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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Letter To Joel Klein From The International Arts Business High School (IABS)

I received the letter that I am posting below, from an anonymous source. Therefore, I am not verifying the truth of the content, I am posting the letter for information only and am not the creator of the information. Evidently the staff of IABS want to get in touch with Joel Klein.

Betsy Combier

To Chancellor Klein:

Teachers who teach at New Visions schools work tirelessly and enthusiastically to fulfill the “new vision,” which is to ensure that “all students reach their full potential and become productive citizens,” (New Visions website).

These educators have bought into the New Visions alternative approach, which is to educate inner city students, particularly economically disadvantaged children who would have otherwise fallen through the cracks of the New York City public school system.

It is certainly a teacher’s dream to be a part of an educational institution which would foster “the exploration and implementation of new ways to engage students,” as well as one that serves to “increase the relevancy and rigor of classroom polices.” Teachers value the fact that New Visions schools have the New Visions Organization behind them, and these educators can seek assistance when needed from the ‘mother ship’. Indeed, this propels visionary educators to eagerly and willingly seek employment in New Visions schools as opposed to traditional New York City High Schools.

However, in order for this new alternative approach towards education to be fully realized there must be consistent collaboration and trust among all parties: parents, students, teachers, community and administration. A partnership of this kind is vital. Fair treatment of all team members is the only way to achieve the trust necessary to reach our collaborative goals with the children. Weakening any part of the collaborative effort can be fatal to maintaining any comprehensive, potentially effective educational plan, particularly if that weakness is generated from the administration.

The administrative staff of The International Arts Business High School (IABS) routinely uses intimidation toward staff and personnel who work inside the building, and thus impede implementation of the “new vision” described above. Principal Sheila Hanley is an administrator whose behavior is inconsistent with the goals and ideologies of New Visions, and who shows little or no regard either for the bargaining agreement between the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Department of Education (DOE), or the Chancellor’s Regulations.

Additionally, Mrs. Hanley’s rather peculiar approach to governance has far-reaching negative effects, including adversely impacting the educational progress of students. An example can be seen in the lack of significant improvement in the school’s graduation rate. Since Hanley’s ascension to the position of Principal, we have witnessed an alarming decay in the culture of the school, fierce disunity between teachers and administrators, and student rebellion expressed in a myriad of ways. It is not an exaggeration to state that IABS is in constant chaos. Indeed, the “writing is on the wall” that Principal Hanley’s actions will ultimately lead to the demise of IABS, unless preventive measures are immediately instituted.

Mrs. Sheila Hanley’s handling, or mishandling, of incidents shows that she believes she is above adherence to the laws that govern the New York City educational process. Staff have seen partiality involved in her jurisprudence, and her apparent inability to arbitrate “legal matters” without her racial bias being a factor in the outcome of the cases.

An incident involving former “teacher A” is a case in point. During a staff meeting, teacher A referred to the student-body of IABS as consisting of “feral kids.” The student-body of IABS is largely, if not completely, made up of students of African descent. As he continued to express his thoughts, his ire increased. He was on a rampage. “They are like wild animals from Africa,” declared the perturbed teacher. In his fervor, he further disclosed that the students were “all special ed. kids” and that a proper evaluation would “prove” his inclinations correct. He urged all of us to press parents to evaluate their “feral kids,” even the ones whom he claimed to have been disruptive in his class. During his speech, there was absolute silence in the room, except for the barely audible fidgeting and discomfort of African American staff members who thereafter expressed outrage towards the Caucasian teacher’s apparent racist diatribe of students of African heritage. What was interesting, however, was that the all-white Administration hardly seemed concerned over this expressed “world view,” even although it violated DOE regulations. For example, Assistant Principal Rice was knowledgeable of teacher A’s egregious remarks. Although Rice was mandated by DOE laws to report the incident to the Office of Special Investigation (OSI), Rice chose, instead, to “sweep it under the rug,” to the amazement of those who heard the racist rant.

The lack of administrative response to this breach of the Chancellors’ Regulation is by no means an aberration. The question of racial bias was raised in other incidents as well. In fact, the issue of administrative bias seems to play a primary role in the ultimate outcome of all matters brought to the Principal’s attention. After being informed of the complaints involving her white staff, Mrs. Hanley typically does nothing but arbitrate the cases, and none of the white employees were sent to the “rubber room”.

As the Administration turns a “blind eye” to racial remarks, there was no deterrent to this outrageous behavior.

Some teachers describe Hanley’s lack of concern as “racism.” They saw racial bias in Mrs. Hanley’s treatment of an African American Social Studies Teacher and UFT Chapter leader who was sent to the rubber room for a minor violation and then waited six months for an OSI investigation. OSI, in their report, insisted that Mrs. Hanley should have never suggested removing this person from the classroom and should have handled the case in house, herself.

Still, Mrs. Hanley was determined to have it her way, and wrote in the OSI report that she felt “threatened” by the Chapter Leader. This particular claim was never substantiated by OSI, yet this teacher remains in the rubber room, a decision which has generated teacher and student protests.

The point being made here is that the Administrative staff at IABS clearly shows favoritism evidenced in the way in which it administers justice. The chapter leader is not Caucasian, and has received a much harsher treatment for a lesser crime. From this perspective, one could see why Mrs. Hanley’s approach to justice not only warrants review, but reveals why IABS’ teaching staff now feel as though at any moment that they too could be subjected to the “whims” and “wanes” of Hanley’s random and arbitrary jurisprudence.

The partiality inherent in Principal Hanley’s jurisprudence is evident even in the way in which she has adjudicated cases that involved members of her own administrative staff. Consider the relationship between Ms. Martinelli and a teacher. A reliable source was an eyewitness to Ms. Martinelli, an administrator, and a teacher behaving in a sexually inappropriate way on the IABS campus in a school building. Subsequently the teacher became the leader of the school’s Inquiry Team and garnered the Dean’s position, even although he was the least qualified among many applicants. He told many staff members that he no longer worries about being observed by the administration. To the rest of the staff, his quick ascension to positions of leadership and his lack of concern over supervision now makes sense. Ms. Martinelli conducted his observations, thus he was guaranteed a satisfactory rating. Their relationship became omnipresent, particularly when the news spread among the students. A female student saw them kissing in the hallways. In fact, the supervisor and her “underling” seemed to no longer concern themselves with public opinion when they boasted about their romantic weekend getaway to Virginia Beach. They are now engaged to be married.

Other teachers are not as fortunate. For instance, Mrs. Hanley’s last minute cancellation of the senior prom for the most recent graduating class generated protest among the student body. Students who had planned to attend the affair had already bought their dresses and suits and had paid other bills for the event. Mrs. Hanley strongly objected to the reimbursement of funds lost by affected students. The Principal was not even open to negotiations or discussions of this. However, the students were just as adamant in their demand for justice as Ms. Hanley was unyielding to their demands. Through the use of accepted methods such as posters, flyers and songs, students protested their right to have a prom, which they viewed as “a rite of passage”. It was reported that one of the students went as far as to contact the media and was quickly punished by the administration. Because of her close ties with certain members of the senior class under consideration, the rebelling students asked a teacher they knew and considered an ally to act as their representative voice. This teacher in turn sought to immediately discuss the matter with Mrs. Hanley who dismissed her pleas for an alternative solution. Yet this teacher did not acquiesce. Instead, she sought other avenues through which to effectively resolve the escalating problem.

She brought the issue to the attention of Mr. Small who was, and remains, currently in charge of C.O.S.A.. In expressing the general sentiment of the graduating seniors, this teacher stated to Mr. Small that Mrs. Hanley’s behavior could be construed as racist as the population of the school is largely African American. Mrs. Martinelli happened to have over-heard the conversation. Mrs. Martinelli convinced Mrs. Hanley that this teacher referred to her and the Principal as racists. The witch hunt began, and the teacher thereafter received numerous unannounced observations. Her request for pre-observations prior to being formally observed “fell on deaf ears.” The administration constantly walked into her room with note pads and pens in hand and began to jot things down while she was teaching, as a form of intimidation. Things did not stop there. She was told that she was no longer allowed to teach dance for reasons that still make little sense to her. Instead, the administration found it appropriate to assign her as a permanent substitute teacher for classes outside of her licensed area. The surprise observations have persisted, with their accompanying Unsatisfactory Ratings.

The Administrative staff’s abuse of people in the school is not limited to teachers, school aides, and paraprofessionals. Unsuspecting students also experience this harassment. For example, a young girl who lost her metro card on her way from school and had no other means of getting home was verbally abused by Hanley, and denied another card. A teacher happened to overhear the Principal, and this teacher helped the student get home and then informed both the UFT Chapter Leader and the President of the School Leadership Team about the situation. For this reason, this teacher began to receive surprise observations from Mrs. Hanley in addition to frequent unannounced visits to her classroom as a means to further intimidate her. Intimidation of this kind is Mrs. Hanley’s way of silencing those who choose not to acquiesce to her abusive regime.

Assistant Principal Sean Rice physically abused a student, “DW”, a student with special needs. Frustrated with this student’s behavior, Mr. Rice shoved him into the side of a wall of the school building, where the affected student shrieked in obvious pain. No one saw Rice get reprimanded.

Another way in which Administration deals with troubled students is by reassigning them to other programs. For example, Mrs. Hanley, working in conjunction with her Assistant Principals, rid the school of any student whom they believed would potentially negatively impact the School’s report card. That Mrs. Hanley received an F-rating on her report card, in addition to IABS attaining an overall grade of D, did not deter her irrational behavior. Instead, it seemed to have resulted in her increasing the harassment towards her teaching staff. After she became knowledgeable about the grades in question, she immediately called a staff meeting where she blamed and threatened the teachers for the school’s poor grade, while exonerating herself from any responsibility. Indeed, this was not the end of Mrs. Hanley’s apparent irrational behavior. She expressed even greater anxiety over the upcoming school’s Quality Review. The potential grade on the school’s “progress report” took precedent over that of students’ learning. At a Parent Association meeting, she attempted to manipulate the parents into scoring the school favorably on the surveys sent out by the NYC Board of Education that is supposed to elicit honest answers about the school environment, curriculum, teaching staff, and overall accomplishments.

Another way in which she sought to manipulate results was by pressuring the teaching staff. “The school will close,” Mrs. Hanley threatened, “and you all will be out of a job.” In support of Mrs. Hanley, Mr. Rice cautioned the staff that the current administration should be blamed for the most recent school’s report card grade. Assistant Principal Rice supported Mrs. Hanley in her attempt to skew the result of the Quality Review.

Principal Sheila Hanley’s unorthodox ways of treating her staff serves only to adversely affect the lives of her teachers, and more importantly, to negatively impact the social, as well as the educational well being of the students entrusted to her care. The students, by and large, sense Mrs. Hanley’s hatred towards them. The most recent graduation class “booed her” as soon as she approached the microphone during the graduation ceremony, and this has never before occurred in the history of the school.

That Mrs. Hanley’s peculiar style of governance negatively impacts the culture of the school is indisputable. It is also undeniable that both students and the teaching staff alike have lost respect for the administrative staff of IABS, which tends to focus more on obtaining a passing grade on the school’s progress report and getting what they want through intimidation, threats, manipulation, schemes, scare tactics, and other gotcha methods.

Indeed, Mrs. Hanley fails to provide a mission statement for our school. Although we are an arts and business school, this theme is not reflected in the curriculum. The time spent on demoralizing the teaching staff could be better used to design alternative ways to meet the academic needs of our students.
It is fair to argue that the buck stops with Mrs. Hanley, who lacks vision. Without a vision the school is doomed to perish.

Far removed from the New Vision New Century model for viable functioning school, the International Arts Business High School is a 21st Century nightmare. We, the teachers, parents and staff at IABS ask for your assistance in removing Mrs. Sheila Hanley from the school.
Thank you.