A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
Two years after The Post first exposed horrible conditions and mismanagement at Murry Bergtraum HS forBusiness Careers, its principal has left the building.
Lottie Almonte, who has presided over the F-rated downtown school since 2012, wrote in a farewell email that she’s “taken on a new challenge in our city to support students and families in different communities.”
Almonte, who made $144,777 last year, will become a city adult-school principal.
Bergtraum, just two blocks from City Hall, has weathered a slew of scandals in the last two years.
The school’s “blended learning”program, launched by Almonte, let hundreds of students takeonline coursesat home in place ofclassesthey failed or didn’t want to attend, prompting a state Education Department investigation.
The state found the school failed to provide required services for special-ed students. Teachers reported constant threats and assaults by out-of-control kids during Almonte’s tenure. Dozens of staffers fled.
“The memories of our days together and all of our work at Murry Bergtraum HS will forever resonate in my life,” Almonte wrote to staff. “I am confident that (Bergtraum) will become the flagship high school that it once was.”
The school had a 51.2 percent graduation rate in 2013.
“Teachers feel relieved,” said John Elfrank-Dana, a teacher and union chapter leader, referring to Almonte’s departure. “The school was turned into a nightmare for the staff and students, and the Post was there to shed light on it.”
Alexis Pajares (left) teaches 475 students this semester under principal Lottie Almonte's 'blended' online programs
On paper, he’s a super-teacher. To critics, he’s the poster child for academic fraud in New York City.
Alexis Pajares “teaches” 475 students at Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS for Business Careers in all grades and all disciplines — including algebra, biology, chemistry, Chinese, earth science, economics, English, government, health, history, law and Spanish.
Students failing any of those subjects get dumped on Pajares, who signs them up for an online course they can do in a computer lab or at home. Students can snag full credit without attending class.
“There’s little to no traditional instruction going on, which makes the whole thing a farce,” said history teacher and union chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana. “It’s a credit-recovery trick, in most cases, to move kids along and get them out.”
Principal Lottie Almonte started the program last year, appointing Pajares the “blended learning” teacher. But staffers charge that it violates state rules that online programs must include “substantive interaction” with a teacher certified in the subject. Pajares is certified only in social studies.
Elfrank-Dana, citing complaints from teachers and students, said he has repeatedly asked Almonte to explain the program but got no response.
Two blocks from City Hall, “F”-rated Murry Bergtraum has struggled in recent years as a “dumping ground” for overage or held-back students who lack credits. The school had only a 51.2 percent graduation rate last year.
Almonte referred questions to the Department of Education. A spokesman admitted Pajares doesn’t teach all 475 kids, but “is running the blended learning program,” that other certified teachers “support students” and students are required to be in classes with traditional instruction.
Teachers and guidance counselors dispute those claims. Schedules show students in blended learning without an equivalent class.
“You don’t learn a lot,” said a 21-year-old senior — a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic — who takes an online chemistry course.
“We just sit down, sign on to the program and that’s it,” he said.
He watches a video of a teacher giving a lesson, then has to answer questions in a quiz. If he doesn’t know the answer, he watches the video again — or uses Google. He takes notes, but “nobody checks our notes.”
Another senior took blended learning English after failing the class in her junior year.
“There’s no attendance. You just log on when you feel like it,” she said.
The online course, which she did at home, took three weeks — while a classroom semester lasts 4¹/₂ months. She said she got no feedback on the one essay she was required to write and doesn’t know who grades it.
Other kids take the online classes purely as a convenience — instead of a regular class that starts early and requires a lot more work.
A math teacher said the program is flawed because kids take tests at home — not under school supervision — raising the possibility of cheating.
Staffers have heard that some students pay friends $80 to $100 to take the online exams for them.
Another math teacher had a student who “sat there doing nothing all semester,” the teacher said. “He told me, ‘I don’t have to do any work in your class. I can take blended learning.’ ”
After flunking out, the kid scored 82 online.
But students who pass the online courses stumble in subsequent classes. “I have not seen any kid who can handle material at the next level after blended learning,” the teacher said.
After 20 years of teaching in the NYC schools, I have spent the last three years rotating on a weekly basis to and from 52 different schoollocations. While most professionals change jobs an average of 3 times at most in a lifetime, an ‘ATR’, aka a teacher belonging to the ‘Absent Teacher Reserve’, begins a new job every Monday morning. Yes, a new job, meaning new school, new colleagues, new principals, and a brand new set of rules every Monday morning.
Oh, you don’t know what an ATR is? I’m not surprised… It is scarcely mentioned in the UFT paper or discussed at UFT meetings. There are even tenured teachers who know nothing about Absent Teacher Reserve thanks to the UFT who tries to keep it under wraps. The ATR status, created by the Department of Education/ and the Useless United Federation of Teachers, has been purposely destroying careers of tenured teachers for quite some time now, right under the nose of its’ very ownemployees.
ATRs are hard working, tenured and experienced professionals who are often 50+ years in age and high on the salary ladder.It is no wonder that these highly qualified teachers are unwanted by principals and their limited budgets… A principal can easily fill 2 positions for the price of one ATR. ATRs have lost their permanent position in their school building due to either a school closing, or a failed attempt to have them terminated through false or trumped up allegations by their administrator. Regardless of an arbitrator’s decision to have these teachers return to their classroom through 3020a, the Department of Education has single handedly deemed them unfit and ineligible to teach, and REFUSES to play fair and place them back in their classrooms.
The DOE lies when they say that the ATRs are incompetent and don’t want to work. They do want to work, ARE working and have been working, but are treated as unwanted visitors and/or substitute teachers, (not their choice) and have been rotating from school to school on a weekly and often daily basis while the UFT turns the other way.
While regular teachers have the same issue, I’m sure many ATRs will agree when I say that PARKING is one of the toughest issues facing an ATR who relies on their car to get to work. What makes it especially tough is that an ATR has no idea what their schedulewill be on any given day. I have arrived 60-90 minutes early to anassignmentjust to procure a legal parking spot, one in which I won’t have to move during the day for alternate side parking. Unlike a regularly assigned teacher, I have no way of knowing in advance if I will have a lunch or prep period that coincides with my need to move my car.In addition, most schools have a limited number of parking passes that are equally distributed to their teachers and rotated on a monthly basis.
Once entering a school building, I am asked tosign inand show my ID at thesecurity desk.In some schools, I must only show ID on Monday, but in some, I am asked to show ID every day of the week.I am given a “visitor’s” sticker or “visitor’s” pass that I am required to wear around my neck, which I find degrading since I am not a visitor, I am an employee, (who are they kidding?) and directed to the main office, which is usually one flight up the stairs.
It is in the main office that the tone for my day is set with a either a greeting, a casual groan, a dirty look, a few whispers, or most often, the complete denial of my existence.
When I am finally acknowledged it’s like this: “Oh the ”ATR” is here.”(My new name) “Oh you’re back”, or “What’s your file number?” I am often handed a school manual, which cites the individual rules of the school and asked to sign a paper stating that I received it.
“Here’s your time card and schedule.”I am asked to “clock in”, although as a teacher, I am not required to. I do this as a protective measure so that a school cannot say that I wasn’t there, or that I was late.
My schedule is handed to me by *someone. (*school aide, secretary, or an assistant principal. It wouldn’t surprise me if a custodian handed me my schedule.) Your guess is as good as mine-- because in this ‘professional’ setting, no one bothers to introduce themself /selves unless asked to.If there is no schedule prepared for me, I am either ignored, or asked to wait on a bench, or to wait in the teacher’s lounge, or some other remote location for an unspecified amount of time. When I actually get to the teacher’s lounge or wherever I am asked to wait, it is usually at that point when I am immediately paged to return to the office for my schedule.
From a professional point of view, do you think that it might be beneficial for a teacher to know what grade, type of class or subject they will be teaching for the next 8 hours? As a common branch teacher who is not certified in Special Education, one might think it would be important to know whether the students have IEPs, special needs or diversified schedules. The DOE thinks not. While the DOE is ridding Common Branch Licensed teachers from the Junior High and High Schools, they are sending CB licensed ATRs to fill those vacancies on a provisional basis. Does this make sense?
I take a few seconds to look at the schedule I am given, and ask if there are any specific instructions pertaining to lunchtime transitions and dismissal procedures. (I ask because nine out of ten times I am left by myself to dismiss children as young as 5 to parents, uncles, cousins and guardians whom I am seeing for the first time. In which case, if I am informed early enough, I will pre-request assistance with dismissal.)
I must note that while in rotation from school to school, one learns quickly that no two schools are the same in any way, shape or form. This significant difference between schools makes the job of rotating so much more difficult. It is impossible to get familiar with the staff/master a routine/ learn the safety/fire drill code & the expectations of administration in 1 to 5 days…then run off to another school and learn another routine, etc. on the following Monday. If one is not familiar with the safety code of a school and is supposed to follow it, wouldn’t that be cause for concern? This lack of uniformity between schools is foreign and most surprising news for those who never leave the comfort of their appointed work place. Administration expects that because one is a“teacher”, one automatically knows everything about schools and children- ALL of the schools and ALL of the children. Kind of the same ignorant way of thinking that the reformers have….if one sat in a classroom as a child, shouldn’t they be able to dictate what should be taught and how?A school is a school isn’t it?Umm, not exactly.
NEWS FLASH! ---No two schools have the same rules, procedures or time schedules. Let’s look at some of the differences between schools that may throw off a tenured teacher, substitute teacher, visitor (even a teacher in rotation) who is entering the school for the first time…
Some schools have a half of a minute or two between periods, and some do not. (no time between periods translates to no time for a bathroom break for an ATR.)
Some schools have ‘extended’ day worked into their schedule and some have an additional complicated routines added on to their day either in the am or pm part of the day.
Some admins provide ATRs with a clear gridded schedule with periods, school hours and preps to follow. On the other hand, admins have handed me a barely legible scribbled ‘post it’ note with some classes written on it- that lacks a time schedule.
Individual schools have their own codes written on time schedules, such as PE, or G, or *&^%$ meaning gym and an ATR is left on their own to decipher these codes everyday.
The rest is on a ‘need to know’ basis and because I need to know, I have to ask…
“Where is the bathroom, teacher’s lounge, auditorium and lunchroom?”
“Is there a place where I can hang my coat?” It is quite burdensome to carry around a coat all day when moving from class to class each period.
“Do you have a teacher’s lounge, refrigerator, microwave, place to stay on a prep?”
“Is there a bathroom key?” I am quite sure that I am never going to get a bathroom key, but I humor myself each time, and ask anyway. In response, Ms. Secretary looks at me like I have 5 heads and tells me that I need to catch a teacher either going in or coming out of the bathroom. I think to myself, “Is that like catching a bus?”“We never give bathroom keys to subs,” says Ms. Secretary.
Next question, classroom key…I ask for a classroom key and am directed to an unlocked key cabinet where several hundred keys hang in disarray.
“The classroom door should be unlocked already, but if it’s not, come back down (which translates to, “Walk up 5 flights of stairs, check the door and if it’s locked, come back down for the key”)", says Ms. Secretary.
Last but not least I ask, “Where do I pick up the kids?” I am often sent to the auditorium only to learn that the students are outside, have already been picked up by a cluster teacher, or in the lunchroom.
I get to the classroom and the door is locked. With hands full of schedules, attendance folders and lessons, coat, bag and lunch, I find an open door nearby and manage to juggle the phone to call the office and then must wait for a custodian to open the classroom door. With zero time to search the room for a lesson plan that may be nonexistent, I drop off my things and head down to ‘find’ my class. I enter into an auditorium filled to the brim with kids and wait till someone notices that I have no idea where I am.
Then, I claim my students and I go off…into the abyss of this unfamiliar hallway with equally confused students to this mystery classroom in the insane world of the DOE.
Aside from the usual pettiness that most teachers engage in over coffee machines and water dispensers, cruel notes left on the refrigerator door and who sits where at the royal lunch table is the bubble of ignorance that these teachers and colleagues exist in…
Here are some of their actual comments:
You’re so lucky you don’t have to be observed!
The slave labor is here!
Why don’t you apply for a classroom position?
I had an ATR in my classroom once and he did nothing.
Aren’t you the rubber room people?
You get paid as much as we do, you should know what to do!
How can I get to be an ATR and do nothing all day?
I would give anything to not have to write lesson plans.
Are you a sub?
So, what is it exactly that you do?The saddest part of is, is that these questions are not coming from young, newbie teachers. What’s an ATR?I once told a teacher that the ATRs are really sent to observe the classroom teachers. That really made her day!
As a regular classroom teacher, I was required to leave a lesson plan or ‘sub folder’ in the room if I was going to be out for the day. Why is it then that nine times out of ten, there are no lesson plans in the room when I arrive?As an ATR, I am always prepared with at least one comprehensive lesson plan for each grade of the school I am in, as I never know in advance what grade I will be sent to each day.I may be required to go to a different grade each period, or be assigned to one class for the entire day. Yes, I am a teacher, but I am not a magician who can pull a complete day of lessons out of a hat at a moment’s notice.
As I begin my fourth year as an ATR, I am ridden with frustration and anxiety. Time and again, the articles in the paper fail to tell the truth, and the public continues to be misinformed about who we are. We are professionals who ARE WORKING and WANT TO CONTINUE WORKING and are being denied the privilege of working in the capacity where we can be most productive.Weekly Rotation denies us the continuity of knowing our students and colleagues and the productivity that results from daily interaction. Rather than utilize the enormous talent available in the ATR pool, our new chancellor has allowed the hiring of young and inexperienced teachers to fill the vast amount of open positions resulting from the expansion of Universal Pre-K and huge retirement incentives in the new contract. Why hire new teachers when you have hundreds of qualified ATRs already on payroll? We are tired of being named as the scapegoats for an already dysfunctional education system. Which leads me to the final question that has all of us wondering…
Process for teachers to appeal an Ineffective rating
SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 NEW YORK TEACHER ISSUE
Two kinds of appeals
There are two different types of appeals in the new evaluation system: chancellor’s appeals and panel appeals. All teachers are entitled to a chancellor’s appeal. After talking to you and reviewing your forms and supporting documentation, theUFTwill determine whether your case may be appropriate for a panel appeal.
A hearing office from the DOE’s Office of Appeals and Review, the same office that hears U rating appeals, will hear your case. Unlike the U rating appeals process, which can drag on for months, the DOE hearing officer has 30 days to issue a decision in a chancellor’s appeal.
The union can identify up to 13 percent of all Ineffective ratings each year to challenge on grounds of harassment or reasons not related to job performance.
These cases will be heard by a three-member panel comprised of a person selected by the DOE, a person selected by theUFT, and a neutral arbitrator.
Cases that theUFTselects for panel appeals may require a second meeting with yourUFTintake advisor, and you will need tofill outadditional forms.
All returning teachers covered by the new evaluation system should receive their year-end rating for the 2013–14 school year when they return to school on Sept. 2, according to the Department of Education.
For those who receive a rating of Ineffective for the first time, there is a new process in place to appeal the rating. Regardless of the reason you may feel the rating is unfair, the first steps you should take are the same.
You need to be proactive and organized. You must submit the specific, detailed reasons for your appeal as well as all of the documents you plan to use to support your arguments. AUFTrepresentative will guide you through the steps.
TheUFTrecommends that you attend one of the two informational meetings it is holding at union headquarters in September to give you an overview of the new appeals process [see box at right for dates].
In addition, if you receive a year-end rating of Ineffective, call yourUFTborough office immediately to request an appointment with an intake advisor in order tofileyour appeal.
Common Core tests not a deciding factor
For this year and next, teachers rated Ineffective or Developing based on state Common Core tests in English language arts and math in Grades 3 to 8 will have their ratings recalculated without the Common Core tests, according to changes to the evaluation system set forth in a law passed by the state Legislature in June. Those recalculated scores will be used in all decisions regarding termination and3020acharges, retention and the granting or denial of tenure.
The legislation creating this safety net, which was signed by the governor, followed widespread criticism of the tests themselves and a botched implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards by the State Education Department.
In the recalculation of these teachers’ final ratings, the DOE will use other student assessments and exclude the Grade 3-8 Common Core tests. If a teacher’s local and state measures of student learning are both based on these Common Core tests, then observations and other measures of teacher effectiveness would make up 100 percent of the evaluation.
UFT informational meetings in September
TheUFTwill be holding informational meetings on Sept. 3 and again on Sept. 6 for teachers who received a final rating of Ineffective to inform them of the appeals process and what steps they need to take.
Both meetings will be held atUFTheadquarters at 52 Broadway in Manhattan from 4 to 6 p.m. Pre-registration is required. You canregister onlinefrom the event listings on theUFTwebsitecalendar.
The adviser will email you the necessary forms,worksheetsand instructions prior to your appointment. Fill out all the forms you receive electronically and bring a hard copy of your completed forms and all your documentation with you to your appointment. TheUFThas posted online athttp://bit.ly/1prLC0Zachecklistof materials you should gather in preparation for your appeal. That will give you a good idea of the type of documents you should bring to your appointment.
At your appointment, your intake advisor will review your forms and documentation for completeness, objectivity and clarity. The intake advisor will let you know if you are missing any documents or if you need to flesh out information on your form.
TheUFTmust by Nov. 15 this year submit electronically to the DOE the forms and accompanying documentation for all teachers filing appeals. (Two weeks earlier, on Nov. 1, the union has to submit to the DOE a list of the cases that it intends to pursue as panel appeals.)
The DOE will begin holding its appeals hearings in late December or early January.
If you receive an Ineffective rating for the 2013–14 school year, you will be given a Teacher Improvement Plan this school year designed to pinpoint weaknesses and support you in addressing them. (Teachers rated Developing may also be given a Teacher Improvement Plan.) A trained PeerValidator, who is in most cases a fellow New York City public school teacher, will also observe you and review the fairness of your rating.