Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What the Portelos case means for all NYC teachers

                   *Relevance for Danielson observations under "Advance"
This week has some matters of importance to New York City teachers. Besides the Democratic primary for mayor, it has the termination hearing of Francesco Portelos. The matter of the Portelos case is an instance of reality being more cinematic than fiction.

For those that do not know the Francesco Portelos case: he was the model recruit, coming from a successful engineering career--taking a $20,000 salary reduction in the move to public school teaching, and wanting to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with students. As a teacher he set up a special STEM lab and had glowing reviews from his supervisors.
Flash forward to his time teaching science in a middle school. All that he did was ask an innocuous question in the School Leadership Team (one positive structure in the current Bloomberg --when it is handled by administrators with scruples) meeting about the school budget. From there he was able to find more and more complicating, suspicious details about how the principal was running the school. For deeper details read Educator Fights Back (his blog) and NYC Rubber Room Reporter and ATR CONNECT.

Almost immediately, Portelos was subject to all kinds of actions by school administration, actions that evinced general paranoia, over-reaction and flagrant abuse of power. He was denied all kinds of due process, such as habeas corpus (granted, he wasn't jailed).

Merely asking a question, a responsible got Portelos into a deep process of institutional retribution.

This case has significant ramifications for New York City teachers for the following reasons:
1) If the city prevails it will further indicate that this is a vindictive system, even towards an employee acting merely with the actions of good citizenship.
Moreover, a termination decision, sustaining the city's position, will have a far deeper chilling effect on the likelihood that teachers will feel free to speak, it will sustain the climate of repression, reinforcing the feeling among many teachers that this is an authoritarian regime. Not everything changes 1/1/14. The mayor changes, but your principal remains the same.
2) The general abandonment of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) regarding helping Portelos in a serious manner demonstrates that the UFT is far too often just interested in going along with the city Department of Education (DOE) to get along. This case makes very clear that contrary to the media hoopla in 2010, the rubber rooms did not disappear. Merely, the large ones disappeared (an honest account of the closure of the large rooms can be found here), and they became very small, like solitary confinement.
3) Of prime relevance to teachers in the Danielson era: it shows that when administrators want to target you, they will do so, and do so with exacting impunity. Danielson exploitative will happen in the following manner: administrators will fly in, expect compliance along 22 domain components, including observers' assessments of  students' body language. Aside from the veneer of fairness, the system is riddled with openings for administrators to practice bias. The Framework makes assumptions about the teacher's impact on the class that ignore other factors that could contribute to student engagement, cooperation and learning.
Refer back to 2)-- the UFT left Portelos to hang on his own. Again this was a star teacher with no disciplinary letters prior to the witch-hunt treatment. If the UFT abandons a stellar teacher thrown into the new solitary confinement rubber room on trumped up charges, you can bet that it will abandon thousands more in the 3020(a) hearings from the Advance evaluation system (analyzed here and here).

Portelos' 3020 hearings are on September 12, 23, 30 at 49 Chambers Street, Manhattan.

UPDATE: Portelos has reported his receipt of damning 3,000 pages of secret DOE emails.
Porteles Monday -ahead of Thursday first of his 3020(a) hearings- received a CD of over 3,000 NYC Department of Education emails on him. The abuse of his dignity and the flagrant denial of his constitutional rights of due process are one thing. Yet, as he notes, the neurotic obsession by the DOE about him constitutes a blatant exploiting of taxpayer dollars. Read this beginning excerpt of his blogpost:
Anyway, my attorney gave me this CD he received from the NYC attorney defending the city in my Federal case. We opened it, made copies and saved them (on servers around the world.) It contains approximately 3,088 pages of emails to and from Principal Linda Hill and Superintendent Erminia Claudio’s DOE accounts with the word “Portelos” in it from January 2012 to June 2013 plus other items. That includes when they were just copied.

Let me just start with Wow! You thought the Cathy Black emails were interesting? I started backwards and only got through 1/5th and am absolutely floored. I’m not sharing any just yet, but let me make some quick points that should make taxpayers and parents upset as well as the students who lost out.

- The amount of man-hours and resources that went into trying to “get me” is ridiculous and appalling.

- Deputy Chancellor of Operations Kathleen Grimm is copied a lot and weighs in. To help alleviate the situation? No. The first time I heard of her was at a Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) school closure meeting and some audience member yelled out “Boooh.. Grimm Reaper!” That’s not polite I thought. I was then informed that she closes down schools.

- Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky is in the emails as well.

- There are times when “they” got wind that I would be present at a public event, speaking out and actually upped security. What? Harmon Unger, Frank Jordan and the Office of Safety and Youth Development was on the case. I thought it was odd to see the guys in suits with wires in their ears. Now it makes sense that they kept an eye on me while I sat in the back of the Petrides auditorium.

-The words “he’ll stop at nothing” and “he is relentless” were used by many. It’s funny, because I was talking to a teacher at my school and said “Remember when I first came to IS 49 from the environmental field? I was this scrawny guy running around helping out with tech issues and staying late and weekends?” She replied “I was thinking that. Look what they have created, but what choice did you have? You’re up against an army and they don’t know what to do. It’s ridiculous! ”

-David Brodsky of Labor and Relations, Kelly Doyle of ATU, Karen Solimando.

- Several UFT members, within the building, helped with the demise of the great atmosphere we once had. We knew this, but the amount of teachers and paras who were emailing the principal my chapter leader notices is crazy. Some were not involved in my case at all, but I guess they wanted to ensure a Satisfactory rating. Another reason the teacher evaluation is going to be subjective. “Keep giving me info and you’ll get rated Highly Effective.

- I’m under even MORE investigations than I thought. Have lost count, but somewhere around 34. Lol. Great job SCI and OSI…ignore my evidence backed complaints and investigate magazine subscriptions. Yes apparently my principal was getting Playboy subscriptions and she reported that I subscribed her. You can’t make this stuff up.
. . .
Update: With less than 24 hrs before my termination hearing, SCI investigators visit my mother in law & play with my kids. Desperate? I believe so.
[Emphasis, added.]
And that is just the beginning of the vindictive madness, all at the expense of you New York City taxpayers. Accountability, my foot.
Go to Porteles' blogsite for the full post on this wild trove of Kafkaesque bureaucracy run-amok: "3,000 Pages of Secret DOE Emails. [Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm Enters Stage Left]"

A modern day Frank Serpico, only this one, Portelos, was banished in often solitary confinement to the rubber rooms that the master of disinformation UFT president Mulgrew said were closed three years ago. Yes, public, know a teller of disinformation (Mulgrew) by the company he keeps (candidate Thompson) -read here and here, here, here, here.

Portelos' hearings are public: on September 12, 23, 30 at 49 Chambers Street, Manhattan.

On a related note, we must show solidarity with an anti-judicial corruption whistleblower, Sun-Ming "Sunny" Sheu, murdered in 2010. Read "The Death of Sunny Sheu" --Truth-Out called the New York Police Department's Own Trayvon Martin Case, and these other reports, at DailyKos and a local blogger's repository of info re Sunny Sheu. The writer of Truth-Out's "The Biggest NYPD Scandal in Decades: Murdering of Sunny Sheu" called this case "the New York Police Department's Own Trayvon Martin Case."
Bill Thompson's technocratic disinterest --merely, your time is up-- to testimony regarding Sheu should send shivers through the spine of people already concerned with how Thompson has a history of political self-aggrandizement, yet no passionate commitment to principles in his general political life. See this video of Thompson presiding at hearing in question: