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Monday, January 13, 2014

Mayor Mike's Legacy: PS 106: The Worst School In New York City

I don't think too many people will argue with the title that NY POST stellar reporter Sue Edelman gave PS 106 in Sunday's paper (January 12, 2014).
I'm wondering if we should even consider this entity a "school". Time to fire Principal Marcella Sills and find out what Dorita Gibson knew about this school all these years....
Betsy Combier

No books, no clue at city’s worst school

This principal runs a school of “no.”
Students at PS 106 in Far Rockaway, Queens, have gotten no math or reading and writing books for the rigorous Common Core curriculum, whistleblowers say.
The 234 kids get no gym or art classes. Instead, they watch movies every day.
“The kids have seen more movies than Siskel and Ebert,” a source said.
The school nurse has no office equipped with a sink, refrigerator or cot.
The library is a mess: “Nothing’s in order,” said a source. “It’s a junk room.”
No substitutes are hired when a teacher is absent — students are divvied up among other classes.
A classroom that includes learning-disabled kids doesn’t have the required special-ed co-teacher.
About 40 kindergartners have no room in the three-story brick building. They sit all day in dilapidated trailers that reek of “animal urine,” a parent said; rats and squirrels noisily scamper in the walls and ceiling.
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NO GYM OR ART: With no phys-ed or art classes, students are left to watch movies, including “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Fat Albert.”

NO SPACE: Without enough space in the main brick building, kindergartners are taught in what sources say are rat-infested trailers.

Principal Marcella Sills is a frequent no-show; The Post found she missed every day of school last week but one.Photo: J.C. Rice
And the principal — Marcella Sills, who joined PS 106 nine years ago — is a frequent no-show, sources say.
Sills did not come to school last Monday. On Tuesday, she showed up at 3:30 p.m.
On Wednesday, The Post found her at home in Westbury, LI, all day before emerging at 2:50 p.m. — school dismissal time. Wearing a fur coat, she took her BMW for a spin.
She showed up at school Thursday, but not Friday.
When Sills, 48, does go to work, it’s rarely before 11 a.m. — and often hours later, say sources familiar with her schedule.
“She strolls in whenever she wants,” one said.
The school hasn’t had a payroll secretary in years.
A Department of Education spokesman said Sills was required to report her absences and tardiness to District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey but would not say whether Sills did so last week.
Lloyd-Bey did not return a call. Sills hung up on a reporter.
When she is out, an assistant principal is left in charge. Yet Sills, who gets a $128,207 salary, also pockets overtime pay — $2,900 for 83 hours in 2011, the latest available records show.
“This school is a complete s- -thole, but nobody in a position of power comes to investigate. No one cares,” a community member said.
PS 106 families hope their cries for attention bring newly installed Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to the rescue, saying they can’t recall any prior DOE leader visiting the remote school.
She would find it sinking, they say.
The isolated building sits a block and a half from the beach, surrounded by vacant, weed-choked lots, the road behind it strewn with trash bags and broken TVs.
The floods of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 wrecked a hangar-like annex, called the Early Childhood Academy, which housed pre-K, kindergarten and first and second grades. It has not been repaired.
Two kindergarten classes moved into “temporary classroom units” in the yard. The other children moved into the main building, forcing some classes to squeeze into small offices and storage rooms. The pre-K class sits in the auditorium, but has to move to the cafeteria during the movies.
Kids in several grades said that last week they watched “Fat Albert,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Monsters, Inc.,” but did not relish the downtime.
“I like gym. I like to draw,” said Charm Russell, 10, who added her peers are too restless and bored to watch the screen. “They’re always making noise, and there’s nothing entertaining going on. No art, no gym, no music class.”
More alarming, the teachers have gotten no curricula since Sandy. Last February, the DOE announced several new options, including “Go Math” for grades K-5, and “ReadyGen” or the state Education Department’s “Core Knowledge” for English language arts. The books cover the Common Core standards, skills that kids should master at each level.
But five months into the school year, PS 106 classes still don’t have the books or teacher’s guides.
“They have no reading program, no math program,” a source said, adding Sills blames outside administrators for not sending materials.
Teachers muddle through by printing out worksheets they find online, buying their own copy paper.
The DOE gave no explanation for the missing curricula but said it’s “working with the school to provide students with physical education.”
A spokesman denied the trailers are rat-infested.
Staffers won’t speak up or even file a grievance with their union because Sills will retaliate, a source said.
Parents wonder if higher-ups know what’s going on.
“Why don’t they get on them? I don’t understand that,” said Michael Moore, father of a second-grader.
Another father, Roland Legions, added. “They’re not doing right by the kids.”
One mom said she couldn’t get a meeting with Sills to discuss concerns. Another said Sills is “just not professional.”
“She should be here,” the mom said. “How is she going to run the school if she’s not here?”
PS 106 is allocated $2.9 million to serve a low-income population with 98 percent of its students eligible for free lunches. As a Title 1 school, it gets extra federal funds, but community members say they’ve never seen a budget tracking the income and spending.

Worst principal forced poor kids to pay for bizarre bash


Kids at Queens’ notorious “School of No” have been forced to pay for a bizarre fifth-grade party at which their principal makes them dress up as little brides and grooms, The Post has learned — as the DOE announce that it would probe conditions at the school.
PS 106’s fur-clad principal, Marcella Sills — who is known for frequently being absent — has for at least the past three years orchestrated an annual prom at a posh rental hall.
She has required parents to pay more than $110 per child for the shindig.
The girls must rent little white dresses that look like bridal gowns, and the boys must attend in tuxedos, sources told The Post.

The kids, many of whom live below the poverty line, must foot the bill for the strange get-ups, which Sills personally picks out at stores such as Men’s Wearhouse and David’s Bridal, parents and ex-teachers said.
Sills, meanwhile, sets herself up as the belle of the ball — donning her own long, white bridal-type gown for the event, which was held last June at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach. The outfit comes complete with elbow-length white gloves, witnesses said.
“It’s absurd,” said one former teacher at the crumbling Far Rockaway school.
“This is a school where children are given a free breakfast and free lunch, and you’re asking them to pay money for a lavish, unnecessary event.”

As the school put on a yearly formal ball, kids don’t have basic school necessities. “Some children didn’t have materials because their parents couldn’t afford them,” a former teacher said. “It was a struggle and a fight to get crayons, pencils and a notebook.”
Sills could not be reached for comment.
The school struggles to provide basic classroom supplies and actual instruction, said former teachers and students.

It became known as the “School of No” because it provides no gym, no art classes, no textbooks covering the Common Core standards and no proper nurse’s office.
Staff described PS 106 as a dysfunctional campus with rat-infested instruction trailers.
Sills often doesn’t show up. Last week, she missed every school day but one. Nevertheless, she managed to rule in absentia through fear and retaliation, sources said.

She cuts quite a figure, when she does appear. She arrives in a BMW wearing expensive fur coats. She makes a base $128,000 salary. “She’s evil,” former PS 106 teacher Patricia Walsh said. “She finds pleasure in ruining people’s lives.”

“She’s been getting away with it for years,” said Silaka Cox, an NYU freshman who graduated from PS 106 on Sills’ watch.

After reading The Post’s report on the school, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Sunday announced an investigation into what she called “deeply troubling” revelations.
Fariña said she is sending her second-in-command, Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson, to the school Monday morning “to review the situation at PS 106 and determine what is going on there.”

Chancellor Carmen Fariña will dispatch a top deputy to a Queens school said to be in dire straits — just a day after the New York Post first reported the conditions.
On Sunday morning, the Post published an exposé about conditions at P.S. 106 in Far Rockaway, Queens. There, the newspaper reported, no Common Core materials have arrived; damages from Superstorm Sandy are not repaired;  students watch movies instead of having gym or art classes; and Principal Marcella Sills rarely shows up.
“This school is a complete s- -thole, but nobody in a position of power comes to investigate. No one cares,” a community member told the Post.
That will change on Monday, according to a statement that Fariña sent Sunday evening. She called the report “deeply troubling” and said she would dispatch Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson to the school Monday morning to investigate.
Here’s Fariña’s full statement:
Today’s report about conditions at P.S. 106 in Far Rockaway is deeply troubling.  I spoke with the Mayor today, and am sending Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson to the school Monday morning to review the situation at P.S. 106 and determine what is going on there.  The Deputy Chancellor will report back her findings as soon as possible, including an analysis of conditions, and recommendations on any needed corrective action.  What was reported in today’s news account is unacceptable, and if true will be immediately addressed.  Serving our children comes first and is our most urgent priority.

City ignored pleas to ax ‘lunatic’ principal

by Sue Edelman
They knew.
Teachers begged city officials to investigate “School of No” Principal Marcella Sills soon after she started in 2005 — citing her constant tardiness, harassment of staff and extravagant spending on parties while the school lacked books, pencils and paper.
“Get rid of her before it’s too late,” a 2007 letter urged District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey, who oversees Queens principals.
Letters describe Sills as a tyrant and “rude lunatic administrator” who spurred an exodus of excellent teachers and failed to provide basic student supplies and services while handsomely furnishing her own office and squandering funds on catering and decorations.
“You need to examine Ms. Sills’ inability to lead,” says a 2006 letter from a “concerned teacher” to top Department of Education officials, including Carmen Fariña — now the city’s newly installed chancellor — and then-Chancellor Joel Klein. “Teacher morale is at an all-time low.”
A 2006 letter to Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon — with copies to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Klein and other officials — said Sills “comes in late on a daily basis” and does not record her absences, but calls staffers at home if they call in sick.
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ABOUT TIME! PS 106 finally gets a UPS shipment of schoolbooks last week — including “What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know” — after a Post exposé revealed a dearth of supplies at the Queens school.Photo: J.C. Rice
The Post revealed last week that Sills for years has arrived hours late, and often failed to show, school sources said. Over the previous week, Sills missed all but one day.
The Far Rockaway school had no math or English textbooks for the rigorous new Common Core curriculum, no gym or art classes — kids watched movies instead — and no nurse’s office. Kindergartners sit in trailers that reeked of animal urine.
Fariña sent a deputy to inspect the school last week but has not publicly acknowledged any specific problems, citing only “significant room for organizational improvement.”
Last week, kids suddenly had gym and art. Dozens of boxes of books were delivered, including the grade-by-grade series, aimed at parents, starting with “What your Kindergartner Needs to Know.”
Condon has launched a probe.
Former teachers gave The Post 10 letters sent since 2005 to Condon, Klein, Lloyd-Bey, Fariña and former Queens Superintendent Kathleen Cashin — now a member of the state Board of Regents. Most of the letters are anonymous, because the teachers feared retaliation by Sills. Some kept a “harassment log.”
The teachers also showed more than two dozen letters and e-mails to reps at the United Federation of Teachers, including then-President Randi Weingarten, now a national union president, but said even she could not help.
Among the complaints, a 2006 letter to Condon, copied to Bloomberg and DOE officials, says Sills threw an elaborate buffet lunch for staff as a “thank you” but asked teachers to sign forms stating — falsely — that they attended a “professional development” workshop. A spokesman for Condon said last week he had no findings to report.
The letter also describes a “fifth-grade extravaganza,” including a dance at El Caribe banquet space, a Broadway show and dinner at a trendy Manhattan restaurant — at an estimated cost of $24,000. Parents had to cough up $90 each.
It was also alleged Sills used a grant from the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio to pay herself overtime, even as school aides went without OT because the school budget had run out of money.
A 2006 letter to Klein called Sills “vicious,” saying she “humiliated” children who were emotionally disturbed and punished school aides who complained about “unsafe, deplorable conditions” in the cafeteria.
Sills, 48, was a graduate of the DOE’s “Leadership Academy,” which trains principals, and had little teaching experience. Insiders said she lacked literacy skills, noting her invitation to a Nov. 23, 2005, holiday buffet “in honor of my gradutitude” to employees, including “security personel” and “custodially staff members.”
Sills ruled by threats and intimidation, ex-staffers complained. She “yells at a volume that resounds throughout the building, slams doors and uses foul language,” a 2006 letter to Condon claims.
That letter also accuses Sills of racism: “She has hired only black teachers and has targeted white teachers and a secretary.” Many left or were forced out.
One former teacher charged that Sills fabricated several observations, rated her “unsatisfactory” and then forged her signature on the documents.
Another red flag was raised in 2009, when the family of a girl student filed a $2 million negligence suit charging staff failed to stop beatings and a sex assault and that Sills did not report the incidents. The family’s lawyer, Adam Thompson, told The Post the city has yet to produce a single witness for deposition. The city Law Department declined to comment.
The DOE would not answer questions on PS 106 or Sills.