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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

PS 398Q Principal Erica Urena is Removed From the School

P.S. 398Q principal Erica Ureña poses for a portait in her office. Credit:

Thanks to the parents of students at PS398Q, Principal Erica Urena leaves the school on December 6, 2023.

The issue is safety of all students. From the news, it appears that a second-grader brought a knife to school and threatened to harm a classmate. The news reports have cited several student witnesses to this little boy saying what he was going to do, but at this point no one knows what actually happened.

Nevertheless, Principal Urena did not explain anything to parents for several days, while rumors flew through PS 398Q. This was not a proper way to deal with the situation, and Urena has to leave her post. This incident is not the first time she has done something that angered parents and staff, but it will be her last.

PS 398, named after the late labor leader Hector Figueroa, is roiled by a battle between its staff and principal.

When staff are united and choose facts to remove a principal, all benefit. See my post on this blog and on about Heather Jansen and her Student Rat Pack:

Former Principal of PS 46 Heather Jansen and Her Student Rat Pack

NYC Rubber Room Reporter, Sept. 4, 2023

Betsy Combier

Elementary School Principal Who ‘Covered Up’ After Student Brought Knife to Attack a Classmate Steps Down

Teachers had been complaining since last summer about the “hostile” environment founding principal Erica Ureña-Thus had created at the public school in Jackson Heights.

by Claudia Irizarry Aponte, The City, December 4, 2023

The embattled principal of P.S. 398Q in Jackson Heights announced on Friday she would step down, weeks after parents mounted a campaign for her ouster over her botched handling of an incident where a second-grader brought a knife to school allegedly with a plan to attack a fellow student.

Erica Ureña-Thus, founding principal of The Héctor Figueroa School, wrote in a letter to the school community on Friday that “it is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision to leave PS 398Q.” She added that her departure would be effective December 6.

Ureña-Thus did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did her union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Parent and teacher concerns about Ureña-Thus had already been percolating for months before multiple students said a second-grader brought a knife to school Nov. 1, telling students he intended to use it on another second-grader at lunch time.

Parents were only informed about that on Nov. 4, in an online post from Ureña-Thus reporting “nothing untoward was found.” In the days that followed, DOE higher-ups privately discussed in a series of email exchanges keeping additional “detail/context” about the incident private, THE CITY first reported. 

“It was covered up, no one knew,” the aunt of the boy who was allegedly targeted told THE CITY last month, which previously reported that the boy, who’d remained in the school, later threatened students who’d witnessed him with the knife.

(THE CITY is withholding the names of the students, who are all second graders, to respect their privacy. THE CITY was not able to contact the parents of the boy who allegedly brought the knife and made the threats, because he has not been named by the school.)

In a note to parents on Nov. 10, District 30 superintendent Lisa Hidalgo finally acknowledged “a lack of timely communication to families from the school” that she said “resulted in speculation that led to fear and misinformation circulating within the school community.”

By the following week, hundreds of parents had signed a petition calling for Ureña-Thus’ removal.

This summer, teachers had also spoken out about the ‘hostile’ environment at the school, including allegedly retaliating against teachers who signed on to a grievance complaint alleging anti-union actions by Ureña-Thus.

Last Wednesday, parents testifying before the Panel for Education Policy pleaded with city officials to remove and replace her, Gothamist reported. Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg told parents that investigations were underway, and he expected them “to be resolved soon.”

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” panel member Tom Sheppard told Gothamist. “These people have been shouting from the rooftops … and nobody’s been listening to them.”

In her note to the school community on Friday, Ureña-Thus referenced the challenges of founding a brand-new school during the pandemic and her own health struggles after surviving a stroke in 2021. 

“From our modest beginnings with a mere nine staff members to navigating a two-year pandemic and teacher shortages, our close-knit community ensured our children never bore the brunt of these adversities,” she wrote, adding that “[d]espite grappling with health conditions, I returned to continue fostering our exceptional staff and striving to provide a safe and quality education.”

“Serving in the community where I grew up has been an endless source of gratitude, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have nurtured your children.”

Ureña-Thus wrote that she would “transition to a new role” effective her departure, but did not specify what it would be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Freedom of Information Request That Could Have Gone Very Wrong - But Didn't (2006)

 The post below is not new, but I love it for the sheer audacity of former NYC DOE General Counsel Michael Best for allowing two pages of my personal notes to be ripped out of my notebook and taken away because they had "information I was not supposed to see". I was determined to get those two pages back. Read and find out what happened!

Enjoy the best show in town - the New York City Department of Education. Lol

just sayin'...

Betsy Combier

I found my birthday card from the rubber roomers at 25 Chapel Street (2006?)!!!

So happy. Thanks, people!!! See below.

The UFT members at 25 Chapel street were my first connection to the rubber room saga that would change my life, alter the life of my children and allow me to start my company ADVOCATZ. (Current Website is

I will forever be grateful to David Pakter, Polo Colon, Steve Ostrin, and all the wonderful people who talked with me about their troubles. I was then, and continue to be, honored with your trust.

By the way, my birthday is 7-11. July 11, not October (I'm re-posting the birthday card now because I just found it)..

Betsy Combier
President, ADVOCATZ
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

Strange things happen when you try to get information from the New York City Board of Education
by Betsy Combier
June 2009

Under the Bloomberg/Klein administration, public school buildings are "plants" (as in factories) and every inch must be used for the assembly line workers (teachers) to complete the widgets (children) for the marketplace (graduation, technical jobs, etc). This may sound rather harsh, but try as hard as I can to find another picture that fits the pattern and practice of the people at Tweed over the past 7 years, I cant come up with any other scenario.

Company business must be protected at all times, of course, and this means that workers always must be present and willing and able to work, at all times. Sickness and family obligations that take you away from your job for any amount of time are simply weaknesses that you must be punished for. If you are a child with special needs and you have a parent who knows what to do to protect you, and does not bend with the threats, barrage of wrong information couched in "the law" as seen by the managers (ISC and Superintendents, the CEO Klein and his vice-president Michael Best) and other such deviations from the facts, then you may be fine. Similarly, if you are a parent or teacher, and you have the evidence necessary to prove what you are saying if true, JUST SAY NO to the NYC BOE when they try to allege anything about you, your actions, your character, family, or rules.

I'm a parent of four daughters who are and have been in the public schools of New York City, and I and all of them have been harmed by administrators of the New York City BOE. Nonetheless I can, and obviously do, speak out about what I see and hear in my children's factories...oops, schools. Alot aint right.

Anyway, in 2006 Joel Klein decided to place the Ross Global Academy Charter School inside of NEST+M, one of my daughters' schools. The NYC BOE insisted that our capacity was half empty - by changing the capacity number on a daily basis. As I wrote in a previous article, Garth Harries, the recently departed manager of the BOE plant capacity and assessment, came to NEST+m in April of 2006 with several other people to measure rooms that "they" liked at NEST for the Ross classrooms. Parents were outraged. (We sued twice, first the City of New York, Joel Klein, et al., and then the Board of Regents of the State University of New York; we won our lawsuits).

The next day I called Ms. Mashea Ashton, Garth's boss at Tweed, to ask if I could read the Ross Global Charter application, a public document. I also filed a freedom of information request with the New York State Ed Dept. Ms. AShton said, "Sure, when do you want to come to Tweed to review it?"

That is how I ended up at Tweed on April 18, 2006 at 2PM. I was given a desk on the third floor on which were four huge volumes, all 1900+ pages of the application for a charter filed with the Regents to set up a charter school in New York City. The location was never given, but the charter school would be in the NYU "education park" on the lower east side of Manhattan (there was a map).

From 2PM until about 5PM I read the documents and wrote notes. Suddenly at 5PM Ms. Ashton came over to me and said, "I'm so sorry, but someone at legal just called me and told me that I should review your notes because we may have left some information in the documents that you should not have seen."

I thought, wow, this is interesting! I knew that "they" had no right whatsoever under any law to seize my personal notes, but as a reporter, I thought there might be a great story if I let Ms. Ashton take my property. I wanted to know what she might do with it.

I reluctantly said something like, "Gee, I'm not sure that you have any right to look at my notes, but I guess you could look at them". Ms. AShton took my pad and, a few feet away, started reading my notes. Then, she ripped two pages out of my pad. I said, "What are you doing". Ms. AShton said, "Well, you have some private information here that we forgot to take out of the documents you are reviewing, and I have to take these pages. But I'll xerox them for you and give you the left half ".

These pages had the names and addresses of the Board of Trustees of the Ross Global Charter Academy. My protests fell on deaf ears, and she answered my question "Who told you to do this" by saying "someone in the legal department".

She then left me to read/copy/write notes on the entire documents all over again, until 6PM when I left.

I went home and wrote Joel Klein's attorney Michael Best, and asked him for my notes back.

I started a log of the emails:

April 28, 2006

Now, the NYC BOE is informing me that I will get my notes back, but in an altered form. I do not believe that I wrote down any personal addresses.

From: Best Michael
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 6:18 PM
To: ''

Subject: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Ms. Combier,

I have considered the situation regarding the notes you took while examining paperwork related to the Ross Global Charter School ("Ross').

There are two pages of notes at issue. My understanding is that Ms. Mashea Ashton of the DOE asked to see your notes and realized that you had copied down the addresses of various people associated with Ross. Realizing belatedly that information pertaining to the home addresses of these individuals should not have been provided to any member of the public because of the need to protect the individuals' personal privacy, Ms. Ashton asked to see your notes. She then made a redacted copy of your notes, i.e., a photocopy of your notes with the addresses redacted, and she gave you that redacted copy of your notes. Thus, although Ms. Ashton kept the original, unredacted version of your notes, you were not actually deprived of your notes or of any pertinent information concerning Ross.

Upon reviewing the matter, however, I have determined that, with one exception, the redacted addresses are not personal addresses. Instead, they are business addresses, which should not have been redacted. It appears that Ms. Ashton redacted the business addresses in an excess of caution to preserve the privacy rights of the individuals associated with Ross, but at this time, we will provide those business addresses to you. There is, however, one address that appears to be a home address, and it would be inappropriate to release that home address publicly.

Therefore, we will return the original version of your notes to you, but we will redact the one home address before we do so.

Please contact me via email on Monday to let me know the best way to return the notes, with the one item redacted as mentioned, to you. Thank you.

Michael Best

From: Best Michael []
Sent: Friday, April 28, 2006 6:22 PM
To: Betsy

Subject: FW: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Please see below. It appears that the attempt to send this email to your other email address was not successful.

>>> 4/20/2006 9:40:56 AM >>>

Dear Mr. Freeman,

I request an expedited verbal opinion on the following Freedom of Information request and incident. Please call me at 212-794-8902 as soon as possible.

On Friday, April 14, 2006 I made an appointment with Ms. Mashea Ashton of the NYC DOE Office of New Schools, to go over the charter application of the Ross Global Academy Charter School at Tweed at 2 o'clock on April 18.

On Tuesday, April 18, 2006 at 2PM I arrived at Tweed, ms. Ashton met me downstairs, and subsequently took me upstairs to her office. She gave me a table in the corner, upon which she placed the 1919 pages she had received back from NYSED of the Ross charter application, and told me that all charter applications were that long and to please let me know if there was anything that I needed, and she went to her desk.

I looked over the documents and jotted down on my pad the names of the Board of Trustees as well as relevant sections of the Charter School Act of 1998 and other information on the 501 (C) 3 (Ross Institute and Ross Global Academy Charter School).

At approximately 5PM Ms. Ashton came over to me and told me that she had to take all my notes and look at them. I asked why. She told me that there was private information in the documents and she had to make sure I had not copied any information down. as a long-time admirerer of your work, and the FOIL law, I have some knowledge of what is private information and what is not, and I believed that I had no private information in my notes, so I gave her my pad. I did not want to dispute her assessment at the time, and she told me that I had to give all my notes to her. She removed two pages: the list of the Board of Trustees' names with their affiliations (no addresses).

She told me that she had "checked with legal" and had been told that I could not have my notes back, because the Board of Trustees' affiliations were private information. Again, my notes had no addresses or telephone numbers.

Ms. Ashton xeroxed my notes and gave me the left half with the names of the Trustees. She then left me to look at all the documents for another 1/2 hour, and I had to leave at 6PM, which I did.

Was she correct in taking my notes?

Thank you for your reply as soon as possible.

Betsy Combier

On Monday, April 24, 2006, I tried calling Ms Holtzman to ask if I could pick up my notes that day. Ms. Holtzman returned my call on Tuesday, April 25, and told me that “Mike” [Best] would get back to me. I still have not heard from Ms. Best, nor do I have my notes.

I consider this a very serious violation of my 4th and 14th Amendment rights, and I demand my personal property back immediately. On Monday morning May 1, 2006, at 9:30AM, I will expect to have my two pages returned to me. Please let me know where I can pick them up. My telephone number is 212-794-8902.

Betsy Combier

We wondered why Mr. Best did not want us to have the home address of Robert Torres, the only home address on the two pages of notes. Perhaps he did not want us to contact him, although he is listed on We called him, and he told us that “…if the NEST parents don’t stop their protests and think that we will not protect our children, they are very wrong;” and, “if you do not stop the NEST parents your principal will be sorry”.

Robert Durkin, well-known in New York City for changing the grades of 19 students at Washington Irving High School when he was Principal, and for being fired, told us that he “would make NEST+M a better school, just like the Julia Richman High School Complex”. We know the Julia Richman Educational Complex very well, and comparing NEST, a very small school, with a complex of 6 schools is like comparing apples to spinach.

Kunle Abodunde has resigned from the Board, we were told, and has presumably left the country, as has no record of him, even though he supposedly started The Posse Group (he is not on their website, but we called a few colleges).

Richard Halperin, Principal of Quellos LLP, had no comment about Ross/NEST, and we located more than 80 pages on his involvement with the Clinton Administration and the Monica Lewinsky coverup, but no data on his knowledge of elementary school teaching/curricula/education. (From Betsy Combier: Mr. Halperin died suddenly on June 19, 2008, and here is his obituary tribute from the New York Times, June 21, 2008:
" HALPERIN--Richard E., sadly on June 19, 2008 at age 53. Born December 7, 1954 in New York, NY to Alvin and Anne Halperin. Richard was the former Chief Operating Officer of the Quellos Group. Prior to joining Quellos, Mr. Halperin was Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to the Chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc. He also served as President of the Revlon Foundation, The MacAndrew & Forbes Foundation, and the Perelman Family Foundation. Previous to joining MacAndrews, Richard was Administrative Assistant to the Attorney General of New York State. He served on the Board of Trustees of the Rye Country Day School, The Ross Global Academy Charter School and The Citizens Budget Commission. He was also an Executive Advisory Board Member of the Boston University College of Communication and was a member of the Zoning Board of the Town of Harrison, New York. He held a B.S. cum laude in Communications from Boston University and a J.D. from the New England School of Law. Survived by his beloved wife Lucy, cherished children Ross, Robert, Kenneth and Steven, and adoring sister Marsha (Martin) Epstein. Funeral service Sunday 12 noon at The Jewish Community Center of Harrison. Interment to follow at Sharon Gardens Cemetery. For information, Zion Memorial Chapel 914-381-1809."

We have concluded from all of our telephone calls to Ms. Jennifer Chidsey Pizzo (no comment), Martin Payson (no comment), and Dr. Mark English (no comment) that there is no strategy currently in place to establish a positive partnership between Ross Global staff, parents and children, and NEST+m. This foretells doom for all.

We have information on Ms. Ross’ legal troubles with her taxes. It seems that in the rush for tax exempt properties, NYU and the NYC DOE have forgotten that the environment for the Ross kids has been poisoned irrevocably. The only solution is to change the location of the Ross Global Academy Charter before children’s lives are changed and the promises you have made to your new students shown to be false.

Second reason. We will publicize the new study by City Project, “Fatal Subtraction”. This shocking report may convince New Yorkers that New York University has ulterior motives for placing the Ross Global Charter in NEST+m that have nothing to do with putting “children first”. We have received comments from parents not connected with the NEST+M community that the Ross Global Academy Charter may be a good idea, but one that cannot succeed with NYU behind it, despite the massive power and wealth connected with this University. You will not have the best wishes of New York City residents behind you in your desire to be in partnership with NYU as small, excellent schools such as NEST+m are destroyed and minority parents are lied to.

If you have plans for franchising the “Ross Model” – and we are still unclear exactly what that is – then we suggest (audaciously, we admit), that you separate your charter school from NYU as quickly as possible, despite the ridicule of the NY State Regents to this suggestion, especially Regent Meryl Tisch, who had so much to do with the approval of your charter application, and works with Mr. Richard Halperin at The Citizen’s Budget Commission. At minimum, you should not continue to jeopardize the success of NEST+M to suit your own needs. It looks to us that you will not succeed in realizing your goals within the NEST building. We know that the general public no longer trusts that Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein are doing a good job in the area of public school education reform. This sentiment will prevail after Mayor Bloomberg’s term of office is over and the media in NYC hopefully will be more open to covering all views and honestly reporting all data. Public opinion seems to be turning against your benefactors right now, and will only continue to grow, and harm your potential for success.

Third reason. The NYC DOE has not been in favor of Gifted and Talented education for many years, at least since the 1980’s. However, this opinion is not shared by the public especially in New York City, where right now there is immense pressure from parents to encourage highly gifted students. There is also the matter of what seems to be Joel Klein’s dislike of Celenia Chevere. His attacks against NEST+m have always been personal and this will become his legacy: using his personal feelings as weapons. We suggest that no foundation built upon this kind of attack will succeed.

Our summary above will be elaborately explained on our website, but we hope that you will re-consider the disastrous destruction of NEST+m. Your Charter school would thrive at another location, and you should pursue establishing an independent school, at a new site. You should leave NEST+M to the parents, staff and administration who have built and maintained it. The Ross Global Academy Charter School will not succeed at 111 Columbia Street, because the general public and those who care about the children most affected by this terrible attack on our nation’s public school system by the rich and powerful wont let you.

Thank you for your consideration of our issues, and we look forward to promoting your charter and your “Ross model” at a location other than 111 Columbia Street.

P. Wilder
Ajamo Kamau
Betsy Combier

From: Robert Freeman [] (pictured at right)
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2006 11:15 AM

Subject: Re: Fwd: FOIL Request From The E-Accountability Foundation

I have received your letter concerning the ability of the New York City Department of Education to review and/or confiscate personal notes that you prepared while reviewing records made available to you pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law.

In short, government agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Law; private individuals are not government agencies and are not required to comply with that law. Further, from my perspective, your notes are your personal property, and the Department would have no right either to review or take possession of your property.

I hope that I have been of assistance.

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director
NYS Committee on Open Government
41 State Street
Albany, NY 12231
(518) 474-2518 - Phone
(518) 474-1927 - Fax
Website - 

From: Betsy []
Sent: Saturday, April 29, 2006 1:59 AM
To: 'Best Michael'
Cc: 'Betsy'

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Dear Mr. Best,

I will pick up my notes at approximately 10 AM May 1 at Tweed. I suggest that you read Mr. Freeman’s opinion, which is also mine, that my notes are not subject to the freedom of Information Act/Law, and any change in my notes by your agency or officers is actionable.

Please have my notes in the original form at the front desk on Monday morning, or have the law that covers your statement that you may redact my notes without my permission.
Betsy Combier

From: Betsy []
Sent: Saturday, April 29, 2006 2:10 AM
To: 'Robert Freeman'; 'Best Michael';;
Cc: 'Betsy'

Subject: FW: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Dear Mr. Freeman,

I request an expedited opinion on the matter outlined below.

On April 18, 2006 at approximately 5PM, , while sitting at a desk at Tweed, Ms. Mashea Ashton, the employee of the NYC DOE with whom I spoke about viewing the Ross Charter Application under FOIL, and the person who gave me the time 2-6PM to read the charter and gave me the 1010 pages to read, told me that I had to give her my notes so she could read them. I unwillingly gave my notes to her, and she told me that she had to seize two pages.

Now, the NYC BOE is informing me that I will get my notes back, but in an altered form. I do not believe that I wrote down any personal addresses.

Please reply as soon as possible, by telephone if necessary: 212-794-8902, or by return email, about the NYC BOE giving me back my personal notes, redacted by them.

Thank you!!

Betsy Combier

From: Best Michael []
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 8:14 AM
To: Betsy

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Ms. Combier,

I am afraid that 10 AM this morning will not work for me. Please propose another time tomorow. Thank you.

Michael Best

From: Betsy []
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2006 8:36 AM
To: 'Best Michael'
Cc: 'Betsy'

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Dear Mr. Best,

I hope that 11AM tomorrow morning will be convenient for you.

Additionally, I request that you give me, in writing, the name of the person in your office who told Ms. Ashton to seize my notes. If you do not give me a name, I will assume that you told Ms. Ashton.

Thank you,

Betsy Combier

From: Best Michael []
Sent: Tuesday, May 02, 2006 10:46 AM
To: Betsy

Subject: RE: Your request regarding notes taken about the Ross Charter School Application

Ms. Combier,

This will confirm our conversation of a few minutes ago. I explained to you that I am obliged to protect the privacy concern of the person whose personal address you wrote on your notes. I told you that I was trying to reach that person on the telephone but had been unable to do so as yet. I told you that I wanted to find out if this person would consent to release of his personal address. And I asked for a bit more time to try to get a hold of him before you picked up your original notes, because if he consented, i would not have to redact his address on your original notes.

You told me that you were coming to get the notes in 20 minutes, and you said "I should do what I have to do." I told you that you were putting me in a position where I have no choice but to redact your notes in order to protect this individual's privacy interests, and you reiterated that I should do what I have to do, but you were coming to get your notes.

Michael Best

On May 2, 2006 I went to Tweed's front desk and asked for an envelope with my name on it. There was none. I asked the security to buzz Mr. Best. Michael Best came downstairs, and asked me to sit with him for a few minutes. I said, "Sure!" Mr. Best tried to convince me that he must redact my personal notes, and he encouraged me to agree with him. I finally said, "Mr. Best, you are the Attorney here, I am not. So why dont you go to your office and get my two pages from my pad, and bring them to me? If you feel that you must redact my notes, then you do what you feel you must do as an attorney."

He went upstairs and brought me my two pages, unredacted.

I thanked him, and as I turned around to leave, he said, "I enjoyed speaking with you very much."

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The NYC Department of Education Salary Scam

DOE Deputy Chancellor Caroline Quintana
From Betsy Combier:

I am very sure that we, members of the public who read about the lack of transparency in the salary payments made to NYC Department of Education "VIPs", wish that the City of New York would rein in this outrageous scam that uses our taxpayer money.

NYC Comptroller Brad Lander

NYC Comptroller Brad Lander - where are you?

Let's fire the Chancellor, and all Deputy Chancellors, and pay a reasonable salary with accountability steps imbedded in the payment, to the school Districts and the students and families.

This will allow kids to move to private schools if they need to, which I have always supported and will continue to do so. Yay for school choice!!!

See also:

Professor David Bloomfield on the Toxic State of New York City's Public Schools

The New York City Department of Education and the High-salary-No-work Jobs Given To "Friends"

and an article I posted on this blog in February 2011:

Steve Ostrin And The NYC Rubber Room Scam

I have written many times about the robber barons at the NYC DOE, and over the past 20 years.

I'm still hoping this pattern and practice can be stopped.

Just sayin'...


NYC DOE blasted for pay hikes to deputies accused of misconduct

by Susan Edelman, NY POST, September 16, 2023

Some city education leaders are fuming about fat raises given to two educrats after an internal probe found they had committed misconduct — and blasting the secretive way Chancellor David Banks and First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg dole out salary increases.

“There’s anger towards Banks and Weisberg, and questions about how they shell out raises,” said a source familiar with city Department of Education personnel decisions.

Among those offended is Carolyn Quintana, the deputy chancellor of teaching and learning, the insider said.

Quintana leads Banks’ top initiative, to improve how kids are taught reading — and had complained that his former deputy chancellor for leadership, Desmond Blackburn, was getting $265,000 a year, while her salary is $241,000.

Two other female deputy chancellors also get $241,000.

Blackburn, a Florida recruit with no NYC experience, quit his gig after one year.

Banks replaced him with Danika Rux — and hired her husband, Shawn Rux, for another top spot after he agreed to drop his work as an education consultant.

Quintana’s request for equal pay was “ignored,” the source said.

Her ire heightened when The Post revealed Weisberg gave big raises to Chief Enrollment Officer Sarah Kleinhandler and her senior executive soon after a DOE investigation substantiated misconduct allegations against them.

“They denied Carolyn Quintana, but decided to give raises to two people accused of wrongdoing,” the insider said.

Amanda Lurie, senior executive director in the Office of Student Enrollment, was a chronic no-show, barely visited the “family welcome centers” she supervised, and peddled apparel on Poshmark during DOE hours, the agency’s Office of Special Investigations concluded in late February, according to former OSI investigator Jonathan May, who conducted the probe.

Kleinhandler failed to supervise Lurie or address longstanding complaints about her, the probe found.

Weeks later, inexplicably, Weisberg named Lurie a “senior advisor” in his office, and granted her a pay hike from $199,118 to $208,000 a year.

Kleinhandler got a raise from $204,106 to $220,000.

The Post report led DOE lawyers to question Weisberg about his handling of the OSI report. Lurie was then terminated.

Currently, some 95 DOE employees in central and district offices make more than $200,000 a year, records obtained by The Post show.

Banks gets $363,346,

Experts call for more transparency in the awarding of pay hikes.

“This is public money and taxpayers have a right to know what the criteria are for leadership spending at the DOE, especially at a time of budget tightening,” said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor.

 “This kind of jockeying at central only adds to distractions and confusion, with leadership arguing over salaries rather than student matters,” he added.

“Before I’d pay either of them $241,000 or $265,000, I’d want to know what exactly they feel accountable for,” said Eric Nadelstern, the deputy chancellor of school support and instruction under ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“The argument for a raise,” he said, “should be here’s what I’ve done to improve the performance of kids.”

Quintana did not reply to a request for comment.

DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said, “Salaries of senior leadership were set based on portfolios of work and represent the hard work our senior leadership team puts into supporting schools every day.” 

Styer claimed the raises for Kleinhandler and Lurie “occurred prior to the OSI report.” But internal records show Lurie’s raise was approved on March 28 — months after the OSI report was sent to Weisberg. Kleinhandler’s raise was finalized last December 22, near the end of the probe.

Both raises were backdated to September 1, 2022.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Professor David Bloomfield on the Toxic State of New York City's Public Schools

David Bloomfield [Photo Credit: Paula Vlodkowsky]

David Bloomfield has been a widely-known speaker on the NYC Department of Education for many years, and his opinions are, in my opinion, well worth reading.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

Opinion: A Leadership Perspective on the ‘Toxic’ State of Our Schools

By , City Limits, September 5, 2023.

I have been teaching educational leadership in the CUNY system for almost 25 years. My former students are now peppered throughout the New York City Public Schools and often honor me by reporting back about their current experiences. As would be expected, they have a broad range of opinions about the state of our schools, but recently, many of these stories coalesce into a perceived environment that one ex-student summarizes as “toxic.”

Mayor Eric Adams, it should be remembered, came into office with a scant record on school policies. His expertise and campaign focused on criminal justice. He chose David Banks as his schools' chancellor, a former principal with no experience even as a district superintendent but who has a long association with Adams, is the partner of now-First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright, and the brother of Deputy Mayor Philip Banks.

As one of his first acts, Banks appointed a Florida superintendent, Desmond Blackburn, to a new post, deputy chancellor for school leadership, to supervise the Department of Education’s 45 district superintendents who, in turn, supervise the DOE’s more than 1,500 principals. Banks also demanded the resignation of all district superintendents, at first refusing to let any reapply, then relenting after widespread criticism. But the message was clear: the new cohort of superintendents would be controlled by Banks, Blackburn, and Blackburn’s new special assistant, Tracey Collins, the mayor’s partner.

Amid this tight inner-circle and superintendent churn, Blackburn soon resigned, followed by the DOE’s chief strategy officer, chief technology officer, chief communications officer, and executive director of the Office of Safety and Youth Development, all within the first one and a half years of the Banks’ chancellorship.

Before he left, Blackburn instituted what has become known as “the hot seat,” where superintendents are interrogated on their district’s performance. Modeled on the police department’s CompStat system of precinct accountability, the DOE’s version, according to Blackburn, is “supposed to be purposely agitating” as superintendents are grilled in front of peers and supervisors.

But the DOE is not—or at least should not be—a paramilitary force like the NYPD. Superintendents, as professional educators, are not generally prone to top-down directives and supervisors’ intentionally-inflicted, semi-public agitation. Rather, in the education context, the idea of a collaborative “learning organization,” in Peter Senge’s phrase, is a preferable, more supportive, and lasting form of supervision for system improvement.

As reported by my former students and others, this recipe of cronyism, turnover, and intimidation has produced the toxic culture now facing principals. Faced with myriad, frequently changing Central demands—such as the quickly introduced then as quickly abandoned Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) screening tool—and overwhelming administrative paperwork, the need to implement new reading curricula dictated by the chancellor, enroll high numbers of new immigrants, reduce high rates of absenteeism and disciplinary problems, address post-pandemic interrupted learning, and care for student mental health issues, principals are not faring well. Many are contemplating retirement before they had planned.

Take the reading issue. The profession is designed for principals to serve as schools’ instructional leaders. Yet, in selecting three phonics-based reading curricula for the coming year, Banks—over the principals’ union’s objection—handed the choice of which will be taught to his hand-picked superintendents who almost universally chose a single product, the cheapest. Even if there were apt reasons for Banks’ delegation, the result has been catastrophic for principal morale and the odds of program success.

Schools within a district can have high variability. Principals know their staff, students, and families and, attuned to this, curriculum selection is a key professional responsibility. To take away that discretion is an insult and, one long-serving principal told me, was the deciding factor in their quitting. If they were no longer trusted to choose key, system-approved reading texts and attendant professional development, the job had become intolerable. Even waivers from this directive were mishandled. Principals could choose their own curriculum if 85 percent of students met proficiency standards. Reportedly one principal, done in by an over-scrupulous district obsession with numerical data, failed to meet the mark with an 83.5 percent rate because of a high number of students opting-out of state tests.

Enrollment of immigrant students is another point of toxicity. Not, as might be assumed, the difficulties of teaching newly arrived students. Those are tasks principals normally handle, even welcome. But the centrally-driven, disproportionate enrollment of immigrant middle and high school students selectively concentrated in our highest needs schools is another breaking point. Our many screened schools are immunized from accepting these students so, instead, Borough Placement Centers repeatedly send immigrant students to the same open-enrollment schools despite resources so stretched that adequate instruction, including special education, and other supports are impossible to provide. But the principal is held accountable, berated for underperformance by a stressed superintendent after their own “hot seat” quiz. And so it goes.

These challenges pale compared to the increasing, everyday needs of students. The pandemic has brought a host of student challenges that shrinking budgets fail to address. Principals need more instructional and support staff, but disappearing federal dollars and lower enrollments frequently result in less money. Fixed costs and pressures for improved performance demand the same or greater expenses. Quick and dirty solutions encouraged by central policies, such as NX grading to provide students with empty credits, save money but at the price of lower educational quality. The temporary help of district-based coaches and other itinerant personnel fails to adequately solve these problems and adds to managerial confusion because of mixed reporting lines and sudden redeployments.

With the start of a new school year, Adams and Banks have a chance to learn from the toxicity now besetting our schools. There is some indication that this is the case. A promise to “reinvent” special education and a new consent decree to improve services for students with disabilities may make a difference. A “Blueprint for Public Safety,” despite its criminal justice focus, includes over $200 million for education, recreation, and mental health services.

But these targeted initiatives don’t get to the heart of the problem. Banks needs to show more openness to outside voices, improve staff stability, and demonstrate trust in decentralized decision-making to create a healthier mix of resource and educational strategies at the school level. Most of all, he needs to earn support from principals who have been alienated by insular leadership; frequently changing top-down mandates; burdensome paperwork; brutalized supervisory policies; and inadequate professional delegation.

Without the renewed confidence of principals, the administration’s agenda for improved student outcomes cannot be achieved.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Former Principal of PS 46 Heather Jansen and Her Student Rat Pack

Re-posted from and

The Student Rat Pack of PS 46

by Betsy Combier, August 19, 2023

The story I am posting here is the ugly side of the New York City Department of Education, the dark side where administrators target, attack, and discriminate against employees for no reason other than to save a few dollars in the budget or retaliate against a person they do not like.

Indeed, the perpetrator's motives are often hidden beneath layers of denials ("I did not say that" or "I did not do that") hurled at deaf ears. 

New York City employees are reassigned to rubber rooms and are seldom told why. Heather Jansen, former principal of PS 46 in Staten Island, knows very well why she was removed May 1, 2023. She used secret tape recorders and very young children to report on teachers in order to get the teachers terminated for no reason or, some suspect, for being “white”. Her Supervisor, Superintendent Marion Wilson, has openly attacked white people working in her District, D31.

Wilson denied the truth of this statement but no one believed her.

Let me give you an overview of the charging process before the actual 3020-a specifications are served on an educator.

The charging of an employee for incompetence starts when a principal gives a teacher two end-of-year “Ineffective” or “Unsatisfactory” ratings. Misconduct charges begin when someone makes a complaint to a member of the school administration. The allegation may not be true. It gets filed with OEO, OSI or SCI nonetheless.

Heather Jansen, former principal of PS 46 in Staten Island, put a new twist to this old scheme. Jansen, pictured below, enlisted a group of students in 2nd-4th grades to report on teachers and these children were rewarded for their work as her “little investigators.” What they complained about became charges against the teacher. The process of creating charges used to be under the authority of the adults in the building or parents, so Jansen added a whole new dimension by adding children’s complaints to the mix.

We call this a “Student Rat Pack”.

Heather Jansen

First, let’s take a look at the charging process. Principals have to balance their budgets and this takes precedence over quality of work. Animosity towards an employee for any reason also becomes a primary reason to target an employee, no matter how good their teaching skills are, and no matter whether the allegation against a person is valid or not. We are, as we all know, in tough times. Students are not enrolling in the numbers needed to fill seats in their building. As funding is tied to “seat time”, or the number of warm bodies (meaning “alive”) that fill the seats available, principals must try to find out what they can do to keep the funding stream coming into their building.

The solution is to reduce the number of teachers in the school who eat up the budget money, and secretly move the money into other areas the principal believes are more important – i.e. test prep, professional development, and his/her pocket. Enlarging classes from 25 to 36+ students is approved, as high achievement is not a priority, and test results can always be altered before filing with the State Education Department.

I will give you an example. Several years ago one of my clients, a highly respected, excellent general education pedagogue, was given a U (“unsatisfactory”) for her work in an Integrated Co-Teaching Class (ICT). However, a close review of the observation reports showed that whenever the principal came in to observe, the Special Education teacher who helped this teacher with the lesson by adapting it to the students with disabling conditions (IEP-Individualized Education Plan) was not in the classroom. This special education teacher was deliberately assigned by the principal to work in the principal’s office during the class that was to be observed. The general education teacher requested that the principal come back on another day, but the principal said no, gave the excellent teacher an unsatisfactory observation report rating, and then an unsatisfactory rating at the end of the school year.

The next year, the principal gave the teacher a Teacher Improvement Plan (“TIP”) that was, according to the principal, designed to “help” the excellent teacher “improve”, according to a standard that was subjective, random and arbitrary. The teacher was never given any notice of this standard, so she could not – and did not – meet the unknown expectations of the principal in her performance. The excellent teacher was placed into a rubber room to await 3020-a charges which were served about two years later, after the NYC Department of Education created the charges and rounded up the witnesses they needed to terminate her. This is, of course, a setup. See the secret Guide on how to terminate an “incompetent” teacher:

Performance-doc by Joseph Belesi

The documents and procedures to get rid of a tenured teacher is highly scripted (see p. 12 “Tell the Story of Incompetence”).  If the teacher is actually not incompetent, the principal will make up what is not there. More on this in a later post. My point here is that Jansen and all principals can ignore all the rules and alter a person’s rating downward at any time just because they want to, so that the person can be discontinued or terminated.

There are no facts in observations. Observation reports “consist solely of advice, criticisms, evaluations, and recommendations.” Elentuck v. Green (202 A.D.2d 425, 608 N.Y.S.2d 701, lv denied 84 N.Y.2d 809, rearg denied 85 N.Y.2d 858). Therefore, any principal can get anyone on their staff removed simply by observing wrongdoing in the classroom, lack of professionalism, etc. The rating procedure is only as good as the person making the observation wants it to be.

My advice: document everything, Grieve and appeal everything, and rebut all observations or reports that make false statements. Don’t fall for the Union reps’ advice not to do anything or the principal will come after you. The principal will do what they want anyway, but you will be left without a defense.

The procedure to charge a teacher with misconduct is the same, where no one investigates properly and a complaint takes precedence over truth. Here is an example:

A senior teacher with more than 20 years of excellent work was sent to a reassignment “rubber room” and not told why. Several years later she received 3020-a charges for slapping the face of a kindergartner in her class. She asked me to take her case. The investigator never showed up to testify about the investigation, as he had “retired” (a word the DOE uses lightly). SCI sent another warm body to testify instead. This so-called SCI investigator testified that he could not read the notes of the original investigator, he had been told a few days earlier to show up at the hearing, and he knew nothing about the case other than that the misconduct had been substantiated, even though the teacher charged was not in school that day (she was ill) and the investigators never checked that fact. The teacher we defended was exonerated, and the Arbitrator, Robert Gifford, left the  DOE. We were not told why.

Indeed, many arbitrators have told me after they leave/retire/are removed from their positions as 3020-a arbitrators that they were told they were too lenient, and did not terminate to the required degree or extent.

Misconduct complaints are more horrific than observation reports because they could lead to Part 83. Part 83 is a hearing held in Albany at the New York State Education Department on sustained 3020-a misconduct charges – let’s say a steep fine or termination, or “unethical behavior” – as a determination of moral character. The Part 83 Hearing Officer can – and almost always does – take away the teacher’s State License.

I have been writing about the “Gotcha Squad” since 2007, and I have many posts on this website as well as my blog NYC Rubber Room Reporter on the rubber rooms,, and 3020-a Arbitration. I think these posts are well worth reading by anyone working for the NYC Department of Education because the NYC DOE does not want anyone to know any of the information there.

For instance, the TAC Memos are, according to a Department attorney, “attorney-client information”, and are not to be made public. F17887 FOIL disclosure explains this process. When I filed a Freedom of Information request (“FOIL”) for the “Technical Assistance Conference” (TAC) memos of the DOE legal department in 2007, I was sent 79 pages of emails. I filed a FOIL request of the secret meeting held at DOE headquarters on February 24, 2015 which was mandatory for all arbitrators, DOE attorneys and NYSUT Attorneys who were working on 3020-a cases. I was sent a video and transcript which I posted on my blog in full. Again, the misconduct charge may not be true, but the NYC DOE is not concerned about that, only that the budget doesn’t need to be burdened by a teacher’s salary and that someone in the school and/or a parent made a complaint, and the teacher must go.

Shawn Ramos, UFT

I gave the background above to give readers some idea of the random and arbitrary actions that clutter the unfair charging process for the NYC Department of Education. Heather Jansen, the former principal at PS 46 in Staten Island altered these unfair practices to add her own. She got away with it, at least until May 1 2023 when she was removed,  thanks to the fearless actions of staff and the excellent support of both UFT Rep. Shawn Ramos, pictured above, and Staten Island Borough Representative Sean Rotkowitz, who went above and beyond the normal ‘no response’ from the UFT.

In my previous post on my blog NYC Rubber Room Reporter and ATR Connect about the race war going on in District 31 led by Marion Wilson, we believe that Wilson may have allowed Jansen to undermine staff and destroy morale at PS 46 in order to get rid of Jansen (who is white). Last spring the following statement by Marion Wilson was sent to me and others:

“During a school visit with colleagues, and children present, Marion Wilson stated, “All I see is white children, no diversity. This needs to change.” Also, during an in-person meeting with colleagues, she stated, “When I said no more white principals, I meant it,” and the last snippet is of the superintendent sharing her feelings that the island is “…still too white” for her. If these comments are not hate crimes, I don’t know what is. Her actions are disgusting, disgraceful, and unbecoming a superintendent.”

Heather Jansen created her own tragic end, with destroyed careers and trashed educational opportunities for the PS 46 students. Never in my twenty years of doing the rubber rooms and 3020-a arbitration have I seen any other principal create under-handed, malicious actions similar to those of Heather Jansen. The purpose was to set up anyone on her staff whom she did not like.

Jansen was appointed principal of PS 46 in September 2021. When she started working there she held a staff meeting where she told staff that the school was “racist” because all of the staff were white folk. I did a post already on Superintendent Marion Wilson, with whom Heather Jansen worked for many years.

Whether Wilson’s motive in appointing Jansen was to get rid of white principals and teachers was true or not, Jansen started a reign of terror on her own that destroyed the morale of the school. On parent-teacher conference day, Jansen called a teacher and told her that she, Jansen, was going to get Jane Doe to retire or be terminated at a 3020-a. When this teacher wanted to take time off for medical reasons, Jansen told her she would not allow this, as she was going to terminate her co-teacher, and she could not have two teachers out of the same class at the same time. Jansen told her, ” “I’ve got you.” Many staff were fired, or forced out, leaving no professional teachers in their place. Do not bother to try to find a benefit this procedure had for the children in the school, because there is none.

Jansen’s “student rat pack” is similar to what I call the “Gotcha Squad”. The selected students, basically those most in need of support and encouragement, were given permission to get up anytime while in class and tell their teacher they had to go to the bathroom when what they really did was go to the office, walk into Principal Jansen’s room, and tell her what the teacher did that they didn’t like. Then the student was rewarded with candy, McDonalds, pizza, little toys, whatever.

A teacher testified about the select group of students at the 3020-a as follows:

“I had, on several occasions, students come to me to tell me that Ms. Jansen asked them to report on teachers. I had children that were uncomfortable with it. I had students that told me they weren’t rats. I had witnessed students telling some of her rat pack that snitches get stitches. I had students that were starting to bully some of her rats, knowing they were part of the rat pack. I felt like it was a very unhealthy, unsafe environment for children. I felt they were being groomed. A lot of them were needy and looking for someone. And it was, at this point, it was like an insidious. It was horrific to me how children were being used, how parents were coming to me and telling me their children wouldn’t talk to them anymore, and that they were being used and groomed by Ms. Jansen…..

They were given everything from small pop-its, opportunities to shop on her lap top for pop-its, lunches, McDonald’s.”

Parents were never told about any of this.

Indeed, the students were told by Principal Jansen not to reveal any information to their parents or anyone, because they were her “little investigators”  and the information they gave her was secret. No educator has the authority or right to tell children to keep secrets from their parents. This is outrageous, and the worst part of Jansen’s teacher removal process. NYC has, it seems, accepted the crimes of young children as the "new norm".

I know all of this from doing a 3020-a for a teacher who was charged by Jansen with misconduct, which started my digging for the real story. I could not believe what I found. A parent told me that she found out her child belonged to the “Rat Pack” and her daughter told her that she was told never to tell her parent anything, even if asked. Luckily, this student told someone else no longer in the school, and we brought in that person to testify.

A teacher testified that a student who made frequent visits to Jansen’s office

“[would] leave with pencils. If she had — 13 [00:01] in the office, she would give those out regularly to Student A and other students. Whatever prizes she had on hand. Other times she had–she used to keep snacks in the office. Students would leave with that.

Jansen showed herself to be ready and willing to make up new rules to tarnish the career and reputation of any employee in the school who was not part of her inner circle. She suddenly accused a teacher of erroneously marking a child absent when the child was in the school, a mistake that was always fixed later in the day by the school secretary. Instead, this error led to 3020-a charges, the first time ever seen by anyone who worked at the school. We were told by staff that she put secret tape recorders in every classroom. Everyone was terrified of speaking to anyone about anything. They were also afraid of secret cameras.

In sum, the evidence and testimony in the case of Jane Doe * (name changed to protect her privacy), charged with 3020-a misconduct in December 2022, show a lack of due process in the procedures used to charge her (i.e. improper determination of probable cause), and unprofessional mismanagement of PS 46.  Jansen was the mastermind behind a random system using favoritism, cameras, secret tapes and outright lies about staff made by her student rat pack to remove any staff member she wanted to get rid of.

One 3020-a charge alleged that a student came to the office upset with something Jane Doe said. Then Jansen tried to force her temporary secretary to file it with OSI, the Office of Special Investigations.  But the paraprofessional working as the secretary testified at the 3020-a that she refused to validate the student’s lie about Jane Doe and was soon fired by Jansen.

Another teacher who was seen crying as she left the school told us later that she was made to apologize to Student “A”, who was seven years old, for something she didn’t do, at the risk of losing her job. These events show violations of law so outrageous that they are visible to even the most unwilling mind.

But teachers and staff took action. The UFT arranged for a Vote of No Confidence:

Vote of No Confidence

80% of the school personnel voted against Jansen.

Heather Jansen was removed from PS 46 on May 1, 2023, after staff voted no confidence. We have just heard that she has been appointed a teacher at a Staten Island school starting in September 2023.

Stay tuned.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ Blog