A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by acts of corruption and fraud. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, and re-assigned. The terms "rubber room" and "ATR" mean that you or any person has been targeted for removal from your job. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
We have heard that Guidance Counselors are being given the title "Absent Counselor Reserve". Without making any assumptions about how this title came into existence (UFT 'allowed' the NYC DOE to create this new title), what duties and responsibilities do people who are suddenly working under this designation, have? If any.
But the 300 guidance counselors and social workers in the Absent Teacher Reserve are gearing up to begin cycling from school to school for the first time.
Last year, even as other members of the ATR pool, the group of educators whose positions have been eliminated, began the rotation system, the counselors were assigned to a single school so they could work with individual students for extended periods of time. But starting next week, they will be assigned to different schools each week, dramatically changing their roles and responsibilities.
Instead of working with students one on one, the counselors will take on shorter-term tasks, city officials said. The tasks could include making classroom presentations on graduation requirements, conflict management, and the college or high school application process; organizing records; supporting the school’s college counselors; and reviewing student schedules at the start of the semester.
Coming at a time when many schools have trimmed support services because of budget cuts, the change has some educators and researchers raising their eyebrows.
“All the counselors I have talked to are very adamant that what’s very important is regular meetings and keeping up with students,” said Randall Reback, a professor at Columbia University who has researched the roles counselors play in schools.
“I think rotating at different points in the school year would be very detrimental to that,” he added. “It’s not like you can just pinch hit and have a different person show up and expect to make progress, because it’s very much about developing that relationship and trust.”
But others said the rotation system is better than nothing for schools that would otherwise go without a counselor this year.
“A school might not have the money to hire an ATR,” said City Councilman Robert Jackson, the chair of the council’s education committee.
However, Jackson said the weekly rotations would make it difficult for the counselors to work with students without taking detailed notes for the next person to pick up. Though imperfect, he said that set up would be preferable to having the counselors conduct only administrative tasks, because “It’s better to be working with students than sitting in the ATR pool.”
When city and union officials agreed to the rotation system in June 2011 as part of a deal to avert teacher layoffs, they both said the goal was to cut spending on substitute teachers and expose teachers without permanent positions to multiple principals who might hire them.
Although teachers in the pool criticized the rotation system for unfairly stigmatizing them and preventing them from making use of their expertise as educators, union and city officials have both said the system had resulted in hundreds of teachers exiting the pool for permanent positions.
The recent settlement of a union-initiated grievance provides stronger protections for teachers serving in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool and new provisions governing their assignments.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew noted in announcing the settlement that it would save the city millions of dollars and keep experienced teachers in the classroom where they belong.
The union filed the grievance on behalf of all members who have been placed in excess once it was confirmed that principals were failing to comply with or simply ignoring the June 2011 agreement that made changes to how teachers in the ATR pool are deployed.
Under the settlement, principals have been instructed that they must use members from the excess pool and not per-diem substitutes to fill leaves, long-term absences — now defined as longer than 29 workdays — and vacancies. Teachers in excess filling these positions cannot be rotated week-to-week unless the principal requests a change.
In the week-to-week rotations, early childhood-licensed teachers can no longer be sent to junior high schools and junior high school-licensed teachers cannot be sent to elementary schools to fill early childhood positions. But junior high school teachers can be sent to elementary schools to fill common-branch assignments.
From now on, members in excess in the Brooklyn and Staten Island High School District (BASIS) can be assigned to schools only in the same borough as the school from which they were excessed.
Under the settlement, members in excess who agree to be provisionally hired must be treated the same as all other school employees. At the end of the school year, if the member wants to remain at the school and the principal agrees, the member will take his or her rightful place in seniority order. Both the provisional hire agreement and the agreement to make the assignment permanent must be in writing.
Both the original 2011 agreement and the new provisions and stronger protections will be monitored by a strengthened Joint Oversight Committee charged with resolving any infractions as they arise. If a problem cannot be resolved, the member now has the right to grieve.
Teachers in the ATR pool, who have been forced to leave their schools because of declining enrollments or school closings, have always had the full support of the union. Mulgrew has long pressed the Department Of Education to use teachers who have been excessed to fill long-term leaves and absences as both a contractual obligation and a prudent way to save money.
“By living up to its agreement and using these experienced teachers in the ATR pool instead of hiring outside substitutes, the city will not only save millions of dollars but kids will continue to have great teachers in their classrooms every day,” he said.
How To File Freedom of Information (FOIL) Requests To The NYC Dept of Education
Many years ago I posted on my website two model FOIL request and appeal letters, which can be emailed to either Joseph A. Baranello, Esq., the Central Records Access Officer, or to Hon. Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, Esq., the Records Appeals Officers (as appropriate) at Tweed. At that time, Susan W. Holtzman, Esq., was in charge of FOIL requests, doing her best to delay, deny or destroy requests she didn't like. (Ms. Holtzman now works as the Attorney for District 75, and does the same thing for Individualized Education Plans and teachers' records.) I am updating the article here, and am including the email addresses:
2 Model FOIL Letters: Request For Records, and Appeal of Denial Here's how to request records from NYCDOE under FOIL:
Your Name Your Return Address City, State, zip (optional) VOICE: (area code) number (optional) FAX: (area code) number (optional) E-MAIL: ___________
Joseph A. Baranello, Esq.
Central Records Access Officer Office of Legal Services New York City Department of Education 52 Chambers Street New York, NY 10007
Under the provisions of the New York Freedom of Information Law, Article 6 of the Public Officers Law, I hereby request records or portions thereof pertaining to:
__________________ (attempt to identify the records in which you are interested as clearly as possible -- time periods -- names of people or offices suspected to have the records, etc. -- It is suggested that you use the format of an individually numbered or lettered list of categories).
If there are any fees for copying the records requested, please inform me before filling the request (or: . . . please supply the records without informing me if the fees are not in excess of $____).
As you know, the Freedom of Information Law requires that an agency respond to a request within five business days of receipt of a request. Therefore, I would appreciate a response as soon as possible and look forward to hearing from you shortly. If for any reason any portion of my request is denied, please inform me of the reasons for the denial in writing and provide the name and address of the person or body to whom an appeal should be directed.
Typed Name (RETAIN 3 PHOTOCOPIES)
Here's how to appeal a denial of access (within 30 days of the date of denial) to NYCDOE records under FOIL:
Your Name Your Return Address City, State, zip (optional) VOICE: (area code) number (optional) FAX: (area code) number
I hereby appeal the denial of access regarding my Freedom of Information Law request, which was made on __________ (date) and sent to Mr. Joseph Baranello, the Central Records Access Officer.
USE THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE IF MR. BARANELLO (OR ANYONE ELSE) CITED STATUTORY REASONS FOR DENIAL:
The records that were denied include:_______________ (enumerate the records that were denied).
OR USE THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE AFTER HAVING WAITED TWO TO THREE WEEKS, BUT NOT HEARING FROM MR. BARANELLO:
I have received neither a substantive response, nor a letter of acknowledgment of receipt of my request. Therefore, I consider access to have been constructively denied.
THIS NEXT SENTENCE IS OPTIONAL:
For your convenience, I have attached a copy of my letter of request (AND, IF APPLICABLE) and a copy of Mr. Joseph Baranello's (OR OTHER PERSON'S) letter of denial.
As required by the Freedom of Information Law, the head or governing body of an agency, or whomever is designated to determine appeals, is required to respond within 10 business days of the receipt of an appeal. If the records are denied on appeal, please explain the reasons for the denial fully in writing as required by law.
In addition, please be advised that the Freedom of Information Law directs that all appeals and the determinations that follow be sent to the Committee on Open Government, Department of State, One Commerce Plaza, 99 Washington Avenue, Suite 650, Albany, New York 12231.
A lot of people think teaching is somehow a job for life — that no teachers can be fired for any reason, no matter what they do, who they kill, or whether or not they sleep in garbage cans. It’s not true. In fact, the Department of Education tries to take away teacher jobs all the time. I recently read about one teacher who’sup on chargesfor givingwatchesto kids who scored 90 or above in his class. Clearly, dangerous individuals like that must be dealt with severely.
Those of us who aren’t up on charges have other worries. For example, we can become “ATRs.” ATR is an acronym for “Absent Teacher Reserve.” When Chancellor Klein closes a school, he’s required to retain 50% of “qualified” teachers. This translates to fewer than 50% of actual teachers. If the “reorganized” school doesn’t offer French, for example, 100% of working French teachers say adieu, teaching schedule and bonjour, Absent Teacher Reserve.
The ATR situation started in 2005. Tabloid editorial writers were jumping up and down about the new UFT contract. God bless teachers, they declared. Finally, they said, principals could decide who they wanted to hire. It was morning in America again. Several weeks passed before they went back to vilifying us, as tradition dictates.
In any case, teachers would no longer be sent to schools simply because there were open positions. Instead, they’d become ATRs, teaching whatever, wherever, to whomever. From there, we were assured, they’d easily find jobs. Unless, of course, they didn’t. Personally, I’m very glad I transferred when I could. For all I know, they could be closing my former school this very moment. I’d be very unhappy as an ATR teacher, and I’ve met many ATR teachers who feel precisely the same way.
What principal wants to hire an ancient relic like me when she can get a shiny new teacher who’ll do anything she says for less than half the price? And best of all, most of those teachers will be history well before they hit the five-year mark. They’ll never mature enough to question any program, no matter how pointless, wasteful, or illegal, and they’ll never become burdens on society by retiring and collecting pensions.
Before the ATR situation, displaced teachers could transfer based on seniority. As a new teacher, I was bumped several times by these senior teachers. No one would help me get a job. Not the city, not the union, not anyone. A UFT rep told me that I’d be glad when I was more senior — the system would then work for me. This notwithstanding, I’m more senior than I’ve ever been, and it doesn’t work for me at all.
For a while, there was also a UFT transfer plan. If you worked in a building for a number of years, you could consult a list of openings in your subject area. You could then select from those openings and move to another school.
Judging from tabloid editorials, the UFT transfer plan was evil. From what I’ve read, it was used exclusively by lazy incompetent teachers who moved around to inflict more misery in new and different places. This notwithstanding, I used the plan because I lacked foresight — I failed to throw a sufficient number of kids out of my classes.
In my last school, the Spanish 1 classes were out of control. The teacher sent the AP kids all the time. This one wouldn’t sit down. That one was chewing gum. This one threw a paper airplane. Twice! The AP was spending a great deal of time on this. How could she solve this problem?
Why not take that ESL teacher who didn’t throw kids out and have him teach Spanish 1? It seemed perfect. But I was appointed to teach ESL, and there was that bothersome UFT contract. She couldn’t force me. I’d already told her I’d been offered a 3:30 class at Queens College and she said it was no problem-so I’d accepted. She decided to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
She said, “Mr. Goldstein, I’m going to assign you to teach five Spanish 1 classes in September. If you don’t agree to do it, I’m going to give you a late class and you’ll have to forget about Queens College.”
This was a tough decision for me. What to do? If only I’d thrown more kids out. I was just married, had just bought a house, and I really needed that second job. But I loved teaching ESL.
At the time, of course, there was that UFT transfer plan. If I was at a school enough years (I was), I could transfer to any school that needed an ESL teacher.
I found two schools close to Queens College, Francis Lewis and John Bowne, and neither of them (at the time) had classes after 3 PM. I marked them as choices one and two. I had to get the principal’s signature, and he shook his head grimly, saying, “You’ll never get into Francis Lewis.” Five weeks later, I got a call from the Board of Education to report to Francis Lewis in September.
My new AP at Francis Lewis was wonderful. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone who could handle people quite like she could. One semester, she asked me if I’d mind teaching a Spanish 1 class. I told her sure. I’d have done anything she wished. I’d have put her statue on the dashboard of my car.
She’s gone now, and so is the UFT transfer plan that sent me here. I miss them both.
I hope, if my daughter follows through on her plan to be a teacher, that the job of teaching is at least as good to her as it’s been to me. I also hope there are still some good supervisors around. Many of mine have been excellent, and that’s made a huge difference. I’ve been lucky.
I know teachers who haven’t been so lucky. Their schools closed, they got dumped into the ATR pool, and there they remain. I know one who emailed me regularly, becoming more and more depressed until she finally resigned — a big win for the city, I suppose. I even know one who got tapped for a special mentoring program — a promotion based on merit. When the program closed, that teacher became an automatic ATR.
I love to teach. It’s exciting to meet new kids and get to know them. It’s even more exciting if you’re an ESL teacher and they come from every corner of the world. I’m very proud I can play some small part in helping them along.
If you take that away from me, I’ll be lost, and that’s precisely the sense I get from ATR teachers I know. I read one writer speculate about how wonderful it would be to not have the day-to-day responsibilities of lesson planning and follow-up, but I’ve yet to meet the real-live ATR teacher who was happy about it.
And whenever ATR teachers tell me their stories, I’m certain of one thing — there but for the grace of God go I.
With our current economy, none of us are in a position to lose our job. So – what – does this mean we have to put up with endless psychological nightmares at work? When does bullying in the workplace become worse than waking up with no job?
The current economy puts us in a situation of being victims at our job, and in our lives. This is a terrible situation that demands attention and guidance.
I once had a toaster oven thrown at my head. It was my first job out of college and I didn’t know the rules and boundaries of the workplace, and what’s acceptable and not acceptable. I was working for a producer (about 90% of industry jobs are fueled with inappropriate behavior: verbal, mental abuse runs ramped) who mentally tore me down every day. I lost weight, I lost my hair, I lost myself.
But a toaster? I’d take a toaster over a passive aggressive or verbally abusive boss any day of the week.
Bullying in the work force gets little coverage or attention because we don’t want to lose our jobs, especially when we love what we do but hate the people above us. And it’s not only superiors that are a problem, sometimes our peers in the workplace are bully’s. I’ve found a majority of jobs to be an extension of high school. Cool people are bullies and others aren’t, so they become isolated from the pack, left to feel alone and rejected, lowering ones self esteem and pride.
We have two types of bullying: bosses and co-workers. Both are terrible in their own right. As a former, and sometimes present, victim of bullies in the work force, I’d like to share a few stories:
When I started out in the work world I worked in the movie industry; it was bullying on crack. In fact, I was so shocked and disturbed by the treatment of assistants that I made a documentary. I’ll never forget a story told to me by a guy that worked for some major producer that demanded he had a specific energy bar on his desk everyday at 4:30 pm. The assistant was so paranoid that he put the bar on his boss’s desk at 4:25 pm just to make sure it wasn’t late. The boss called everyone into his office for a meeting and half way through the meeting, he saw the energy bar on the corner of his desk and stopped:
“Why is this energy bar on my desk?” And the terrified assistant, living in fear every day, replied, “You said you wanted it on your desk at 4:30 pm so I put it there to make sure it wasn’t late.” And the bully’s response was, “The kitchen is two degrees cooler than my office, so if you put it there before 4:30 pm it gets melty.” (“Melty” isn’t even a word, probably my most favorite line of this ridiculous story). “You’re fired.” And that was the end of him. But, having said that, I’d rather have some ridiculous circumstance over an energy bar then a mentally abusive situation.
Being yelled at or put down is worse. Mental abuse in the work place resides in your brain when you go home. You wake up dreading going to work, and sit at your desk all day feeling as though it may come under attack at any given moment. It’s also very difficult to prove mental abuse, and sometimes impossible. Since society barely acknowledges mental abuse in the work place to begin with, it leaves us alone, and more or less at a dead end. It is the worse kind of abuse, not because you can’t document it, but because it affects your psychosis.
My next job was a government job. My new boss came from the corporate world. (I have some experience in corporate America, but bullies in this environment have more to fear since the threat of a lawsuit is always looming). What I learned at this job is that, if it’s not sexual harassment or verbal harassment that can be documented or proved through emails, you’re dealt a terrible card. An abuse that you can’t prove with concrete data, but feel exposed to on a regular basis, is the worse kind of abuse. You get an anxiety attack when an email comes from your bully, or when you see their number pop up on your phone and know you have to answer it. It is truly a terrible situation. Government jobs have unions to address this type of behavior, but in my experience, don’t do much to remedy the situation.
Since bullying is psychological, you have to turn the tables and play the game right back in your bully’s face. Set some boundaries, slowly. Stand up for yourself in a savvy fashion, which will gain respect from your bully. They can’t get away with everything so pick your battles and stand strong with confidence. Make the bully look ridiculous in a soft psychological fashion; it’s a tight rope to walk, but a starting point to redirect the relationship to a place of balance that involves less threatening bullying throughout your day.
Then we have the co-workers. Co-workers bully all the time without even realizing it. They’re not your “boss,” so they really don’t have the right to inflict pain (bosses don’t have the “right” either but have clout to get away with it). This type of bullying isolates you from the pack and makes you dread work. Sometimes our workplace is a terrible high school cafeteria. Are you in the “in” crowd? No. So what do you do? Keep a low profile. Not being the loud mouth, the funny one, the lame co-worker that thinks they have all the answers, is just fuel for your coolness.
Sometimes when I shop for wine and have zero knowledge of wine, I ask the cashier, “Do people like this? I’m a follower so…” It’s an inside joke I play with myself cause I’m most definitely not a follower and you must keep that in mind when dealing with the crowd of bullies, or even one bully, in your work force. We’re not in high school anymore. Unfortunately some never left high school, so laugh at it. Be nonchalant. That attitude will beat your bully and give you the mental freedom you deserve.
Try to take on bullies in the work force with hard pride and confidence. You’re better than that, and as far as your nightmare boss is concerned: he or she is a sad, unhealthy, pathetic person, dealing with demons that unfortunately you have to live with in the hours you work. Switch your perspective. Pity them and know that YOU are a rock star and will do your best to mentally rise above it all, everyday. And you will end up stronger at the end of your day, everyday.
Theresa Reel shows how a student repeatedly elbowed her in her breast.
AARON SHOWALTER FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Former High School for Legal Studies principal Denise Morgan defended her handling of Reel's complaints.
DAVID HANDSCHUH/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Lawyer Joshua Parkhurst says the settlement, 'allows our client to get on with her life.'
A high school teacher who said she was sexually tormented by her students and then punished for complaining has scored a $450,000 settlement from the city.
Theresa Reel, 52, who quit her job when she signed the deal, said the knowledge that she never has to set foot in the High School for Legal Studies again is just as sweet.
“I wasted six years of my life being treated like dirt — less than dirt,” Reel told the Daily News on Thursday. “I can’t put into words how happy I am.”
The Mississippi native started working at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, school in 2005 and within a month, her job was a nightmare.
In a lawsuit she filed three years later, she described how students called her filthy names, flung condoms at each other and even touched her breast.
Her pleas to school bosses were met with accusations that she showed too much cleavage, she charged.
When she told then-Principal Denise Morgan that she made a student leave the class for sexual comments, the official’s response was: “And how does that threaten you?”
Morgan defended her handling of Reel’s complaints.
“I am very comfortable with the professional manner in which I responded to this teacher’s concerns,” she told The News.
After Morgan was replaced at the troubled school, the new principal, Monica Ortiz, gave Reel unsatisfactory ratings.
And a 2008 letter from the Department of Education chastised the social studies educator for “inappropriate attire,” described as a “low-cut, V-neck lace top.”
“It made me feel like I was worthless, like my own supervisors believed that I deserved to be treated like this,” Reel said at the Woodside, Queens, home she shares with her cat.
City officials declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“The settlement was in the Department of Education’s best interest,” said Lawrence Profeta, a city attorney.
Reel’s court papers detail the barrage of X-rated insults she faced in the classroom and corridors.
One boy allegedly told her: “I’ve got rubbers — want to party?” Another student accused a classmate of performing a sex act on Reel for good grades, she said.
She recalled one male student crossing a hallway so he could graze her breast with his elbow and then “smirk” at her.
“I was screaming,” Reel said.
She said the harassment made it impossible to function some days.
“Sometimes I’d break down on the subway,” she said. “I would go home, sit in front of the TV and cry.”
At one point, she said, she was suicidal.
“I had a plan in mind,” she said, without elaborating. “It got so black and bleak I couldn’t see it getting any better.”
The city tried to get the federal discrimination suit tossed out, arguing Reel did not prove the school was a hostile environment, that she was singled out for her gender, or that she faced retaliation.
On each count, the judge ruled there was enough evidence to let a jury decide and set a trial date for Sept. 10.
On Aug. 31, the city agreed to pay Reel $450,000 and remove the poor ratings from her record if she resigned.
“We think she had a very strong case,” said lawyer Joshua Parkhurst of Cary Kane LLP. “We ultimately agreed to settle because it allows our client to get on with her life.”
Reel has been on an unpaid leave of absence for a year, spending down her pensions savings. She’s been looking for a new job, but was even turned down for a cleaning gig.
DOE had no comment on the case.
Morgan, the former principal, is now an assistant principal at the High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. Ortiz is still the head of Legal Studies, a D-rated school which had less than 60% of its students graduate in 2009.
Legal Studies made headlines in 2010 when teachers were caught taking a lavish, taxpayer-funded junket and students were busted for using cell phones to film brawls and sex acts.
Reel wasn’t the only person at the school who thought pupils were out of line. In a 2010 city survey, only 49% of the students said kids treated teachers with respect.