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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Q&A For Unity About The Effects of Sandy

Real Questions for our Unity Leaders

Given the union's propensity for writing Q&As whenever something happens that puts them in a bad light, I promised to write some questions for Unity in the wake of the Hurricane Sandy debacle and the surrender of our vacation days without a hint of a fight or any consultation with the union membership. Given that Unity also doesn't answer questions such as these, I supplied their standard answers along with the truth.

Why didn't you fight for us to keep our mid-winter recess when you knew the state legislature was going to waive the 180 day requirement for state funding?
  • What Unity says: The state law is the law. We needed to act quickly to make sure we protected our members who have already paid for vacations.
  • The Truth: This was an easy sell-out. They didn't want the bad press that might result if they pushed the state to do the right thing.

Why are you content to "wait out" Mayor Bloomberg's term before making any serious attempts to get your members a fair contract?
  • What Unity says: The mayor has no interest in signing a contract with us. We are better off waiting for a "teacher friendly" mayor.
  • The Truth: Unity has no interest in a fight. Teachers have already been without contract for three years, and likely five by the time a new mayor signs with us. What are the odds that we will get the 8% we are due for the past two years that all other unions got, plus any other kind of increase over those additional three years of wait time? Besides that, does anyone else recall when Unity told us they were waiting out Giuliani and we ended up with Bloomberg? Or when we backed mayoral control and refused to endorse Bill Thompson when we had a chance to end Bloomberg's immoral third term purchase?
Why did you agree to help get the Race to the Top funds when you knew it would lead to evaluations based on test scores and the use of the Common Core, which has not been tested or shown to work anywhere?
  • What Unity says: We wanted a seat at the table. If we didn't negotiate with the state, they would have implemented their own evaluation system without us and it would have been worse. Besides, we gained 700 million dollars in RttT funds.
  • The Truth: It was a public relations stunt. Unity wanted to look like collaborators, not fighters. We could easily have resisted any attempts to impose an evaluation system on us, because we have a contract that could not be invalidated by state law. None of the money that we "gained" in RttT funds is going to the classrooms as far as anyone can tell, but it will be used to put evaluations in place and testing in every grade and subject area. This will cost FAR more over time than the $700 million the state received. Many districts are reporting that RttT will cost them more than ten timeswhat they are receiving in funding.
Considering the incredible inaccuracy of Value Added Measurements such as the TDRs (Teacher Data Reports) that can vary as much as 85% from year to year, why did you agree that teachers could be rated ineffective entirely based on test scores?

  • What Unity says: We actually did better than the rest of the state. Many teachers in NYS will have 40% of their evaluation based on test scores, while NYC teachers will have 20% based on test scores and 20% on "local measures" that we must sign off on.
  • The Truth: 20% of crap is still crap. In addition, if you are rated ineffective according to VAM, you will be rated ineffective no matter how high you score on other measures, effectively making test scores the sole determinant of whether a teacher can be rated ineffective and subject to firing.
What steps are you taking to make sure that teachers will not be rated ineffective because of a vindictive principal or admin?

  • What Unity says: We have a mechanism in place that allows us to challenge up to 13% of ineffective ratings. That will ensure that we can look, case by case, and determine who has been unfairly targeted and make sure they get a fair hearing.
  • The Truth: Before the union "won" the right to challenge 13% of teacher ratings, 100% of unsatisfactory ratings could be challenged. Any teacher charged with incompetence and brought to a 3020A hearing had the right to due process--this meant that the burden of proving incompetence rested with the city. When the new system is in place, 87% of teachers who are labeled "ineffective" will now have the burden of proof placed on them--in other words, teachers will have to prove they are competent, which is a virtual impossibility given that the DOE controls the data.

What has Unity done for its members lately?

  • What Unity says: We have preserved tenure. We have ended the rubber rooms. We have made sure that ATRs have kept their jobs. We have averted layoffs. 
  • The Truth: On Tenure--when the new evaluation system is in place, tenure will still exist but no longer matter because teachers who are rated ineffective will have to prove their competence (see previous question). On the rubber rooms--they were always punitive in nature and contained a high percentage of older and minority teachers, which was discriminatory and should have been the subject of a massive discrimination lawsuit against the city. On ATRs--while ATRs have jobs, they aren't real teaching jobs. They are working as very temporary subs and abused as they are sent from school to school without hope of landing a steady position. Prior to Unity selling off seniority rights, there was no such thing as an ATR. On layoffs--while there have been no layoffs per se, we have lost more than 5000 positions to attrition in the last several years, which certainly can be viewed as de facto layoffs. These losses have led to greater class sizes citywide at a time when teachers are being held more and more accountable for test scores.
Given the success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in protecting its members through direct action in the great tradition of American unionism, can you explain why teachers should vote for Mulgrew and the rest of his Unity crew, who appear content to lead through passivity rather than strength?
  • What Unity says: Our situation is different than the CTU. Because of the Taylor law, we can't strike. Instead, we will continue some of our usual campaigns, such as asking members to wear red when they are angry.
  • The Truth: Unity is more interested in retaining power than taking any positive action on behalf of its members. If Unity actually educated its members on the issues, and got them to take action, they might wake up and realize that they can also take control of their own union and vote out any caucus that doesn't have the members' best interests at heart. They just might vote for the MORE caucus, whose mission statement seems to be just common sense, but it is completely opposite of the way the Unity caucus operates.
If any Unity official wants to comment, I'd be more than happy to hear what they have to say. I have a feeling I won't be hearing from them any time soon.

The Rubber Room and Blast Room Below Launch Pad 39A

Inside NASA’s Mysterious Rubber Room ... scriptunasimages - "There are two Rubber and Blast Rooms ... one under launch pad 39A and another under 39B [Cape Canaveral] ... Launch Pad 39A was the starting point of all the Saturn V rockets to the moon except for Apollo 10. .. each astronaut was trained on how to use the room. An exploding Saturn V was calculated to have the power of a small nuclear bomb and an explosion would have completely destroyed the 36-story rocket and leveled the launch pad ... they would jump into the slide taking them to the rubber room... would take a few short steps over to the Blast Room, ..." more:


Inside NASA’s Mysterious Rubber Room


Ever since learning about the Rubber Room and Blast Room deep below launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center I had been hopeful that I would one day get to photograph this mysterious remnant of the Apollo Program. I had seen very few photos of this room online and by talking to friends at KSC I seemed to have confirmed that access to this underground bunker had been very limited over the years. Following the end of the Shuttle Program and safing of the launch pads, access has become a little bit easier. There are two Rubber and Blast Rooms built to identical blueprints, one under launch pad 39A and another under 39B. Just recently, the rooms under 39B were closed off due to concerns from peeling lead based paints, which were commonly used during the era. Luckily for me, due to a different contractor building launch pad 39A, the Rubber and Blast Rooms were painted using non-lead based paint and is in much better shape allowing for the occasional visit.  I would finally get the chance to enter the Rubber Room for an assignment with SpaceflightNow.
Launch Pad 39A was the starting point of all the Saturn V rockets to the moon except for Apollo 10. Before each mission, each astronaut was trained on how to use the room. An exploding Saturn V was calculated to have the power of a small nuclear bomb and an explosion would have completely destroyed the 36-story rocket and leveled the launch pad. NASA needed to come up with a series of contingencies to keep astronauts and pad workers safe in the case of a suspected problem that would lead to an explosion. One of these contingencies was a room located 40ft under the top of the launch pad. The room was accessed via a 200ft long slide from the base of the mobile launch platform. In the event of a possible explosion, astronauts would have excited the capsule and entered into a rapid descent elevator that would have got them to the base of the MLP in 30 seconds (this doesn’t seem very rapid to me). After reaching the base, they would jump into the slide taking them to the rubber room. After arriving inside the rubber room, they would take a few short steps over to the Blast Room, closing the armored door behind them. The room, with its floor mounted on a series of springs, has 20 chairs, enough for the astronauts and closeout crew and could be accommodated for 24 hours. Due to the fact that a fire would in most cases start at the base of the rocket and the time it would take for astronauts to reach the slide, the room was primarily designed for the close-out crew. The astronauts had another option of baskets and slide wires that would take them away from the pad and to safety, similar to what was used during the Space Shuttle Program.
Accessing the rooms was not what I expected at all. From the West facing side of the pad you enter into the Environmental Control Systems Room (ECS), this room is responsible for producing the clean air that is fed into the Mobile Launch Platform, Payload Change-out Room and other portions of the pad. After walking past a series of blowers and piping, you walk through a steel door and in front of you; you immediately notice the large bank vault looking door that leads you into the domed blast room. The room has two entrances, one that leads into the Rubber Room and another that leads into the egress tunnel that would takes you 1000ft West of the pad, which I passed when entering from the ECS. My tour would start in the Rubber Room so I proceeded through the blast room and past another large steel door. Upon entering the dimly lit room, which added to the mystique of it all, I quickly noticed how the room got it name as the walls and floor are completely covered in rubber over a soft cushion that was meant to absorb the blast. The room has been virtually left untouched since the end of Apollo and is in surprisingly good condition. The rubber floor and walls are still soft to the touch and the floor is still spongy as I walked back and forth.
The one thing I noticed about the blast room, is that when I was in there by myself and someone else walked in I could clearly feel the spring mounted floor move.
A look down the tunnel where crews would eventually egress the tunnel to a spot 1,200 ft  west of the pad.
Although this room never had to be used, it still serves as somewhat of a time-capsule into the past.  It was very cool to experience this room and make photos inside of it to share with those who have not seen it before.

NASA Rubber Room - Not Open To The Public
Apollo Protection program 

Brooklyn District 15 Community Education Council Fights Re-zoning

The District Community Education Councils in NYC represent the tiny sliver of face time that parents have to protest the NYC Department of Education's policies. When Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his team altered the power structure in NYC from some to none for parents, they cunningly left the CECs in place so that parents who were not appointed to the Panel For Educational Policy (PEP) could pretend that parent power existed.

This is all pretend. The DOE 'gave' the CECs veto power over re-zoning, so that all other powers could be taken away.

Nonetheless, the effort of parents to look like they hold some sway makes the newspapers every now and then, as in the case of Jim Devor, pictured below.

Activists against Mayoral control in its' present form know that if the desire for 15 minutes of fame was not present, and the good of the children in the public school system really was the first priority of parents, the members of all the CECs would have petitioned, in 2003, the NY State legislature to end the CECs as currently set up, in favor of an elected school board with powers to effectively challenge and change the NYC DOE's power and authority over class size, curriculum, special education compliance issues, etc. This did not happen.

Currently, the CECs of NYC are facetime panels where parents are selected by Parent Association Board members (if a school has no PA/PTA there are no "selectors") and these selected few get to sit on auditorium stages at tables that represent the so-called 'power' that they have, to discuss - and argue - important issues such as re-zoning.

This is a sham, and we need a mayor who will give us back the vote for our representatives along with powers to make a difference.

Betsy Combier

PARENT POWER A meeting of the District 15 Community Education Council in Brooklyn. Jim Devor, the council president, is at center

School Rezoning’s Border Wars

Two hours ticked by slowly in the John Jay High School auditorium as, one after another, Park Slope residents presented data about diversity, detailed unsafe crossings along Fourth Avenue and recounted how far they would have to travel to get to school if a plan to rezone two of the most popular schools in the Brooklyn neighborhood were enacted.
People were putting on coats as one of the last speakers was announced. Addressing the District 15 Community Education Council, the group holding the meeting, Josh Kantor said he had just learned of the proposal that would affect where his daughter would attend kindergarten. He asked if the hearings were a way to let parents vent or if they could actually sway the process.
At that, the council president, Jim Devor, began yelling. “You are insulting my integrity!” he shouted. The audience stopped, silent. A police officer appeared in the aisle.
By the time Mr. Kantor asked his final question — whether the council would postpone its Nov. 28 vote — Mr. Devor had sprung from his seat and his voice filled the expansive but half-full auditorium. “How involved in your neighborhood are you that you didn’t know about this?” he yelled, just inches from Mr. Kantor’s face.
To an outsider, the issue at hand might seem minor and bureaucratic: How should the attendance areas for two of the district’s most popular schools, Public School 321 and P.S. 107, be reconfigured to relieve overcrowding?
But in famously contentious Park Slope and in other neighborhoods around the city that are currently weighing school rezoning proposals — there are 14 proposals being considered this year, an unusually large number — passions have been running high.
In District 2, which stretches from Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side, rezoning could redraw Chelsea and Greenwich Village school zones and also affect schools between East 14th and East 72nd Streets. In District 6, in Upper Manhattan, some Community Education Council members developed a plan that would remove school zones altogether. Opponents have railed against the plan, and one of its proponents recently resigned from the council’s zoning committee.
There are 32 Community Education Councils in New York City, and each one has 11 seats, 9 elected by parents whose children attend schools within the district and 2 appointed by borough presidents. From theEducation Department’s perspective, the councils are a bridge to parents, said Stephanie Browne, a department spokeswoman.
The councils are usually obscure groups that host meetings with the schools chancellor and put on poorly attended forums on issues like healthy lunches. But when it comes to rezoning, they hold veto power over the department’s plans.
Education activists say that power is crucial. The councils are an essential counterbalance to the Education Department, said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group. “That’s their only legal authority,” she said. “That’s when they have the most power.”
And while Ms. Browne says rezoning is a “collaborative, multistep process between the councils and the department,” it can get contentious. In District 2, the council has fought the department over data and deadlines. The council is weighing two proposals, one that would shift school zones when a new school opens in Chelsea, and another that would affect areas between East 14th and East 72nd Streets and adjust for a new school that is supposed to open in the Kips Bay neighborhood.
The council does not believe that the enrollment data used by the Education Department is an adequate predictor of the future, said Shino Tanikawa, the president. And though the council has asked repeatedly for other data, the department has not provided it, she said.
Education officials say that the data is just a piece of a larger set of information that develops throughout the rezoning process and comes from conversations with principals whose schools might be affected, residents, the School Construction Authority and Community Education Councils.
“The data gets us to a starting point, not an ending point,” said Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor in the Education Department.
The council also wanted to delay any vote after Hurricane Sandy left Lower Manhattan without power, leading to the cancellation of one of its rezoning meetings, but felt the department was pushing for a decision by late November. “I don’t like the fact they are telling us, pushing us, to vote on it next week,” said Ms. Tanikawa, adding that the vote may be held in early December. “I don’t think a lot of people working in the central D.O.E. understand what zoning is,” she said. “It’s families planning ahead and making decisions in their lives.”
Many public school parents have never even heard of their local Community Education Council until a rezoning proposal casts a light on its existence. In District 15, becoming aware of the council has meant also becoming aware of Mr. Devor.
On playgrounds, in grocery stores, and on the streets in the neighborhood, the rezoning plan has been a prime topic, as has Mr. Devor’s role. It is hard to spend time anywhere in Park Slope where families meet and not hear the same question repeated: “Who does this guy Jim Devor think he is?”
That is not because he proposed the rezoning — the Education Department did that — but because of the way, as council president, he has shaped the discussion. Those opposed to the plan (which has been revised at least once) have said that it will remove from P.S. 321’s area blocks where more minority children live, making the school less diverse, and have worried about the new school their children will be sent to. They have also suggested that overcrowding could be addressed by changing the policy that allows children whose families have moved away to stay in a school. Some opponents have also protested that their homes will be worth less if they are removed from the desirable P.S. 321 or P.S. 107 areas.
Mr. Devor will not listen to this last concern. “I’m not here to stabilize their real estate values,” he said in an interview. “It’s what’s in the best interest of children.” And he has tied any approval of the Education Department’s plan to a separate proposal for P.S. 133, which is scheduled to open in a new building on Fourth Avenue and Butler Street, in northern Park Slope, in the fall. Unless the department agrees to set aside seats in that school for children who are just learning English — a way to ensure the school’s diversity — Mr. Devor has said he will vote against the planned Park Slope changes.
Mr. Devor, a lawyer, was originally appointed to the District 15 council by the Brooklyn borough president about eight years ago, and then won re-elections. He has been around long enough to have formed opinions that he has no trouble sharing. “Cathie Black was my favorite superintendent,” he said of Cathleen P. Black, the former Hearst Magazines chairwoman, who was chancellor for three months beforeresigning. “At least she did no harm.”
He is not afraid to publicly criticize the Education Department. He has posted on Twitter a link to an article in which he chastised the New York City schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, for not meeting with Sunset Park parents soon enough after he cut prekindergarten spots in the neighborhood. E-mails that he wrote to the department and the responses he received have popped up on various education activist sites (posting correspondence publicly is one way the councils try to put pressure on the department).
In one that he sent before a public meeting to discuss continuing the arrangement in which Red Hook’s P.S. 15 and the PAVE Academy charter school share a building, Mr. Devor wrote that the council would refuse to co-sponsor the meeting if PAVE did not provide its 990 tax forms, among other things.
“I am not an especially popular person with Tweed,” he said, referring to the Education Department’s headquarters. “I have put a great deal of pressure demanding disclosure.”
Mr. Devor’s pronouncements, in particular, have earned him a reputation for having a flair for the dramatic and an obsession with details, a combination that earns him as much respect as scorn — often from the same people.
“I think that a lot of people paint a sort of villainous evil caricature of Jim Devor. It’s easy to do so because he does occasionally blow up and lose his temper,” said Jonathan Uretsky, whose child would be zoned out of P.S. 321 under the new plan and who opposes the rezoning. He has discussed his concerns with Mr. Devor. “But I think that is born out of frustration,” Mr. Uretsky said. “He sees the big picture. He’s given such a limited role and he wants to fix the entire district, but the only lever he’s given is this one particular issue.”
Mr. Devor said his angry behavior toward Mr. Kantor was an act of “self-indulgent solecism,” caused, in part, by what he called an assumption among residents that the fix is in, and that he and his board are not concerned with issues like diversity. He said nothing could be further from the truth. As proof, he offers his plan to use the rezoning as leverage to ensure diversity at P.S. 133. He hopes that the new school will attract students from Sunset Park, where he says overcrowding has gotten worse and the Education Department has not yet addressed it. “I’m the only person who is holding a zoning hostage for something else,” Mr. Devor said.
Department officials said they planned to meet this week with leaders from the two districts that will feed into P.S. 133 to discuss the plan: District 13, which includes part of Park Slope, and District 15, which includes much of Park Slope and Sunset Park.
“We are excited by the possibility and are exploring the option,” said Ms. Browne, the department spokeswoman, adding that legal and operational factors had to be weighed.
Mr. Devor has not revealed whether he will support the department’s Park Slope rezoning plan, even if he gets what he wants at P.S. 133. Mr. Devor said he was still poring over the department’s data and looking at numbers that opponents have presented regarding diversity at P.S. 321 and P.S. 107.
Re-election doesn’t matter to him, he said: his daughter is out of middle school, so when his term ends in June he is not eligible to serve again. Mr. Devor added that he had no political ambitions, and no fear of alienating either parents in the neighborhood or the powers in the Education Department.
“What I don’t generally accept is the D.O.E.’s definition of the game rules,” he said.

Zones for Popular P.S. 321 and P.S. 107 Could Shrink Under DOE Proposal Updated October 15, 2012 

PARK SLOPE — Zones for two of Park Slope's most sought-after schools, P.S. 321 and P.S. 107, could shrink under a Department of Education proposal, officials say.

Zoning changes are in the works for all of Brooklyn's District 15, and DOE officials are expected to reveal the details at an Oct. 17 meeting of the District 15 Community Education Council, District 15 CEC president Jim Devor said.

Several versions of the rezoning plan have been floated, Devor said. Under the latest proposal, the zone for the high-performing P.S. 321 on Seventh Avenue and First Street would shrink, and DOE would open a new zoned school in the former Thomas Aquinas School building on Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue. That new school would take some students formerly zoned for P.S. 321 and some who had been in the zone for P.S. 39, on Sixth Avenue and Seventh Street.

An assistant principal from P.S. 321 could be installed as the principal at the new school, but that hasn't been finalized yet, Devor said.

At P.S. 107 on Eighth Avenue and 14th Street, a "small chunk" of the school's zone would be shifted to P.S. 10 on Seventh Avenue and Prospect Avenue, Devor said.

Rezoning P.S. 321 has been discussed for years, but this is the first time the DOE will float a formal proposal to shrink the school's zone, Principal Liz Phillips said.

She was opposed to rezoning at first, but has come to believe it's the only option as P.S. 321's enrollment has swelled to an all-time high of 1,450 students this year, she said. The school now has 11 kindergarten classes. Nine would be a more reasonable number, which means P.S. 321 would need to shed about 50 seats, she said.

P.S. 321 has never had a waiting list for zoned students, and Phillips said she doesn't "think it's right" to put zoned kids on a waiting list.

"We're at the breaking point now," Phillips said. "If we don't get some relief, the two alternatives are either high class size, or a huge kindergarten wait list. And, to me, both of those alternatives are not really acceptable."

Zoning maps are closely watched by homebuyers and realtors, who tout the zones for P.S. 321 and 107 as selling points in ads for multi-million dollar brownstones. The proposed zoning boundaries are expected to be revealed at the Wednesday meeting.

"I imagine I'm going to be hung in effigy in every real estate broker's office," Devor joked, adding that he regularly gets phone calls from apartment shoppers wondering if the home they're eyeing is in the P.S. 321 zone.

Any zoning changes must be approved by the CEC.

Devor said he and other members of the CEC welcome public comment at Wednesday's meeting. "This is one of the only areas where the power exists within the community and people in the community are making that decision," Devor said. "It puts a human face to the issues we have to decide. We want to get a full flavor of what parents think."

The District 15 Community Education Council meets Wednesday Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at P.S. 38, 450 Pacific St. at Third Avenue.