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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Principal fires security guards to hire art teachers — and transforms elementary school

Orchard Gardens


By Katy Tur, Correspondent, NBC News
ROXBURY, Mass. — The community of Roxbury had high hopes for its newest public school back in 2003. There were art studios, a dance room, even a theater equipped with cushy seating.
A pilot school for grades K-8, Orchard Gardens was built on grand expectations.
But the dream of a school founded in the arts, a school that would give back to the community as it bettered its children, never materialized.
Instead, the dance studio was used for storage and the orchestra's instruments were locked up and barely touched. 
The school was plagued by violence and disorder from the start, and by 2010 it was rank in the bottom five of all public schools in the state of Massachusetts.
That was when Andrew Bott — the sixth principal in seven years — showed up, and everything started to change.
“We got rid of the security guards,” said Bott, who reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts.
Orchard Gardens a one-time 'career killer'

In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.  
“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said.  “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don't want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”
But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.
The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students — once described as loud and unruly, have found their focus.
“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott said.  “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”
The school is far from perfect. Test scores are better, but still below average in many areas. Bott says they’re “far from done, but definitely on the right path.”
The students, he says, are evidence of that.
‘I can really have a future in this’
Eighth grader Keyvaughn Little said he’s come out of his shell since the school’s turnaround.
“I've been more open, and I've expressed myself more than I would have before the arts have came.”
His grades have improved, too. Keyvaughn says it’s because of the teachers — and new confidence stemming from art class.  
“There's no one particular way of doing something,” he said. “And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there's not one specific way you have to do something.”
Keyvaughn has now been accepted to the competitive Boston Arts Academy, the city’s only public high school specializing in visual and performing arts.  
“All of the extra classes and the extra focus on it and the extra attention make you think that, ‘Hey, oh my gosh, I can really have a future in this, I don't have to go to a regular high school — I can go to art school,'” he said.
Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens school in Roxbury, Mass., spoke with NBC's Katy Tur about the success of the arts program that led to an inspiring turnaround for students.
Chris Plunkett, who has taught visual arts at Orchard Gardens for the past three years, said the classes help develop trust between the faculty and students. During one particularly memorable project, he asked his eighth graders to write a memoir about a life experience and what they learned from it and then create a self-portrait.
“I couldn't believe how honest and candid they were, and how much I learned about them,” Plunkett said.  “I mean it was really, it was one of the most incredible things I've seen in eighth graders.”
Noting that kids need more than test prep, he added, it may have seemed “a little crazy” to get rid of the security guards to hire art teachers but “I definitely feel it was the right move in the end.”

The Second "Who Are You Kidding Award" Goes To Dennis Walcott

Dennis Walcott

NYC Department of Education Alleged "Chancellor" and the Strange Case of His So-Called "Contract"NY State Education Law Section 2590-h says that "The office of chancellor of the city district is hereby continued. Such chancellor shall serve at the pleasure of and be employed by the mayor of the city of New York by contract. The length of such contract shall not exceed by more than two years the term of office of the mayor authorizing such contract." You will be surprised that the NYC DOE believes this so-called "contract" is not public, and is an undated letter. Who are they kidding? The Second Who Are You Kidding Award goes to Dennis Walcott, the pretend NYC Chancellor.

When Joel Klein was the so-called "Chancellor" of the NYC Department of Education ("DOE"), I filed a Freedom of Information request for his contract, because Education Law Section 2590-H says that:

* § 2590-h. Powers and duties of chancellor. The office of chancellor of the city district is hereby continued. Such chancellor shall serve at the pleasure of and be employed by the mayor of the city of New York by contract.

The length of such contract shall not exceed by more than two years the term of office of the mayor authorizing such contract. The chancellor shall receive a salary to be fixed by the mayor within the budgetary allocation therefor.

He or she shall exercise all his or her powers and duties in a manner not inconsistent with the city-wide educational policies of the city board.

The chancellor shall have the following powers and duties as the superintendent of schools and chief executive officer for the city district, which the chancellor shall exercise to promote an equal educational opportunity for all students in the schools of the city district, promote fiscal and educational equity, increase student achievement and school performance and encourage local school-based innovation, including the power and duty to"....:

and then the law lists all the powers and duties of the person titled "Chancellor". Reading this, I saw that Joel needed a contract.

So, I filed a request for that contract. Joel Klein never received a contract, according to the Department of Education. See "The Who Are You Kidding??" Award Goes To Joel Klein The New York City Department of Education Pretender". In my opinion, Mike Bloomberg hired Joel Klein as a front for the actions he felt necessary, namely, to violate Education Law in the area of labor and employment, namely tenure rights. The Bloomberg administration is well-known for not signing contracts.

Susan Holtzman, the former Records Access person in charge at the NYC DOE Tweed building (52 Chambers Street, lower Manhattan), sent me the response that Joel had no contract, and she compensated for his not having a contract by sending me the contracts of two former NYC Chancellors, Harold Levy - who is an Attorney like Joel, also received a waiver from New York State, but ALSO a contract - and Rudy Crew, who did not need a waiver, but did get a contract. By the way, after Ms. Holtzman sent me this news, she was re-assigned to the position as Attorney for District 75 at 400 Second Avenue. Maybe she was not supposed to tell me that Joel had no contract. See what happened with my request for the contract of Dennis Walcott, the "new" chancellor after the disaster ofCathie Black ended.

When Cathie Black was run out of town, Deputy Mayor and token African American Dennis Walcott was given a waiver by New York State Commissioner Steiner to become "Chancellor" of the NYC public school system. This was around April 2011. I made a formal request for his contract in September, 2011, which was not filled until June 27, 2013. Joe Baranello, the current NYC Records Access person, has a problem with me because I posted his Facebook page on my blog NYC Rubber Room Reporter when I saw that he made fun of people dressed as Santa Claus and Jewish people. He is a gay man, and should know better than to make fun or judge anyone, but as far as I know he was not disciplined for his comments. No one who works for the "chief" - the Chancellor - is given any reprimands, it seems. But we don't know.

Anyway, as I am now a paralegal working in the compulsory arbitration known as "3020-a", I go by the letter of the law. The Education Law states that in order for the NYC Chancellor to have the power to charge/discharge an employee, he/she/ must have a contract (Section 2590-H)

Here is my Appeal to Courtenaye Jackson-Chase of my request for Walcott's contract, pursuant to FOIL, and Ed Law 2590-H after almost 2 years of delays and DOE "Gotcha Squad" Attorney Adrienne Austin gave Arbitrator James A. Brown the "contract" in camera because, she insisted, the "contract" was not public:

Appeal of Deliberate, Arbitrary and Capricious Delay in Responding To FOIL #7990

Dear Ms. Courtenaye Jackson-Chase: June 7, 2013

I am hereby appealing the denial of access to the contract of Dennis Walcott, Which was requested in a Freedom of Information request filed by me in September 2011 and given the number F7990 by your Records Office and Mr. Joseph Baranello.

Here is my Freedom of Information request:

From: Betsy
Date: Sat, Sep 10, 2011 at 12:54 AM
Subject: FOIL request "Walcott"
To: Baranello Joseph ,

Cc: Betsy Combier
Betsy Combier, Editor, Reporter

September 10, 2011

Mr. Joseph A. Baranello
Central Records Access Officer
Office of Legal Services
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mr. Baranello:

Under the provisions of the New York Freedom of Information Law, Article 6 of the Public Officers Law, I hereby request to inspect records or portions thereof pertaining to:

1) The entire online and hard copy personnel file of New York City Board/Department of Education employee Dennis Walcott. I request all records at all locations of the New York City Board/Department of Education, including 65 Court Street, the Department of Investigation, the Corporate Counsel, and all payments made to him from an expense account and/or paid to another employee, arbitrator, etc.

2) All references and education history listed in Dennis Walcott’s resume

3) The employment contract of Dennis Walcott with all appendices and with a complete listing of his duties and responsibilities, schedules of performance reviews, and to whom he must report for the performance review.

4) any emails letters or documentation from or to Patrick Sullivan that mention the name “Betsy Combier”.

If the records have been removed from their original locations, please cause a diligent search to be conducted of all appropriate file rooms and storage facilities. Please include the label “Walcott” in all correspondence that refers to this FOIL request.

If any record has been redacted, please identify which categories of information have been redacted, and cite the relevant statutory exemption(s).

If you have any questions relating to the specific record(s) or portion(s) being sought, please phone me.



Rules of the City of New York -- Title 43 -- Mayor -- §1-05(c)(3)
"If a request does not adequately describe the records sought, the records access officer shall notify the requesting party in writing that his request has been denied, stating the reasons why the request does not meet the requirements of this section and extending to the requesting party an opportunity to confer with the records access officer in order to attempt to reformulate the request in a manner that will enable the agency to identify the records sought."

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.


Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Director, Theaterkids, Inc.
President, The E-Accountability Foundation

Since September 2011 the extensions of time to complete my request #F7990 are:
October 7, 2011
December 8, 2011
January 9, 2012
February 7, 2012
April 12, 2012
May 24, 2012
January 18 2013
February 19, 2013
March 19, 2013
April 16, 2013
May 14, 2013
You can easily verify these dates by going to your colleague, Joseph Baranello, with whom you work at Tweed.
It is indeed disturbing that Ms. Adrienne Austin, Esq., an Attorney under your Supervision, would inform me and the Attorney I am working with in the case of N.K. , that the Walcott contract we requested in our Motion To Dismiss - and we stated that there was none - does indeed exist, and would be immediately given to Hearing Officer James Brown for in-camera review because we, Attorney David Barrett and myself, could not see it. Ms. Austin's email to us is below. Please make a note of the fact that Ms. Austin sent us the email with the " " around the word contract; we did not write this:

From:  Adrienne 
Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2013 10:26 AM
To: Jim Brown; David Barrett, esq.
Subject: RE:

Good Morning,

I have a copy of the Chancellor's "contract." I will provide it for an in camera review by Mr. Brown, but I will not be turning it over as it is part of a confidential personnel file.

Adrienne Austin | Agency Attorney
Administrative Trials Unit
NYC Department of Education
49-51 Chambers Street, Rm. 600
New York, New York 10007
T: (212) 374-6884
F: (212) 374-1229

Some time between May 16 and May 30, 2013, Ms. Austin gave Arbitrator James Brown, Esq., the "contract". On June 3, 2013, Arbitrator Brown stated in the record of the 3020-a Hearing of N. K., that he, Brown, had reviewed the "contract" dated April 18, 2011 and found that Dennis Walcott was indeed able to delegate probable cause to Superintendents and Principals. His denial of the Motion To Dismiss is based upon his review of this "contract". His opinion, with the date of the "contract" as April 18 2011 was uploaded to TEACH on May 30, 2013.

As I did file a FOIL request of Joel Klein's "contract" and received two answers, which were (1) Klein never had a contract; and (2) Klein had a contract - basically a letter welcoming him to the Chancellorship. See my article, " The "Who Are You Kidding??" Award Goes To: Joel Klein, New York City Board of Education Pretender".

Susan Holtzman sent me the employment contracts of Rudy Crew and Harold Levy, both of which were submitted in our Reply to Ms. Austin's oral argument made in opposition to our Motion To Dismiss, all these documents are available on the TEACH website under the case of N.K.

Below are some of the supporting opinions of Robert Freeman, in reference to the contract being a public document:

If Ms. Austin put the quotation marks around Dennis Walcott's "contract" because she believes it is not really a contract but an agreement or welcoming letter such as Mike Bloomberg sent Joel Klein, it is still discoverable:

Geneva Printing Co. and Donald C. Hadley v. South Seneca School District, Supreme Court, Monroe County, July 12, 1982 --
"Memorandum of Understanding" between superintendent and principal found to be available following in camera inspection; since the memorandum detailed direction and instructions regarding
the performance duties, it was found to constitute instructions to staff that affect the public and a final agency determination; disclosure would not result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, as record was clearly relevant to the performance of official duties; cited opinion of Committee. Current Law: §§87(2)(b), 2(g)(ii), (iii) (copied from:

On the issue of stalling me from receiving the documents requested under FOIL #7990 and all the others, I will be filing a Notice of Claim against Mr. Joseph Baranello and others who are, I assume, willingly, recklessly, and arbitrarily treating me in a way that not only does not comply with the law, but is different from other members of the public and the press. I may have information that your press office has given out the April 18, 2011 letter/contract for Dennis Walcott to other people requesting the "contract", prior to today, and may have given me the "contract" to which Ms. Austin refers.

The law gives you 10 days to send me the documents, including the contract, of Dennis Walcott. My email address is I expect to have the documents on or before June 24, 2013, as I know, from my sources, that all the documents requested are held at Tweed under your control. Please cease and desist from this disparate treatment.

Thank you for your attention and cooperation.


Betsy Combier

Ms. Austin also told us that we had to file a Freedom of Information ("FOIL") request for the "contract" if we wanted a copy. This means that she knew the contract was, indeed, a public document. Gosh, so confusing!!!!!

On June 27, 2013, two (2) days past the 10 day deadline for responding to my appeal, DOE Attorney Jackson-Chase had the Baranello team send me Dennis Walcott's "contract" under the heading "released June 27, 2013". They did not title the letter as a "contract".

Here is what the NYC DOE says is the "contract":

Contract of Dennis Walcott

Please note that there is no term for Walcott, as in end of his employment, and he did not put a date under his signature, if indeed he signed it at all. Additionally, there is no reference to his authority to hire and/or fire employees as the employing board. Walcott is not given any performance review, he has no Chancellor's Committee or any other decision-making body as he is stated as having.

On June 4, 2013 Walcott would not swear or affirm under oath to tell the truth at a City Council meeting on the budget. Education Committee chair Robert Jackson allowed him to testify anyway.

What a scam.

Betsy Combier
Editor of

Bloomberg dragging his feet over open records request

Posted By Greg Campbell On 2:32 PM 08/14/2013 In Daily Caller News Foundation | No Comments

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office is ignoring an open records request by a Colorado reporter that could shed light more light on how deeply involved the anti-gun mayor has been in Colorado politics lately.

Reporter Todd Shepherd, who runs the Drudge-like Complete Colorado website, wrote on Wednesday that Bloomberg’s office has been incommunicado regarding his request for documents under New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

Bloomberg’s office received Shepherd’s request on June 3 and promised on June 13 to respond with a status update within 20 business days.

“If I’m counting my holidays correctly, that means I should have been contacted with the status update on or about July 15 or 16,” Shepherd wrote. “It’s now August 13, and I have received nothing.”

Shepherd emailed two people in the FOIL division of the New York City mayor’s office and has had no response.

It’s been no mystery that Bloomberg has had his fingers in Colorado politics as the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a slate of controversial gun control bills this year. Open records obtained by Shepherd show that Bloomberg, who founded the anti-gun Mayors Against Illegal Guns group, called Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at two critical points during the gun control debate in the capitol.

And Bloomberg has promised to help the campaigns of Colorado Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron, Democrats who are facing Sept. 10 recall elections because of their support of the gun laws.

“Yes, I’m going to give some money, because I think they’ve done what’s right for the people of Colorado,” he’s quoted as saying in The Capital, an online New York politics site. “The people of Colorado are Americans. It shows leadership and I think you have an obligation to support those that you agree with.”

Shepherd didn’t specify what sort of documents he’s seeking from Bloomberg and wrote that there’s no guarantee that he will learn anything worthwhile.

“[But] we know for sure nothing can be learned as long as no documents are provided,” he wrote.

“Bloomberg’s office is thumbing their nose at the New York Freedom of Information Law,” he continued. “It’s unacceptable, they should be taken to task by other media that care about the integrity of open records laws, and they should prioritize my now-overdue request. But I won’t hold my breath.”

A message left at Bloomberg’s FOIL office by The Daily Caller News Foundation was not immediately returned.

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