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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Peg Robertson on Teaching and Survival

Monday, October 28, 2013
Peg With a Pen: A Quick Guide to Resisting from Within for Educators

I get asked a lot about what it’s like to teach in the public schools while knowing the truths about corporate education reform. Obviously, the two worlds collide. And I have spent many a night trying to figure out how to describe it – and how to write about it - so that you might also know what it feels like.  This is my attempt for those of you who do not teach in the public schools today.

It is surreal. It is so strange to watch the world crumbling down around you with such harshness and such coldness, while inside the walls of the school we continue to carry on, care for the children and fight to give them what every child deserves.  As teachers, we fight to support one another - as human beings and as professionals. We fight to keep it together as we watch the corporate snakes slither in through the cracks and the crevices in our building.  We shudder and hold the children close to us when others open the door wide and let the corporate snakes glide across the floor and make our building their own.

Yet, we must carry on because the children are always watching.

Have you ever had a bad day – a day in which you wanted to cry, or scream, or throw things; yet, you refrained from doing so because the children were watching. That is how it is every day for teachers who know the big picture - within the public schools. Every day we are protecting the children as best we can, without sharing - through our actions, our words, our teaching, our emotions - the horrors of the destruction making its way into our schools. Based on the ages of the children, this looks different - as some things are appropriate to share with older children.  However, it can be like a dysfunctional relationship of the worst kind – in which you must continually find ways to resist and find ways to protect while keeping the snakes at bay – knowing that they will continue to search for ways to manipulate you and the system – in order to get what they want. And that is how it works – they often get what they want because of the mandates in place in our public schools. And in the process, you get harmed, the children get harmed, and much of it is never discussed due to fear, due to retribution, due to fear of what could happen – the unknown.

The unknown keeps many from taking risks. Many believe they have no choices. And so, it only gets worse as the snakes multiply.  More children lose their childhoods. More children view themselves as failures. More children will be trained to obey and comply as they are groomed to be worker bees in a world which is being reshaped to benefit only the .01%. More children head down the school to prison pipeline.

Now that I have attempted to describe it, I want to share how I resist it. I began to make a list some time ago to document the many ways I work to resist the corporate snakes who slither around my feet and try to strangle the love of learning out of my school, leaving my children to starve in a world of tests, test prep and coldness - corporate reform is cold, very cold. The following is simply a quick guide to resisting from within. Because when you know what it feels like – which is very different than just hearing about – you have two choices, give up in some shape or form or find ways to resist. It’s very simple. You have to make a choice.

Here’s my list.  Feel free to add to it. There is much more I am sure, and as teachers we are moving so fast all day, we often don’t take stock, or give ourselves credit, for all that we do to wake up the world and reclaim authentic learning and teaching for our public schools and our children.

1.  Look at where you came from. What is your story? Recognize  and use your strengths.

I am a small town girl from Missouri. My father was a political reporter. My mother was a music teacher. My oldest sister has special needs. I grew up knowing what it was like to be viewed as different. I grew up knowing what it was like to be shunned. I also grew up knowing that the truth speaks. Missouri is, after all, the Show Me State. I grew up watching my mother teach and stay before, after school, for choir practice, performances and more. I watched her spend her own money to become Orff certified. She is the best music teacher I have ever seen and she received little respect for it.  My father is a brilliant writer and served as press secretaries for political candidates, wrote speeches for senators, worked for newspapers, wire services, and more. He played the game of politics which is addictive, full of gambles, full of ego and full of the unknown. We experienced many hardships as a family, as jobs were lost due to political candidates losing, due to one particular  candidate dying in a helicopter crash, due to cuts in UPI when the office was shut down in our little Missouri town, and more. We lost many gambles.  I grew up knowing that stability was a gift and that you needed to look around you and know the big picture and know yourself, because the view right in front of you may change tomorrow and you must know where to turn within and outside yourself when it does. I learned that listening and watching is key to knowing the big picture.This is who I am. I learned that education was important. I learned that writing could change the world. I learned that humanity can be kind and also very cruel. I learned that I had a voice and I had to use it. These are my strengths.

2. Open the door.

I know the teachers reading this have been told again and again to shut the door and do what is right for children. I beg of you, begin to open the door. Open it and let the light burst into the hallways. Let them hear your children laughing, singing, learning and engaging in what is real and true. When the children are not allowed to do so, open the door and let the world see this as well - let them see what corporate education looks like. Invite the parents to come in and help. Let them see the truths – good and bad – the parents will watch, listen and many will act to ferociously protect the children from the dangers that lurk in our buildings.

3.  Be humble.

It is never good to allow ego to lead the way.  Activism can have an ego. Avoid it; it will get you no where and it may lead you down the wrong path. Enough said.

4.  Choose your words carefully.

This one is essential – absolutely essential. We must not use words that confirm or give credit to the corporate education movement. Remember what you know. Look up the words and question what you hear. Words such as rigor, compliant, defiant, punitive have no place in a public school.  When you hear others say these words, gently rephrase them when you respond – this will give you great pleasure as you will begin to see a cultural shift.  If you continue to do this, over time reality will change as language does indeed shape our world.  Choose your words carefully in writing as well; make sure these corporate words do not become the language used inside your students’ homes.

5.  Read.

We must read and educate ourselves. Always. And we must read from sources that are credible, sources who are in the trenches - sources who are not profiting off of public education and our children. There are many books and blogs to read – a few to start with include,, ,, theBATS and of course our own site . Form a book club if you like. Get the Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch immediately.

6.  Align yourself with like-minded folks.

They can be hard to find. However, if you begin to get involved online via Twitter, Facebook and the various sites I listed above, you will begin to find them. Perhaps these friends will not be next door; but this will not matter, you will find that friends far away can offer you support and love even when they are not there.

7.  If you have children, refuse the test for them. If possible, share opt out/refusal information with other parents.

As teachers, we must not allow our children to take these tests. We must be a model for others around us.  I am happy to help anyone with this strategy. Do not allow your own children to labor for the corporations. Share opt out/refusal information with other parents if you can; there are ways to do this without your name being attached to it - find a parent to help you.

8.  Look at your day and the Conditions for Learning.


Are you meeting the conditions - for you? For your children? I use it as my barometer. I ask myself daily as I work with children...Will this engage them and further the purpose their lives? 

9.  Create portfolio assessments for your students whether or not it is required.

Children deserve to SEE their growth as it actually occurs over time. Parents deserve to know the strengths, attempts and next steps of their children by viewing authentic student work. Teachers have the right to assess their students in a way that is authentic and supportive in planning for instruction. Do not allow mainstream media to continue to create mass amnesia! I am continually asked, “Without the tests, how will we know if students have learned?” TEACHERS KNOW HOW TO ASSESS. Don’t let them forget (while banging a pan upside their head). Here is a letter for parents who might wish to advocate for portfolio assessment - unbeknownst to you of course - in your school.

10.  Advocate for yourself.

I learned this long ago. If you do not advocate for yourself expect to be trampled on. There is always someone available to trample on you, take advantage of you, and bully you. Learn how to advocate for yourself. I know this can be hard, which is why I love the quote, “Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.”  Reach out to other activists to support you in this process.

11.  Respect colleagues and do not gossip.

Teachers are already bashed enough without us adding to it.  Respect them. Support them and listen to them. Collaborate and have patience. We each have our strengths and we each have our burdens to bear – these are not easy times. Together we are stronger.

12.  Get involved in your union and join if you haven’t.

We must occupy our unions. We are the union. We must reclaim our union and we must not stand by when we see them taking actions which harm our schools, our children and our profession. Find a way to get involved. Read The Future of Our Schools by Lois Weiner.

13.  Analyze actions, not heart.

We cannot get inside the heads of those who are currently hell bent on enforcing mandates and creating avenues to profit off of our children while destroying the public schools and ultimately our democracy. I, myself, find it difficult to do this one. As a teacher, I spend many a day getting to know students so that I can best determine how to support them – it is my nature – I want to see their heart…their passions. However, this is different, I cannot get inside the head of Obama, or Duncan, or Weingarten, or Roekel or Gates. I can simply analyze their actions and determine my next step based on what I see. Do not waste time trying to see what is in their hearts – spend your time analyzing their actions so that you can see patterns and red flags that will allow us to strategize and win this fight.

14.  Be okay with disequilibrium and take risks.

If you grew in a world of disequilibrium, this will not be hard to do. This is one of those examples of utilizing your strengths – this may be a strength for you. If you did not get raised in such an environment, disequilibrium can be difficult. When you feel it, recognize that feeling and look around and see what is happening – are you still alive? Are you breathing ? Of course you are :). Own that feeling and know that disequilibrium is often accompanied by the ability to take risks.  Some risks will be successful, others will not – and being okay with that is essential to moving forward. We must be okay with the unknown at times and trust that the risks we take will allow us to grow and learn from the experiences we have. Love your routines, but also love stepping outside of them to ask …what if?

15. Reflect and ask questions.

Do not assume anything is the truth unless you have had it verified via research or via someone you would trust your life with – I cannot stress this one enough. Perhaps it sounds harsh, but my radar is always on and I do not blindly trust – ever. We have already lost too much by trusting.

16.  Use your own creativity to support your work as you resist from within.

I watch some activists share their truth via statistics. Others share the truth via words. Others sing, rap, dance, write poetry, and make jokes. Some paint. Others create comics. Use your own creative strengths to resist from within. Sometimes I just watch and smile at all these amazing activists whose passions are felt and seen so clearly in the way they express themselves. Remember, we do have heart, and people can see it and feel it – and THIS spurs action.

17.  Use your teacher knowledge to deconstruct the madness of corporate education reform.

For example, here I use the Conditions for Learning to let Obama know how ridiculous and harmful RTTT is. What do you know? How can you use it to debunk the corporate ed. reformers who know nothing about teaching and learning?

18.  Ignore the mandates around you however you can.

This is different for everyone so I cannot advise. I know what works for me. Find out what works for you – there are ways to ignore and refuse to participate in common core, test prep and more. I simply ask myself, at the end of day, did I listen to my students? Did I help engage learners and did they see how their learning will further the purpose of their lives? If I didn’t do that, something has to change. Make changes however you can and do not berate yourself because it wasn’t good enough – or you think you should have done more – you will always wish you could do more. Try again tomorrow. Nothing is forever. Change is always possible.

19. Use social media.

It’s a must. It’s how we have organized thus far. It allows us to reach each other no matter the distance, no matter the schedules of each individual. Tweet it. Facebook it Email it. Youtube it. Vine it. Blog it. Vlog it.  Pick the tool that works for you and do it. Get the information out there. 

20. Listen to the children.

Your students must be heard. The corporate reformers do not listen to them. The mandates ignore their needs. They must be heard. Get to know them. Listen to them and you will find many many ways to resist from within by listening to their passions, their fears, their strengths, their desires and their knowledge. Observe. Listen. And use this knowledge to empower them as learners and as citizens of our democracy. 

21.  Be kind to yourself. 

I know there are many out there who tell you that you should quit and leave the profession rather than stay and be a part of a system that harms children. However, I say, be kind to yourself, and know that your resistance from within protects children and gives them more authentic learning experiences than any teacher as technician ever could.  Your resistance from within helps adults see the need for urgent change – your resistance from within may well indeed be the catalyst to create an uprising to reclaim what is rightfully ours. Just know that no one is going to do it for us.  Just know, that if you do leave they/corp. ed. reformers will applaud you as you walk out the door and will replace you with a teacher as technician who knows nothing about how to support the beautiful children in your building – children who deserve everything the children of the .01% are getting. So, be kind to yourself, stay if at all possible, and know that you are creating change. Know that others, such as myself, are always there in spirit holding your hand.

22. Share.

Share your knowledge as an activist and as a teacher. Do not keep your best kept projects a secret. Do not compete with your colleagues – share. Share this document. Add your own tips for resisting. Collaborate. Together we are stronger. 



Queens Principal Anthony Lombardi is Accused of Sexual Harassment at PS 49

Queens teacher accuses principal of sexual harassment, says she was forced to resign

Anthony Lombardi allegedly hit on Lisa Calise for the entirety of her two years as a special education teacher at Public School 49 in Middle Village.

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P.S. 49 Principal Anthony Lombardi (seen with Mayor Bloomberg, current Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, left to right) has been accused of sexually harassing a special education teacher between 2010 and 2012.

The principal of a Queens public school has been accused of sexually harassing a special education teacher who says in a lawsuit that she was forced to resign after she rejected his disgusting come-ons.

Lisa Calise worked at Public School 49 in Middle Village for two years, beginning in 2010, and says in a suit filed recently in Brooklyn Federal Court that Principal Anthony Lombardi hit on her from the get-go.


Calise, 34, alleges that Lombardi asked her during her first job interview whether she had a boyfriend, her suit says. The harassment continued throughout the entire time she taught at the school, according to the suit. “You need to marry an Italian man,” Lombardi once told her in May 2011, she alleges in the suit.

Lombardi was profiled last year in a New York Magazine story as a model of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to get rid of underperforming teachers.


An official from the city Law Department said the agency will review the suit once it has received a copy.

Mike Bloomberg Goes to the Principal's Office

Taking his cue from Rudy’s war on crime, the mayor is determined to make the public schools great again by having principals manage and making teachers accountable. Will the union let him get away with it?
Former Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Seven years ago, Anthony Lombardi, principal of P.S. 49 in Middle Village, Queens, did something highly unusual. He started acting as if he actually ran the place.

There was nothing special about the school that Lombardi—a newly minted principal with dark eyes and a stocky wrestler’s build—had been appointed to manage: about 480 students, around half of whom were too poor to afford lunch; a mosaic of races and ethnicities; fair-to-middling test scores. But in time, he raised the numbers to the point where last year, P.S. 49 made the state’s list of the 200 most-improved schools. He pulled it off, he says, in part by removing the teachers he decided weren’t pulling their weight. Not that he really had the power to do that. “Nobody works for me,” he says in his thick Astoria accent. “I’m a union member, not management. I don’t hire or fire anybody, technically.”

On his desk, not far from the copy of Who Moved My Cheese? and the wall with three portraits of Frank Sinatra, Lombardi keeps a manual titled Regulations and Procedures for Pedagogical Ratings, an imposing volume that includes details on the procedure for evaluating and disciplining members of the United Federation of Teachers. From these pages, he has concluded that “it’s impossible to prove incompetency.” Give a teacher an “unsatisfactory” rating, and you’re stuck with that teacher for a two-year review. The teacher is stuck, too; he or she can’t leave voluntarily. “That’s what tenure is—it’s due process,” Lombardi says. “But when you say you’re against tenure, it’s like saying you’re against the Constitution.”

So what else could he do? Without giving anyone a “U,” Lombardi has shown the door to eight teachers—nearly a third of his classroom staff. First he raised teaching standards; then he lowered the boom. He launched a demanding new reading-and-writing program designed by Teachers College—an “education philosophy,” as he calls it, that gives kids blocks of time to read at their skill level and write in journals. It also presents teachers with a daunting workload, requiring more time for preparation and attention to each child’s progress. It’s the kind of approach that private schools use—usually with classes far smaller than P.S. 49’s average of 26 kids.

Michael Bloomberg: “There was just no structure that said, ‘We’re going to measure you based on how well the kids learned.’ All of us behave differently if there is accountability.”

Lombardi spent hours observing his teachers at work—taking notes not on how well their kids tested but on whether the teachers asked questions that required more than just yes or no answers, or bothered to involve all the students. The ones who punched in and out, the ones who didn’t seem to care, were targeted. “I’ve set a high expectation,” Lombardi says, “and when they haven’t met it, they had to make a professional decision if they wanted to be a member of this staff.”

He created a paper trail—memo after memo explaining the ways they were failing. Your lesson plans are poor and skeletal in nature . . . The lesson was inundated with stops and starts . . . Many students sat for the entire period without being motivated to join the lesson. Then came the heart-to-heart chats. “I’d sit there with the teacher—and the union rep—and tell them, ‘You’re in danger of a U rating and noncompliance to our program.’ Then I’d set up a plan of improvement. Some might have felt the expectations were too high. That’s why they’d transfer. Then I’d have the chance to place a teacher that could meet the challenges.”

How did he know the new teachers would be better? He let the school’s successful teachers judge them. Taking advantage of a provision in the UFT contract that allows a school’s faculty to vote on certain policies, he formed a hiring committee of teachers and parents (and himself) to scrutinize candidates. Today, he’s thrilled with his teaching staff. “Do we talk about work rules? Not really,” says Carmela Naumann, who teaches second grade. “Do we talk about him as our boss? Absolutely.”

As a model for the school system, Lombardi’s approach has its drawbacks, to be sure: Most of the teachers he considered unqualified are, after all, still teaching—foisted on unwitting principals who weren’t shrewd enough to have their own hiring committees. Still, this year, P.S. 49’s citywide ranking bounded to 90th place, up 29 spots from the previous year. Reading scores shot up 25 percent, to the point where 72.8 percent of the students at this school read at grade level—not too shabby in a school system where 80 percent of eighth graders can’t.

“It took me years to get this place right,” says Lombardi. “I used the system of rules to my advantage. You have to be able to work within the parameters of a broken managerial system—or what was broken.”

Today, of course, reform is in the air. No one could have predicted that in the space of a year, Mike Bloomberg would be able to assume control of the once-sovereign school system and defang the patronage-bound school districts. But all of that was a prelude to what amounts to the most audacious attempted overhaul in the history of public education: Jack Welch consulting on the training of principals; Caroline Kennedy passing the hat for private-sector donations; standardized reading and math curricula imposed systemwide on the largest, most diverse student population on the planet. Teachers, some of whom were given just a few days to learn the program, worry that their new bosses know nothing about teaching. Parents scratch their heads over an entirely new bureaucracy, just as many of them finally had learned how to play the angles of the old one. But the most profound cultural change in Bloomberg’s schools shakeup lies in giving (or at least attempting to give) principals like Anthony Lombardi real power—license to approach the job as if they were running a small business.

For Bloomberg’s chancellor, Joel Klein, the Eureka! moment came on a chilly day last December when he was paid a visit by a Washington, D.C., policy wonk named Marc S. Tucker. Klein—the trust-busting former federal prosecutor under Bill Clinton who led the charge against Microsoft—had rebuilt the chain of command in the Tweed Courthouse but was looking for a way to get the message into the classrooms of all 1,200 schools. Tucker, the founder of a Clinton-era think tank called the National Center on Education and the Economy, had shuttled in to meet the new chancellor at the behest of California billionaire Eli Broad, who had donated $4 million to Klein’s efforts to rethink school reform—and, just last week, an additional $4 million to train new principals. After an hour’s chat, Tucker handed Klein his book, The Principal Challenge. “I gave him a copy thinking he’d give it to someone else,” Tucker remembers. “But he called me the next day and said, ‘That book expressed everything I felt is important in school leadership.’ ” When I asked Klein which of the dozens of education books that he read were of any use to him, Tucker’s was the only one he remembered by name. “It echoes my own thinking,” Klein said.

The book argues that if schools were businesses, they’d be out of business, mainly because the line managers have been hobbled. Principals spend so much time toeing the line, following picayune government regulations, that they can’t begin to think about education. The teachers teach; the principal is a clerk, a teacher’s pest. They can’t fire bad custodians, let alone poor teachers. And as academic standards rise and testing becomes the ultimate arbiter of success, principals have neither the power nor the skill to raise their schools’ test scores. The final insult comes from the new federal No Child Left Behind Act, which says that if a school’s scores keep falling, it can be closed, with blame laid at the feet of you-know-who. Is it any wonder principals nationwide are quitting in droves?

The notion of emulating the private sector was no revelation to Klein, but at last here was the primer on how to do it. Corporations don’t rely just on M.B.A. programs; they have corporate universities to mold managers who live and breathe the company message. What if schools grew their own “instructional leaders,” as Tucker called them—a new generation of principals all fluent in the same curricula, and all given enough training and authority to really help their teachers teach? What if they could be held accountable for results, and everyone would know who was responsible for mobilizing teachers? And what if it came cheap? Fix the principals, and, Tucker’s book promises, you can “produce steady gains in student performance without substantial increases in school budgets.”

Anthony Lombardi: “When you tell a teacher "‘This is not good enough,"  it becomes painful. Everybody’s in favor of reform—until they’re the ones being reformed.”
This year, Klein launched a Leadership Academy to train principals (funded with an expected $75 million in private donations), and, for the first time, allowed principals some leeway in how they spend their budgets. Coming soon, according to the plan: Principals become line managers—instructional leaders who help their teachers teach, not just mind the store. “I can’t go out and recruit or train 80,000 teachers myself,” Klein explains in his soft Queens mumble. “But a single principal can actually influence a school’s worth of teachers.”

Of course, empowering principals doesn’t necessarily endear you to the head of the principals’ union; if they become managers, they’re no longer labor. “We have what I consider a reign of terror on principals,” says Jill Levy, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “I believe—and I have it on good authority that my belief is not wrong—that Joel Klein does not believe that principals should be in a union. It is a desire to make people so upset and so frightened that as soon as you turn around and offer them something out of the goodness of your heart, they’re going to feel indebted to you. It’s almost like the Stockholm syndrome.”

It’s true, at least, that the start of school has brought some hard knocks for principals. “The good news is that I had control of my budget, and the bad news is that the budget was not enough to maintain what I had last year,” says Jane Ginsburg, a principal Klein often hails for making P.S. 82 in Queens the highest test-score gainer in the state. “I lost one school aide and one paraprofessional. But even in a crisis, I suppose I am happy that the decision about where to cut was still mine.”

Whenever mike Bloomberg talks about the fire he’s lit under the nation’s largest school system, he likes to start by recalling the impossible dreams of other mayors. His favorite is the one about the cops: the revolution in crime fighting during the nineties. “Everything that you can tell me that’s a problem in changing the culture of a school system,” he says, gesticulating wildly at a table in the City Hall bullpen with his characteristic mix of confidence and impatience, “I’ll tell you the same thing was said about changing our culture in our police department.”

A decade ago, Commissioner Bill Bratton and his deputy Jack Maple made the seismic decision to hold precinct commanders personally accountable for reducing crime in their precincts. Using the CompStat crime-tracking system, they charted which precincts were improving and which weren’t, and those that weren’t were targeted at regular meetings. Commanders were reassigned and resources redeployed to high-crime neighborhoods. Suddenly, crime wasn’t viewed as something inevitable, a product of broken families or endemic poverty—good police work could make a difference. Bloomberg intends to do something similar with the schools: Shift resources from the bureaucracy into the classrooms, make the principals accountable for the performance of their schools, make test scores go up as far as the crime rate went down, and win back the middle class with the results. “If we make this a success like the Police Department is a success,” Bloomberg says, “you will have more people coming and wanting to join this school system.”

Where does the new curriculum fit in? Call it the analogue to the police’s zero-tolerance strategy on crime. Some of the worst schools were once written off by many in the system; expectations simply lowered over time (while savvy parents steered their kids to schools that got more resources and attention). Today, Balanced Literacy—very much like the reading program Lombardi implemented on his own—and Everyday Math have their critics, but they were, until this year, the kind of curricula used in the wealthiest school districts. Now they’re everywhere, and struggling schools have new programs, books, and teaching coaches. “For the longest time, we’ve had educational apartheid,” says Lucy Calkins of Teachers College, one of Balanced Literacy’s creators. “The middle-class kids have been taught one way and the poor kids another. To have teachers doing all the same work with kids is unbelievable and wonderful.”

Of course, the police are a seductive comparison for another reason: Just as many people—including cops themselves—doubted that crime rates could ever significantly drop, so does skepticism run deep about improving the schools. The traditional explanation for school failure from insiders is twofold: The resources are woefully inadequate, and many students are unreachable, poisoned by poverty and neglected by apathetic parents. (“Class size” is a popular code for the former, “school safety” for the latter.) Consider Harold Levy, the previous chancellor, who told me recently that the Board of Education’s own statistics proved the discouraging reality that student performance is held hostage by the kids’ social circumstances. One study compared state reading scores with three different variables of city school students: kids who spoke English as a second language, who received federal Title I money for school lunches (meaning they were poor), and who were in special education. There was an 83 percent correlation between the lists. “I looked at this, and I was heartbroken,” Levy says. “It means we only have 17 percent of the kids’ reading scores to play with.”

Klein, unlike Levy, is not a root-causes guy. “I don’t want to give us an excuse,” he says, “because I think there’s a lot that we can do.” He and Bloomberg are saying the problem might actually have to do with the way kids are taught. “By and large, we have a system with people who have life tenure, lockstep pay, and seniority,” Klein says. “Unless we’re prepared to be serious about changing the culture, we will not change the results with any significance.”

Skeptics will argue that the mayor knows nothing about what it’s really like to stand in front of a classroom, that he’s scapegoating teachers to make up for a lack of funding (and it’s true that the NYPD got more resources ten years ago).

“I know something about running nonprofit businesses,” the mayor responds. “I ran a university. I ran a hospital. This is an organization that is accountable for its actions, has to justify getting the moneys that it spends, and in terms of showing that there is value produced for those moneys—let’s say reading scores, if it’s a kid in a school, whatever it is—there are metrics that you can use to measure virtually anything. There was just no structure that said, ‘We’re going to measure you based on how well the kids learned.’ And all of us behave differently if there is accountability and openness.”

And any labor strife is, he figures, part of the cost of doing business.

Randi Weingarten: “These reforms are built on a Jack Welch model of command and control and intimidation and fear, and that’s just not the way teachers work.”

“They don’t want any change!” Bloomberg says dismissively. “I mean, they were running the school system, they were getting everything they wanted, and they had no accountability. Why would a rational person want to give that up?”

'They’re experimenting on kids, and I think that’s horrible,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, whose voice tends to grow softer, more reverential, whenever she mentions children. “We’re not dealing with widgets here. These reforms are built on a Jack Welch model of command and control and intimidation and fear, and that’s just not the way teachers work. And when we raise legitimate concerns about this, they demonize the messengers. I think the mayor, for reasons that I still don’t understand, really believed that the union used to act as co-chancellor.”

There’s a beat before she adds: “If the union did act as co-chancellor, I believe that the school system would have been much better off.”

Before their mutual freeze-out, the billionaire mayor and the tenacious labor leader had a collegial, if complicated, relationship. Weingarten had advised Bloomberg on the campaign trail and had even visited him at his home. It was at a restaurant in Soho, a month after he took office, that she remembers him popping the question: He asked her if she wanted to be the schools chancellor.

"I didn’t know whether he was kidding or not,” she says coyly. “You know, he may have been teasing. I don’t know whether he was flattering me. But you know, he used to think that I knew what I was talking about.”

In February, Weingarten said that her fabled predecessor, Albert Shanker, would be “singing in the streets” about the reforms. Now she’s filed close to 9,000 grievances against the Department of Education and a lawsuit to get a referendum on the ballot for smaller class sizes. She has argued that by not trying harder to build a consensus with teachers—or, you might say, treating teachers as employees—the mayor is playing games with children’s lives. Even in a school system that’s used to standoffs, this is a watershed moment. “It used to be that the chancellor and the mayor were at war with each other,” says Seymour Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation. “Now the mayor and the chancellor are at war with the heads of the unions.”
Weingarten opened contract negotiations by proposing a pilot project in which teachers and principals “democratically” run schools together. “If they’re not interested in having teachers being part of how to teach kids, they’re not interested in teaching kids,” Weingarten says. Which prompts Bloomberg to scoff: “Can you imagine Ray Kelly listening to the head of the PBA about policy in policing? I don’t think so. No group operates without management. That’s been one of the problems—they never had any. It’s a world where they’re much more socialistic. Until it comes to contract time, in which case they’re the ultimate capitalists.”
Weingarten simply can’t fathom a mayor who equates teachers with cops. “You know, I am always insulted when the mayor says that,” she says. “Teaching is about trying to unlock kids’ minds—what police do is they try to lock up prisoners. Policing is like the Army—it is a kind of paramilitary institution. And I would hope that teaching would never become a paramilitary institution. The mayor’s managerial thrust is to infantilize the teaching force.”
 What does she make of the efforts of a principal like Lombardi? Weingarten jumps in before I can finish the question.
 “Anthony Lombardi runs his school like a tyrant,” she says, seething. “And anyone who sits in that school understands that. He has railroaded people out of that school for years. He wants sheep.”
Lombardi is aware of his reputation in union circles; he’s just never thought that teachers and the union were one and the same. “I don’t want to come off as a tyrant,” he says. “This job is often lonely. When you tell a teacher ‘This is not good enough,’ it becomes painful. Everybody’s in favor of reform—until they’re the ones being reformed. But I knew what I had to do.”
In his first year at P.S. 49, Lombardi wasted little time trying to create, as he describes it in management-speak, an “alignment of expectations and accountability.” Loosely translated, that means the teachers couldn’t shake him off with a stick. “We went from having a principal visit a classroom three or four times a year to having him there all the time,” remembers Mary Shannon, a third-grade teacher. “That was very nerve-racking at first. The constant scrutiny—every time the door would open, your heart would sink and you’d turn red.”
The UFT rep had a busy time of it, too. “There were a lot of emergency meetings at the time—‘He’s coming into my room, he’s looking at my lesson plan,’ ” Shannon says. “But he knew the contract up and down and wasn’t really doing anything wrong. And the big difference is, all the kids knew him, said hello to him, wanted to show him their work.”
It helped that with every new edict came extra training for the teachers. Lombardi took the unusual step of adding a professional period each week, and rearranged the other planning periods so teachers in each grade could meet together, sharing  tips. And four years ago, when Shannon suggested the school use the Teachers College literacy approach, he let her lead the way. “When I first heard about this, I thought it was nuts,” Lombardi admits. Parents also wondered why there was no textbook—how the teacher knew how well the child was doing if they were just reading books. “But then I saw it made sense to make sure a child understands what they’re reading. But it’s not for the weak-hearted. It challenges the teachers to view the students as readers and writers.”

“It is a lot of work, a lot of prep time, a lot of being intuitive about kids, a lot of record-keeping so you don’t forget what you’ve learned about a student,” says Lillian Licitra, who teaches fifth grade. “But after a few months, teachers enjoy it because the children are reading without frustration, which is keeping them motivated. And the one-on-one conferencing makes the kids feel special—it’s like they’re getting their own private tutoring.” Lombardi has to stay proactive, too, helping teachers make time for spelling or grammar lessons when the students are falling behind.

Shannon notes that it takes a lot of fine-tuning. “As soon as you say, ‘Oh, I finally know what I’m doing,’ they send you something new,” she adds with a sigh. On the other hand, she prefers a philosophy to a script. “Teaching out of the Basal Reader,” she says, “is one of the most boring things you can do.”

This year, P.S. 49 is following Klein’s edict to launch Everyday Math, a program that stresses real-life examples over rote computation, and is finding it’s similarly demanding. “Oh, God, it’s pretty challenging,” says Susan Dowling, a fifth-grade teacher. “Let’s say it’s about multiplication. First, you teach them what multiplication means, then you play a game, then you meet with a kid or two on the side while keeping an eye on the rest of the class. It’s more about sifting through the lesson—it’s up to you to see what your class needs.”

Klein has supplied most schools implementing the new programs with coaches to train teachers. The P.S. 49 math coach, Elisabetta Bamonte, was trained on Everyday Math for just two weeks before turning around to assist teachers. Recently, she faced off with parents at a meeting in which she had to explain why their children aren’t learning, say, actual times tables. But the parents, she says, were less worried about the quality of the program than their ability to help their kids.

“A lot of the homework,” Bamonte reassured the parents, “is for children to go home and explain it to their parents.”

What would Lombardi really need to be the boss of his school? He dreams of having a way to grade teachers with more than just an S or a U. He’d also like a full review of tenure. “The labor force needs some protection—there should be checks and balances to make sure a principal is fair,” he says. “But the contract shouldn’t allow poor practices to go on in classrooms.”

Klein has done his own digging into the UFT contract. He wants to override seniority and move the best teachers into the worst schools, and to change the notorious Circular 6 rule that keeps teachers from having to provide discipline in the halls and the cafeteria. He wants to regulate teacher sabbaticals, and merit pay for the best teachers—and, while he’s at it, wipe out the Great Society–era system of standardized pay altogether. “Every year, we’re short in math, science, English, and special-ed-certified teachers,” Klein says. “And one way to deal with that would be pay differentials. Anybody in industry would do that—I mean, that’s the way colleges do it.”

Never mind the curriculum: These changes would forever transform the schools’ teaching culture. Weingarten understands this, as does the mayor. Even if he doesn’t get everything he wants, Bloomberg is betting on a new generation of teachers to buy into it.

“A lot of the yelling and screaming is simply people’s abhorrence of something new,” the mayor says with a shrug. “They’re afraid. Sometimes justifiably so, because they’re not doing anything and they’re going to get caught. But if you get a bunch of teachers who want to collectively make a difference, they’re not going to listen to the contract. They’re going to do it because they want to. Will you get every kid ready for Harvard, Yale, or Princeton? No. Can you do certain things to give the basics to virtually—well, almost every kid, because there are just some who just, you’re never going to get there? Yeah, that you can do. I think that is a realistic expectation—to have them reading at eighth-grade level.”
It’s a little sad that such a modest goal can send a school system into a frenzy. Which is, of course, Bloomberg’s point.
“In the end, I will get reelected by an overwhelming majority and there will be very few people running against me, because the schools will be better,” he says.
A pause. Then his eyes brighten.
 “It’s already certainly better than what it was.”

ACS Big Donald Antonetty Resigns After Getting Caught in a Conflict of Interest

ACS big gives up six-figure city gig after probe finds conflict of interest

Donald Antonetty resigns post with Administration for Children's Services after probe reveals he served on board of Trabajamos Community Head Start, a Bronx-based city contractor.

Donald Antonetty

A high-ranking city employee will forfeit his $111,000-a-year job after it was discovered he used his position to benefit a Bronx nonprofit with which he was associated.

Donald Antonetty, formerly the director of field operations for the Administration for Children’s Services, failed to disclose his decades-long relationship with Trabajamos Community Head Start, a group that the city frequently contracts to run pre-schools and early education programs.

Antonetty, 53, is a longtime member of the organization’s Board of Directors and served as its chairman from 2006 until September.

The city Conflicts of Interest Board announced last week that Antonetty, who started working for the city in 1988, was demoted due to his indiscretion, and had his six-figure annual salary reduced by $34,725.

Antonetty subsequently resigned his city position, the Daily News has learned.

Calls to Antonetty’s Bronx home were not returned.

City employees are prohibited from serving in leadership positions with groups that deal directly with the agency in which they are employed.

They are not even allowed to serve as volunteers unless they disclose their relationship and obtain formal permission.

When confronted about the potential conflict in 2012, Antonetty told city lawyers he would resign his position as board chairman of Trabajamos, but the agency said he failed to do so until three months ago.

The board said Antonetty had admitted to using his work computer and e-mail account to send, receive and store a number of e-mails related to Trabajamos. The two-timing manager even attended a meeting at ACS on behalf of the nonprofit.

He also used his position to obtain a criminal background check on Trabajamos employees, and asked a city colleague to run a license plate for his own personal use.

A person who answered the phone at Trabajamos said nobody was available to comment.

It was not the first time Antonetty has found himself on the wrong side of the law.

In 2004, he was arrested for his involvement in a Longwood bar brawl that left two men hospitalized with stab wounds.

Antonetty was charged with felony assault and having a forged NYPD parking credential on his car.

The case has since been sealed, the Bronx District Attorney’s office said.