our school newspapers were printed in-house on copy machines. I had mine professionally printed on newspaper from an outside vendor. Even though eight years later I was in charge of school’s best yearbook in history, this little two sheet newspaper has better memories for me.

But it was still a lot of work and not much money and it was a bit of a watershed moment when I finally had the seniority to pass it on to a rookie teacher. And for the record, after I left it was almost always printed in-house on copy paper.

In a previous entry I mentioned the Getaway program. Despite putting a lot of effort into it I wasn’t in it for long. Part of the trouble was that it was focused on math and science and I was an English teacher. While they did well in those subjects they didn’t do well enough in English to create a dedicated Getaway English class. There weren’t enough of them with high enough grades. While their other classes were Getaway only, the English class was half Getaway and half honors English. The honors kids were on too high a level (or the Getaway kids were too low) so I was in effect running two concurrent classes. That was OK, but the Getaway kids were often not in my class because they were participating in Getaway events, events which I should have been a part of as a Getaway teacher but I could not be involved in because of the other kids I was responsible for. I had to be in the classroom. Because I could not be included in most events I never really fit in with the Getaway staff.

The worst moment came when the Getaway kids had a pizza party on the football field and the other half of my class sat in my room and watched the party from the windows.

To be fair, on days when the Getaway kids were gone I gave the honors kids a free period. It was unfair any other way. How could they sit in a class and work when half of the same class got to go on trips and have parties?

I wasn’t long for the program and I didn’t miss it, the Mr. Anderson the AP, or the other teachers. However, I knew I would miss the cd players and other things I ordered so even after I was no longer in the program I held on to the things I used. Selfish? Maybe. But they stayed in the school and were used for the students and I shared them with the other teachers. At least those who knew I had them.

Things changed on a regular basis at the DOE. It all depended on who was in charge/ what was in vogue/ whichever article had just been published/ who was running the meeting/ whatever some other school district had done/ what new book someone discovered/ what the Chancellor ate for breakfast. Take the Aim, for example.

The Aim is the point of each lesson. It was always written on the board at the start of every lesson. Don’t confuse that with the Objective, which sounds the same but was not. This was a common type of Aim when I started teaching:

AIM: To discover metaphors in Tom Sawyer.

Clear, isn’t it?

At some point it was decided that all Aims had to be written in the form of a question.

AIM: What are the metaphors in Tom Sawyer?

The reason was that the Aim should be answerable, so that if you asked the aim at the end of the lesson the answer would show that the students learned. If they could answer the Aim the lesson was successful.

But that was not considered a good Aim. It was a closed question. Even if you give the metaphors it shows only that the students can parrot the answer, not that they can think and discover the answer.

AIM: How can we discover the metaphors in Tom Sawyer?

That’s good. But it didn’t stop there.

Eventually it was decided that the Aim should be elicited. In other words, in a reversal of decades of educational policy, it was decided that the Aim would be left blank.


At first this freaked out the students. The intent was that after the lesson the teacher would ask the class “so what was the aim of this lesson?” and if they could answer it correctly you did your job.

That idea didn’t last long and soon Aims were back on the board. But that wasn’t good enough. Not only did Aims need to be on the board, so did such stuff as Do Now, Objective, Motivation, Agenda, Rubric, and of course Homework. This goal was to outline the entire lesson on the board for the students to follow. It was ridiculous. In effect it put your lesson plan on the board and it was pointless. The students did not need a step by step, question by question guide to the lesson. That was for the teacher to follow. It also made lessons less dynamic and more rigid. It took out flexibility and creativity. It also took away the spontaneous “A-ha!” moments that students love. There is nothing better than when a student has everything click in their heads. This was akin to a magician standing in front of an audience saying “I am going to make this rabbit disappear and here is how I am going to do it,” then proceeding to explain every movement and sleight of hand, and showing the trick compartments and phony rabbit. It made everything clinical and uninteresting. But that didn’t last long either.

Rubrics weren’t bad in theory but as with everything the DOE touched, awful in execution.

They are standards for grading. For example, if the class did a skit, what would be a 100, what would be a 90, what content would be looked for, etc. Not only did it make it easy for the students to understand what was expected of them, it made it easy for the teacher to grade.

The problem was that by this point the DOE decided that the students needed to be in every step of the process. The class had to develop the rubrics. They decided what passing or failing meant, they decided all aspects of grading. Now in reality a good teacher could guide the outcome so no class had a standard like “45 is a passing grade” but it was a lot of wasted class time and effort.

Yes it helped the students take ownership of the learning process, but I was always of the opinion that my students could take ownership of it simply by showing up prepared with a pen and paper, which they rarely did. You see, the DOE was in love with high-concept ideas that might have worked in high performing schools with high level kids but that is not the reality of the majority of NYC schools. Most students don’t have stable homes, most students are not motivated by school. And with the low-level kids I usually worked with, attendance rates often hovered around 70%. When they showed up they might not have their textbooks, and homework? The homework rate was ridiculously low. And I was being judged based on those students.

I do believe that students will rise to the level they are treated, but I also believe that students do have to meet a minimal level of effort. And while I agree that school should be interesting, we are not there to put on a show. At some point it is up the student to realize the value of school and, at least to an extent, motivate themselves.

I can accept a lot of things, but when a failing student is held against me by lowering my passing rate, and the student missed 2/3 of the class, how is that my fault? I can’t teach a student who isn’t there.

I also can’t teach a student who is wearing headphones, talking on a cell phone, throwing books out the window or walking out the room whenever they want. Yet the DOE felt that eliciting the Aim was the answer.


Part One can be found here,
Part Two is here,
you can find Part Three here,
and Part Four is here.

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