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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Another Teacher At Academy for Language and Technology (ALT) is Removed and Rubberized by Principal Arisleyda Urena

I am re-posting the news below about Maria Gomez in order to follow up on the previous post about ALT Principal Arisleyda Urena and her attacks on her staff and employees.

Betsy Combier

Don't Tread on Educators:
Young Teacher Maria Gomez Discontinued and Investigated After Asking for Help
Chapter Leader Claire Brennan with Principal Aris Urena
Chapter Leader Claire Brennan with Principal Aris Urena
Founding Principal Arisleyda Urena has been involved in very questionable ethics, financial, contractual, and educational violations during her seven years as principal at the Academy for Language and Technology (ALT) in the Bronx. What is even more telling is the fear that permeates the school community. Despite complaints placed to the UFT, CSA, Department of Education, and numerous Children First Network offices nothing has been done to investigate Principal Urena or the school. Thankfully, Principal Urena has been removed from her position as Founding Principal but only time will tell whether she will be transferred to a different position within the Department of Education or undergo Educational Law 3020a charges for “conduct unbecoming.”
We at “Don’t Tread on Education” sincerely hope that this piece gives some clarity and insight to what has happened at ALT under Principal Urena’s “leadership.” We applaud the numerous students, parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and aides who have spoken up about the toxic environment at this school which resembles a prison by the way it is organized: with students remaining in the same classroom for 6 hours a day and Principal Urena’s dictatorial leadership treating teachers like they are her personal property. It should be no surprise to anyone who would examine the NYS Accountability Report Card for ALT that teacher turnover has reached catastrophic levels over the past few years.
NYS Calculates the Teacher Turnover Rate at ALT.  You can see ALT's State Report Card by going to:
NYS Calculates the Teacher Turnover Rate at ALT. You can see ALT’s State Report Card by going to:
One person who did find the courage to ask tough questions was a young teacher named Ms. Maria Gomez.*  She has agreed to share part of her very complicated and emotional story.  Ms. Gomez spent the early part of her time at ALT happily.  She received two observations in September and October which received rave reviews from Principal Urena.  Both of these observations resulted in a satisfactory rating. Things changed rapidly by the New Year for Gomez.
 According to Ms. Gomez and other former staff members, Ms. Urena has certainly not acted alone in wielding power and fear over the teachers. She has used spies—including Special Education Coordinator Jessica Orban, students, and School Aide Pablo Guzman—to ensure that her rules and decrees are followed without question.  One of her lackeys includes Claire Brennan.
Claire Brennan was a Founding ELA teacher at the Academy for Language and Technology when it opened in 2007.  She was hired by Ms. Urena. Because the turnover rate at ALT was over 30% each year (progressively climbing to 50% in 2013), with few seasoned and tenured teachers, Ms. Brennan assumed leadership roles that included serving as a mentor for new teacher and as UFT Chapter Leader from 2011 to 2013.  It was well known that Ms. Urena and Ms. Brennan were (and still are) close; Ms. Brennan was named the godmother of Ms. Urena’s youngest child (clearly a conflict of interest and violation of Chancellor’s Regulations!).
At ALT, the school used grade-team wide Common Planning Time to count as mentoring.   This is in violation of Article 8 of the Contractual Bargaining Agreement.  Teachers meet for Common Planning Time for 30 minutes daily while the students are at lunch.  During Common Planning Time (CPT), teachers in a particular grade team meet COLLECTIVELY to discuss improving student learning, data analysis, school culture, and responsibilities.  Mentors and mentees MAY NOT be in the same grade team; or if they are they might not even share the same content area.  During CPT, there is no time for mentors and mentees to meet individually yet mentor teachers are instructed by Ms. Urena to enter in the CPT minutes to “count” towards mentoring.
In January 2013 Ms. Gomez, approached her mentor Claire Brennan and inquired about the lack of hands-on mentoring she was receiving.  Ms. Gomez had gone on the Mentor Tracking Service (MTS) System and had observed that the activities listed on particular dates never occurred and moreover the time-period for each supposed activity matched the 30 minute block for CPT perfectly.  Other times, two 30 minute CPT sessions would be combined to “count” as a mentoring session which never occured. Ms. Gomez was privy to the CPT meeting minutes and the topics discussed in CPT on those days never matched the “Interaction Type” described in MTS. When Ms. Gomez requested one-on-one mentoring from Ms. Brennan and implied that what was entered in MTS was fraud, Principal Urena was notified.  Principal Urena proceeded to vilify and harass the young teacher through “gotcha” observations (resulting in unsatisfactory ratings), a disciplinary letter, and eventually being removed from the classroom in June.
Ms. Gomez's mentoring log (partial, for month of Sept and Oct) via DOE's MTS System. The hours and activities Ms. Brennan entered into MTS does not match the agenda for CPT on that day.
Ms. Gomez’s mentoring log (partial, for month of Sept and Oct) via DOE’s MTS System. The hours and activities Ms. Brennan entered into MTS does not match the agenda for CPT on that day.
As a UFT chapter leader, Ms. Brennan never held union meetings with teachers.  Teachers were left ignorant of the contract, their rights and benefits, and how to defend themselves against a very oppressive and cruel administration.  Ms. Brennan failed to educate teachers of their contractual bargaining rights and speak to Ms. Urena about insuring the demanding school culture at ALT followed the regulations proscribed by the contact.  The Contractual violations broken by Ms. Urena and Ms. Brennan are numerous but include:
1. Article 8
2. Article 2
3. Article 20
4. Article 7
 Ms. Gomez emailed the Superintendent of Bronx High Schools Carron Staple about the lack of support she was receiving at ALT. Ms. Gomez was issued a disciplinary letter by Principal Urena two days after speaking with the Superintendent.  Upon this knowledge and belief, Ms. Gomez believes that this disciplinary letter was crafted in retaliation for her speaking to the Superintendent and naively asking for help in a cold school environment.
When she received no response from the Superintendent, Ms. Gomez filed two grievances against Ms. Urena and Ms. Brennan towards the end of the year.  On Jun 12th, Ms. Gomez issued Grievance #1, regarding improper mentoring.  CPT was an improper form of mentoring and not recognized by the CBA.  At the grievance meeting (which Ms. Urena refers to as a “conversation”), Ms. Urena called Ms. Gomez “unprofessional” for filing a grievance with a UFT rep from a different school. “ALT Teachers do not associate with teachers and staff from the middle schools housed within our campus,” the Principal declared.
Ms. Gomez filed her first grievance for improper mentoring on June 12th.
Ms. Gomez filed her first grievance for improper mentoring on June 12th.
Minutes after the grievance conference, Brennan confronted Gomez and informed her that she had “made a very poor choice.” Gomez refused to retract her grievance and informed Brennan that she was free to file a grievance with whomever she wished.  Ms. Gomez affirms the following statement: “Just because something has been done at a school for 5-6 years, doesn’t make it right!”
Ms. Gomez filed this grievance on June 14th after being called "unprofessional" by Urena and told that filing a grievance was a "poor choice" by Claire Brennan.
Ms. Gomez filed this grievance on June 14th after being called “unprofessional” by Urena and told that filing a grievance was a “poor choice” by Claire Brennan.
Twenty-four hours after Ms. Gomez’s first grievance was filed, Ms. Urena issued Gomez with her Annual Pedagogical Performance Review (APPR) form. Principal Urena and Superintendent Staple had signed off on the U-rating and Discontinuance on June 12th. On June 14th (morning), Ms. Gomez issued Principal Urena with a second grievance for retaliation and interference with union business (a violation of Articles 2 and 20 of the CBA). Both of Ms. Gomez’s grievances were denied by Ms. Urena at a Step 1 Grievance Hearing. However, with help from the District Representative at the Bronx UFT, Ms. Gomez’s second grievance was processed to a Step 2 Grievance hearing and will be heard in front of a judge at the Public Employee’s Relations Board (PERB) in Fall 2014.
 Conflict of interest violations and labor law violations aren’t the only concerns within the troubled school.  The school budget is another cause of concern at ALT.  During School Leadership Team (SLT) meetings, parents and other members of the Parent-Teacher Association/ Parent Association (PTA/PA) have complained about the lack of transparency in the school’s budget.  Principal Urena would share copies of ALT’s three million dollar budget with members of SLT at the beginning of the year yet during the remainder of the year there would be no follow up on how the school had used City, State, and Federal money to pay for resources, programs, and consultants.
 Ms. Gomez was concerned with attaining high-quality rigorous textbooks for her students and was dismayed to discover that the school’s textbook funding was depleted and that there was no funding available for Student Government activities or field-trips.  Teachers were encouraged to place orders for textbooks during CPT meetings in the month of March.  Furthermore, teachers had been informed by early Fall 2012 that the $31,000 (estimated; attained via a FOIL request) worth of the school’s Title III LEP (Limited English Proficency) funding had already been used up.
 Considering this to be suspicious Ms. Gomez requested an audit done on ALT’s budget. She then notified the authorities via the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the Special Commissioner of Investigations (SCI) to do an investigation regarding conflict of interest violations (which include the nepotism of Ms. Urena hiring her former boss Elena Papaliberios as a “Consultant” and hiring Pablo Guzman to do construction on her home).  These phone calls were placed anonymously.
The SCI and OSI traced the calls to Ms. Gomez’s phone and notified Principal Urena.  In response, Principal Urena expedited the process to Discontinue Ms. Gomez.  When Ms. Gomez filed a second grievance accusing Urena of retaliation, the principal then opened a case with the OSI on Gomez.
 Ms. Gomez and several other teachers, assistant principals, and counselors who were “whistle-blowers” retold their stories of the days leading up to their removal from ALT as “traumatic and depressing.” While their accounts differ case to case, common threads that do remain include:
1. Sitting in a disciplinary meeting with the union representative “sitting like a pot of flowers” doing little to nothing in the victim’s defense while the teacher/AP/counselor is maligned by Principal Urena.
2. Being stripped of duties interacting with students and doing “busy work” like organizing book closets and filing papers.
3. Feeling like their movements were being closely monitored by Principal Urena who would spend hours in the main office watching teachers and students via the school security cameras.
4. Observing their colleagues drift away and refrain from “unnecessary interaction” with them.

Fordham Plaza where Ms. Gomez was exiled.
And then, finally, the letter!  It is never delivered by Principal Urena who loathes direct confrontations, but usually by Mr. Guzman or AP Jose Vinales.  These letters come “out of the blue” and say very little other than, “Due to your discontinuance, you have been reassigned to the Network’s Office located at 1 Fordham Plaza.”  The teacher is told to collect their belongings, punch out, clear their mailbox, and leave the building.  No, you will not be able to attend prom, graduation, or any other faculty end-of-year festivities. You are officially an un-person and if your name is ever mentioned again, it will be mentioned only in a derisive mumble or half-curse.  This person dared shake the boat, demand that the students deserve better, and believed they had rights as a due-paying union member.
 What are these crimes Urena accuses her teachers of? In particular, Ms. Gomez’s “charges” have yet to be disclosed to her.  These “charges” barred her from accepting a position at a school outside of the Bronx.  But through a Freedom of Information request, Ms. Gomez told us of the role her mentor and union representative Claire Brennan played in getting her removed to a rubber room simply because of an email sent to students that explained to them that Ms. Gomez had been “asked to leave” and thus would not be returning to teach at the school. The email to the students was sent on the evening of June 10th; on June 17th, Ms. Gomez received her letter exiling her to 1 Fordham Plaza. The captions below show the speed and efficiency in which Ms. Gomez was targeted and reassigned.
Ms. Brennan is forwarding an email sent by Ms. Gomez to AP Jose Vinales.
June 13th: Ms. Brennan is forwarding an email sent by Ms. Gomez to AP Jose Vinales.
Ms. Urena had “placed” numerous student and faculty “spies” within the school. In particular, each homeroom had at least one student spy.  This practice was so clandestine that most students at ALT had no idea there were spies in each of their classes.  Miguel Juarez,* one of Ms. Gomez’s former students, had informed his teacher that student spies were selected based on academics and behavior: a quiet and diligent student made a very trustworthy confidante for Ms. Urena who was curious about understanding the weaknesses of teachers and students alike. In this sense, Ms. Urena did not have to be everywhere to know everything that was going on at ALT.

A “media student” forwards Ms. Gomez’s email to several different
teachers, including Ms. Brennan.

Mr. Juarez, loyal to and fond of both Ms. Gomez and the value of integrity, had informed his teacher that her email had been infiltrated by one of Ms. Urena’s spies. The informant forwarded the email to Ms. Brennan and at least three other teachers. Instead of speaking to Ms. Gomez privately and explaining to her why sending such an email out was not the best decision, Ms. Brennan then forwarded the email to the Assistant Principal Jose Vinales and Principal Urena. Finally, Ms. Urena forwarded the email to the school’s CFN Leader and eventually the Senior Field Counsel, the legal aide assigned to each school. The email was forwarded from Principal Urena’s DOE email account on the afternoon of June 14th. Upon information and belief, Ms. Gomez believes that Principal Urena forwarded the email to the CFN and requested for Ms. Gomez to be “reassigned” to a rubber room because of the grievances filed on June 12th and June 14th.
Untitled caption 2
June 14th (afternoon): Ms. Urena then forwarded Ms. Gomez’s email (without talking about the incident with the young teacher) to the school’s CFN. Eventually, this email would be forwarded to the school’s Senior Field Counsel.
This started the rapid process of rubberization against Ms. Gomez. On June 17th, the letter informing Ms. Gomez of her reassignment to a rubber room had been crafted, printed, and the school was informed that there was room for Ms. Gomez at 1 Fordham Plaza to spend the remaining eight school days before summer holidays commenced. Upon information and belief, Ms. Gomez believes that she was Discontinued and rubberized because of this innocent email sent to her students, her complaints over the lack of proper mentoring as a probationary teacher, and the investigations initiated with SCI and OSI. Upon information and belief, Ms. Gomez believes that her grievances filed against her mentor/UFT chapter leader caused this woman to spitefully ruin another teacher’s career while advancing her own.


Mr. Portelos said...

Chapter Leaders who turn on their members strike a certain nerve with me.

Katniss Everdeen said...

Chapter leaders who turn on their members to please an admin make me angry.

Anonymous said...

With due respect to those who currently work at ALT, at this point, as long as certain individuals are still working for that school -- namely: Vinales, Leon, Papaliberios, Brennan, Orban, and Guzman -- no one should work there of their free will. Future educators at ALT -- BE WARNED! Do NOT work for this school regardless of how badly you need a job! A culture of corruption has been established and it will not stop as long as these people are in the building. You will be falsely accused and victimized; it doesn't matter how good a teacher you are.

On a similar note, if the DOE makes the decision to return Arisleyda Urena to an administrative position, all future employees who work under this person -- BE WARNED! Do NOT work for this person. She will wake up one morning, decide she doesn't like you, and ruin your career as she has done to so many others in the past. For years, evidence of this was buried. Now it is slowly coming to light. No one has an excuse going forward. Help us stop Urena's nonsense NOW. DON'T WORK FOR HER.

Maria Hernandez said...

What happened to Maria Gomez has happened dozens of times before and will continue to happen under more professionals if Urena is given a new school to run or if Vinales remains in power. With all due respect to the poster on 1/21, what good will warning students/families/professionals from working at ALT? Can we depend on Farina's DOE to "clean house" and move in to take down Urena/Vinales and write the wrongs they've committed over the years? They sure are taking their sweet ol' time on dealing with Marcella Sills of PS 106Q.

Katniss Everdeen said...