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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The NYC DOE Hires AP Stillman Back to Columbia Secondary School

AP Stillman will return as a teacher to Columbia Secondary School in September 2010. Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera will be back as well. Erin Bailey, the teacher who chaperoned the trip that resulted in the drowning of 12-year old Nicole Suriel, will not be back.

The issue here is, who must be held liable for the death of Ms. Suriel? Are the principal and assistant principal not to be blamed for this tragedy?

Betsy Combier

'Drown' school rehire
By YOAV GONEN, NY POST, August 14, 2010

The assistant principal who was demoted and removed for his poor oversight of a public school trip that resulted in a 12-year-old girl's drowning is returning to work at the same school this fall, The Post has learned.

Andrew Stillman, who was bounced from Columbia Secondary School last month and had his administrative license revoked after a probe by schools investigators, was rehired to teach physics at the Harlem middle school, education officials said.

"It's just shocking," said ex-Columbia Secondary School teacher Chance Nalley.

Nalley was among several teachers and parents who said Stillman and principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera -- who had his probationary period extended by two years -- got off easy despite their sloppy planning for the tragic trip.

Stillman backed out from chaperoning the Long Beach, LI, excursion at the last moment.

Another teacher on the trip, Erin Bailey, was fired for allowing students to enter the ocean while there were no life guards on duty -- a decision that led to 12-year-old Nicole Suriel's drowning.

Stillman could not be reached for comment and Maldonado-Rivera declined to comment.

July 15, 2010
At School in Harlem, Resentment Over Girl’s Drowning on a Field Trip

As the academic year at Columbia Secondary School in Harlem drew to a close, students, parents and teachers reeled from the death of a 12-year-old pupil on a class field trip to a beach last month.

But feelings of grief have turned into anger after an inquiry by city investigators that faulted the middle school for the way it had organized and supervised the outing, which ended with the drowning of Nicole Suriel on a Long Island beach that had been closed and where no lifeguard was on duty.

Hours after a report by the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigation was released on Wednesday, Erin Bailey, the first-year teacher who chaperoned the trip, was fired, and the school’s principal and assistant principal were disciplined.

The fallout has bred resentment among some teachers who say they believe that the two administrators deserved harsher punishments. The assistant principal, Andrew Stillman, who organized the trip, was demoted from his administrative role but will remain a teacher. The principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, faces probation. Both men will quite likely remain at the school, officials said.

The drowning and its aftermath have also unearthed long-simmering tensions between some teachers and Mr. Maldonado-Rivera, who they say can be an unfair and unyielding boss.

And though the new school year is weeks away, some teachers say it is hard to believe that the tension will easily dissipate.

“I think the teacher was a scapegoat in order to keep the administration’s jobs intact,” said Chris Jones, who teaches social studies at the school. “It’s symptomatic of the entire attitude — all the weight and blame is placed on teachers. There was none of ‘This is what you should be doing, this is what you should not be doing.’ We were all on our own for these trips.”

The investigators said Ms. Bailey should have noticed a sign on the beach noting that there was no lifeguard present and criticized the school for failing to obtain required permission slips and not planning properly. Mr. Maldonado-Rivera told investigators that as principal, he was ultimately responsible for the trip.

Current and former teachers at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering said Wednesday that they felt enormous pressure to organize field trips, one of the school’s cornerstone activities. But throughout the year, they said, there was never sufficient training or enough adult chaperons.

Dana Ligocki, a former English teacher, recalled a trip in 2008 to the Hudson River with 2 chaperons for 32 students to collect water samples. Education Department regulations require that there be an adult chaperon for every 10 students on field trips.

Ms. Ligocki left the school in February in part because she did not want to be at the school during the month of field trips in June.

“I feared having to go through that again,” she said. “This is not a one-time event; this is a pattern. I always thought something could happen, though I never imagined it being this awful.”

Ms. Ligocki said she complained of other safety hazards at the school, like allowing hundreds of students to walk down five flights of stairs to the gym unsupervised. She said several physical education classes were taught by college interns rather than certified teachers in Mr. Maldonado-Rivera’s effort to expand sports offerings.

“The faculty are so outraged, not specifically by the incident even,” said Chance Nalley, a math teacher and the chapter chair of the teachers’ union at the school. “We are outraged that we had been so patient and long-suffering, and we’re mad that we didn’t deal with things sooner.”

Mr. Maldonado-Rivera said in an e-mail message that he could not comment.

Students go through a competitive admission process to attend the school on West 123rd Street, near Columbia University. The school has produced stellar academic results since it opened three years ago, and several teachers, including Mr. Nalley, have received awards.

Several teachers said that while Mr. Maldonado-Rivera had “incredible vision” as a main architect of the school, his skills as an administrator were lacking.

Several teachers have left the school, frustrated that they did not have enough support from the administration, which they said would constantly demand that they take on more responsibilities and work longer hours — often without extra pay.

“I worked 12-hour shifts, which was not enough for Jose, and he went so far as to ask me to come on the weekend,” said Carla Cota, who left the school after two years to teach at a private boarding school in Tucson. “He made it clear that if that couldn’t happen, he couldn’t foresee my future at the school.”

Roughly 10 teachers filed unrelated complaints about Mr. Maldonado-Rivera with the United Federation of Teachers after the drowning on June 22. Mr. Nalley said he was upset that those complaints had not been part of the investigation, but union officials said they had not yet forwarded them to the city.

Mr. Nalley sent an e-mail message this week to the city schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, asking that those complaints also be investigated. Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for Mr. Klein, said the department would examine those complaints.

But parents who implored Mr. Klein to leave the administration in place said they were satisfied with the outcome and hoped Dr. Maldonado-Rivera would begin the year by addressing the issues head-on.

Columbia Secondary School Principal Jose Maldanato-Rivera Was Involved In Fraudulent Tax Evasion Scheme When Nicole Suriel Drowned

Nicole Suriel, 12 Years Old, Drowns While On A Trip With Her NYC School, Columbia Secondary School In New York City