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Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Nostalgic Look Back At 2000, And The New York City Rubber Rooms

Most readers out there know that I dont look back at the "rubberization" process with any kind of nostalgia, but it seems that where the re-assigned teachers may be going after June 30 will resemble the locations in the near past: offices, school basements, closets, etc. The whole process stinks, and the outcomes are for the NYC Department/Board of Education to try to explain as the reps now are marched into state and federal courts. Oh yes, will someone please explain to me how Joel Klein's position at the NYC BOE as the "Attorney" of the BOE - Matthew Leighton, in his role as Corporation Counsel, told the New York State Supreme Court that Joel Klein could not be deposed in the case Colon v NYC BOE because"no one can depose Klein, he is the Attorney for the NYCBOE" - is not a conflict of interest?

Former Chancellor-but-not-an-educator Harold O. Levy was also an Attorney, so I guess he could not be deposed. To Mayor Bloomberg a deposition is not a good thing, as the secrets of who gets no-bid contracts, where employees who have not been fingerprinted are, etc., would get out to the public. That's why Joel Klein was appointed to replace Levy, I think.

SCHOOLS CHIEF: DUMP LEMONS Rips system keeping bad teachers, principals on payroll
Wednesday, March 1th 2000, 2:12AM

Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy yesterday declared war on the system that allows incompetent or dangerous teachers and principals to remain on the payroll for up to 19 months while their disciplinary cases are decided.
A total of 372 school employees - 301 teachers, nine principals and assistant principals, five custodians and 57 others - are idling in "so-called district office 'rubber rooms' " as their cases drag on, Levy said in a report to the Board of Education.
"Why does it take so long, and why are so few cases brought? That's what we are out to fix," he added as he released the report, "Our Broken Disciplinary Process."
Levy said he would seek changes in the teachers' contract to speed the process and would prod principals and superintendents to bring more cases against incompetent teachers. Only 34 of the system's 78,000 teachers have been charged with incompetence in the last two years.
But Levy said independent arbitrators are mostly to blame. These private contractors are paid $900 to $1,200 for a five-hour day, yet take up to 19 months - nearly five times what state law permits - to rule, he said.
Levy, a lawyer, said arbitrators would be fired if they didn't speed cases along. The board is suing an arbitrator to recoup the $150,000 it spent on a teacher's salary in the 1,100 days it took the arbitrator to fire the teacher for hitting elementary-school children.
It costs $19 million a year to replace teachers awaiting disciplinary action, Levy said.
Arbitrators blamed the board for the problems, citing attorney turnover and principals' inability to bring solid cases. "New York City cases never ended. During one case, you could have three different board attorneys," said former arbitrator Carol Wittenberg.
Social studies teacher Martin Danenberg said he sat idle, watching broadcasts of Jerry Springer's TV show - at his full $61,801 salary - while the board pressed a case against him.
Danenberg, 54, was pulled from the classroom Oct. 23, 1998, accused of calling his alternative high school students "drug fiends," making ethnic and sexual jokes and telling them how to access Internet "cybersex" - comments he said were misunderstood.
For 5 1/2 months, he said, he spent his nearly 71/2-hour school day in a spare room at a Queens high school, and then in a Board of Education conference room with eight to 10 other accused teachers.
"We did nothing. . . . The two televisions, one in the room we were in, and one in the cafeteria, ran all day. Getting stuck watching 'Jerry Springer' all day was demeaning," Danenberg said.
The board substantiated several of the allegations, but Danenberg was transferred in April to another alternative high school program.
"They said they wanted to fire me but couldn't," he said. "I think it shows how crazy and incompetent the principals are who bring these crazy charges."


Highbrow culture at the Board of Education?

Don't laugh. Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, who has been shaking up 110 Livingston St. with bureaucratic reforms, has set his sights on expanding intellectual horizons - starting with board members.

Since he took office in January, Levy has hired a $106,568-a-year cultural adviser, slipped poems into board members' mailboxes and recommended books to them - anything to get the discussion flowing. He has invited board members to a lecture tonight at the Hayden Planetarium.

Levy's supporters applaud his attempt to invigorate the board's intellectual discourse. Others say it's a wasteful diversion from more urgent concerns.

"This is a way for us to get together, as a group, on stimulating topics," said Queens board member Terri Thomson, who is reading one of Levy's recommended books, Jonathan Kozol's "Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope."

But mayoral appointee Ninfa Segarra said the board doesn't need more poetry. More important, she said, is a summer school that runs smoothly.

"That's what we need," said Segarra, whose own taste runs from novels about serial killers - specifically, "American Psycho" - to the poetry of Julia de Burgos. "He can save the poetry and roses for later."

Board member Jerry Cammarata of Staten Island said he, too, is reading the Kozol book recommended by Levy. Nonetheless, he thinks Levy's timing is off.

"It's a stupid management decision," said Cammarata, whose cultural loves include George Gershwin and the poetry of Dante. Levy "should wait until after a permanent chancellor is chosen, after summer school. Then spend time on things like this."

Levy did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Even the critics, though, praised his selection of Jonathan Levi, a jazz violinist and the founder of the literary journal Granta, as the system's highly paid culture maven. Levi, whose title is executive assistant, is charged with forging ties between cultural institutions and the board.

He said the system has welcomed his ideas for using the arts as a teaching tool.

District 26 Superintendent Claire McIntee said she can't wait for a special field trip to Carnegie Hall - including a violin lesson with virtuoso Isaac Stern - arranged by Levy for the system's 43 superintendents.

"My hands don't work, so I'll probably squeak the loudest, but I'm very excited," McIntee said.

Parents also liked the idea of Levy sharing ideas with board members.

"A little kulcha never hurt anyone," said Manhattan parent Cynthia Lowes.

August 11, 2002
Levy Packs Up With a Mix Of Sadness and Euphoria

With only a week left at the helm of the nation's largest school system, Harold O. Levy was still doing damage control on Friday, although a different kind than usual.

''No, no, I'm euphoric!'' Mr. Levy practically sang to a caller who asked how he felt about turning over the sanctified, vilified job of New York City schools chancellor to Joel I. Klein, the former Clinton administration prosecutor tapped by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to take over starting Aug. 19. ''I am a happy camper.''

While Mr. Levy, 49, truly did seem euphoric on this warm, bright morning, sitting for one last round of interviews in an office stripped of personal belongings and strewn with packing boxes, the truth is almost certainly more complex.

Although he had offered to stay and help Mr. Klein with the opening of school, Mr. Levy is now leaving this Friday, a development that both Mr. Levy and City Hall insist has no hidden significance. Mr. Levy says he simply wants to vacation with his family before summer ends; aides to Mayor Bloomberg say that Mr. Klein is simply eager to take the reins.

Some of Mr. Levy's associates said the fact that he is leaving at all -- that Mr. Bloomberg did not cajole him to stay now that City Hall controls the school system, a educational shift more significant than any in recent memory -- has scarred his normally cast-iron ego. Insult followed injury, the associates said, when no attractive job offers arrived in recent months.

Asked whether he felt stung by the terms of his departure, Mr. Levy, who arrived at the Board of Education headquarters in January 2000 clutching a pillow embroidered with, ''No Good Deed Goes Unpunished,'' gave his usual response to anything that casts him as wrongheaded or vulnerable: a slightly disdainful smile.

''Come on, it's not like I'm dying,'' he said of his departure. ''There is sadness, I suppose, in that the job is incomplete. But we've managed to do some things to move this enterprise and I think to put it in a better place. And I've got a great successor.''

Not only that, Mr. Levy said, but he has enjoyed relaxed, substantive discussions with Mr. Klein and even played host during several visits the incoming chancellor made to 110 Livingston Street, the school system's soon-to-be-erstwhile Brooklyn headquarters. (Mr. Bloomberg is moving the school administration to the Tweed Courthouse, behind City Hall, so he can keep a close eye on it.)

In contrast, Mr. Levy's recent predecessors stormed out of town after nasty fallouts with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and have rarely been seen again in New York.

Mr. Levy said he realized the significance of the friendly transition last week, as he introduced Mr. Klein to the city's superintendents at a retreat outside Princeton, N.J. ''As I introduced Joel around, someone said, 'I've been a superintendent for 16 years and I've never seen one chancellor introduce another,' '' Mr. Levy said. ''That absolutely caught me by surprise because it tells you how dysfunctional this system has been.''

Mr. Levy said that when he became chancellor, his predecessor, Rudy Crew, had already left to take a job at the University of Washington. ''We talked on the phone a few times for about 5 or 10 minutes,'' Mr. Levy said.

Dr. Crew, who lost Mr. Giuliani's support when he publicly opposed the mayor's plan for a school voucher program, had been icily ousted by the Board of Education two days before Christmas. Until Mr. Bloomberg wrested control of the school system in June, the seven-member board had been in charge of hiring and firing chancellors.

Nor could Mr. Levy, the former director of global compliance for Citigroup and the New York's first chancellor from the business realm, turn to City Hall for support. Mr. Giuliani had fought his appointment, complaining that Mr. Levy, who moves in Democratic circles, was too close to the teachers' union and to the Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver. Mr. Giuliani did not return Mr. Levy's calls at first, and he would not meet with Mr. Levy for two months.

At the time, orchestrating the city's huge summer school program was Mr. Levy's biggest challenge. Mr. Giuliani, he said, was ''convinced it wasn't going to work.'' Three summers later, Mr. Levy points to the program as one of his successes, saying that it has helped thousands of failing students to improve by at least one achievement level on standardized tests. Critics, though, point out that even students who do not improve over the summer are often promoted to the next grade, flouting a 1999 policy that ended so-called social promotion.

Mr. Levy is also proud of overhauling the school system's teacher recruitment system, and especially of creating a selective program that has drawn several thousand career-changers and recent college graduates to teach in troubled schools. He said that this September, nearly 100 percent of newly hired teachers will be certified, compared with 40 percent in recent years.

His other major accomplishment, he said, was the new teachers' union contract, which raises the salary for starting teachers to $39,000 from $31,900 and speeds up the disciplinary process. While the union and Mr. Bloomberg can claim much of the credit for getting the contract done in May, Mr. Levy said that it was he ''who insisted that we have $39,000 and not a penny less.'' Because of the pay raise, he said, the number of certified teachers applying for jobs here is up sharply, an extraordinary change.

By the time Mr. Bloomberg won the mayoralty last fall, the city was reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks and Mr. Levy -- who relishes the limelight but has usually understood when it was politically prudent to avoid it -- laid low. When Mr. Bloomberg invited him to lunch on Nov. 16, Mr. Levy said, he had decided that he wanted to be the chancellor for another year, tops.

''This is a difficult job and it is financially demanding on me,'' said Mr. Levy, who makes $245,000 as chancellor and said he took a sizable paycut when he left Citigroup. ''Besides, I thought it was very important for the mayor to have his own person, someone he trusts and knows, who he feels owes him loyalty. So I told him at lunch that day, 'If you want me to go, I'll go, if you want me to stay, I'll stay. But only for another year.' ''

On July 29, when Mr. Bloomberg held a news conference to introduce Mr. Klein as the next chancellor, Mr. Levy was en route to a conference in Aspen, Colo. When his press secretary called to break the news, Mr. Levy was as surprised as anyone, he said.

''When I returned home,'' he said, ''my wife and I broke out the Champagne.''

Mr. Levy said he was not only relieved to hear a successor had been chosen, but elated that Mr. Bloomberg, in introducing Mr. Klein, said New York City had some of the nation's best schools. ''It's something I've been saying for a long time, and it was very rewarding and heartening to hear the mayor say that publicly,'' he said. ''Now that these governance changes have happened, the mayor has to take ownership of the schools and not just beat up on them, and I think that's an invaluable shift.''

After relinquishing his job this Friday, Mr. Levy said his only immediate plan is to go canoeing in New Hampshire with his wife, Patricia Sapinsley, and their children, Noah and Hannah. Despite rumors that he has expressed interest in the presidencies of several universities, he said last Friday that he wanted a rest.

''Everyone I've talked to who's been in a job like this has said, 'Take time to be with your family and reorient yourself,' '' he said. ''You need time to decompress.''

Photo: Harold O. Levy in the chancellor's conference room at 110 Livingston Street on Friday, a week before his job as schools chancellor ends. (Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

April 1, 2003
In New Job, Former Schools Chancellor Tackles Teacher Training

Harold O. Levy, the New York City schools chancellor until last August, has gone to work for Kaplan Inc., the test-preparation company, where he will oversee the creation of a for-profit school of education that will offer bachelor's and master's degrees to teachers in training.

Mr. Levy said the job was a good fit because of his work creating the New York City Teaching Fellows program, which recruits recent college graduates and people from other professions to teach in low-performing schools while the school system pays for them to get master's degrees in education.

''There is a crying need for more teachers, better teachers, and the existing education colleges simply are not meeting that need,'' Mr. Levy said in an interview. ''Bringing the expertise and nimbleness of the private sector to bear is what will make the difference.''

Mr. Levy, 50, was the city's first chancellor from the corporate sector. He was the director of global compliance at Citigroup when the Board of Education hired him in January 2000 over the objections of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who supported another candidate.

Now, Mr. Levy is the first chancellor in recent times to move from the school system to business world rather than the nonprofit education sector. Neither he nor a Kaplan spokeswoman would disclose his salary, though one person said it was higher than the $245,000 a year he earned as chancellor.

Mr. Levy will work as senior vice president for Kaplan's higher education division, developing an education school for training teachers as well as principals and other administrators. The school would need approval from a regional accreditation organization and from federal and state education departments.

Mr. Levy, who left the chancellor post after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg won control of the school system last June and made clear that he wanted someone new, has spent the last seven months working on a book about the school system and looking for a job.

As chancellor, Mr. Levy often complained that New York State's education colleges did not supply nearly enough teachers to meet the demand, and that many of their programs were not sufficiently rigorous. He would not say how Kaplan's school of education would be different, though he said it would ideally enroll ''high-quality candidates who have been successful in some other career.''