Do Not Apply: The Bronx High School of Science
There are good schools, bad schools, mediocre schools. But in New York City we have a handful of schools that are so poorly run, so out of control, with administrations that are so incompetent, mean, arbitrary, or vindictive, that getting a job in these schools often means ending your career before it starts. These schools are DNA: Do Not Apply.
tests worth 100 points were banned
And, today, Bronx Science is not as nice a place to work as it once was. But, more than that, and this is why I am writing, it is a place that new teachers should avoid coming to.
insisted that anytime we had to use the bathroom facilities, we had to make a announcement to the secretarial staff
The Bronx High School of Science was one of the best places to work in the entire Board of Education. It, along with Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, are New York City’s original three specialized high schools (there are now several additional small specialized high schools). It has graduated an enormous number of Westinghouse (now Intel) winners, students who have gone on to impressive careers in science, medicine, etc, Nobel laureates…
How did Bronx Science end up on this list?
A few events/conditions/changes/chain of events came together over the last few years. Taken alone, they don’t seem like much. But their total/cumulative effect was great:
- New principal, immediately unpopular, reflexively autocratic
- Staff, student body unafraid of showing contempt
- Tradition of extra-contractual temporary hiring
- Slightly elevated turn-over rates
- Department chairs who mediated between administration and teachers were replaced
The short story is that the administration, frustrated by teachers who feel free to question that which should be questioned, and not having much leverage over senior teachers, has crashed down on newer teachers, in often unpredictable and erratic ways, making job security an issue.
Let’s try a slightly longer version of the story. (below the fold)
When Stanley Blumenstein retired in 2000, William Stark, the AP Social Studies became the interim principal. He applied for the permanent job, and the school supported him (I’m assuming through the usual pre-reform C-30). But the Board of Education delayed. They wanted a Nobel Laureate. And they delayed. And delayed. And Stark, tired of waiting, getting the message loud and clear, took a job on Long Island. To cover their asses, the Bd of Ed (or the Bronx Superintendant) pretended to offer Stark the job. They faked a fax timed two hours before he accepted the suburban job. And, as it turned out, Nobel laureates were not knocking down the door, lining up to apply. The Superintendent appointed instead the current principal, who had been the AP of Biology.
Bronx Science was not happy. The relationship was tense. The new principal was autocratic, arbitrary. It only got worse when, having been awarded an honorary PhD, the new principal insisted on using “Dr” in front of her name. What kind of doctor, with an honorary doctorate? A chemistry teacher, Bob Drake (no longer at BxHSS) had the answer: “Quack” In short order Quack buttons could be found all over the school. It was a revolt of disrespect, embarrassing, effective. A student from around that time tells the story nicely.
Let’s jump to another issue: hiring. Bronx Science gamed the official hiring system to create a special probationary category. One year and “sorry, you’ll need to go somewhere else” was more common here than at any other school in the City. How did this work?
Bronx Science was part of the SBO (School Based Option) hiring system. Theoretically a school in the SBO created criteria for every opening they had, the Board of Ed advertised the openings, and people applied for them. The school ran interviews, and of the people who met the qualifications, they hired the most senior. Notice, that’s not the most qualified. That’s not the best-connected. That’s not the senior candidate. It is, of those who meet the criteria established by the school, the most senior.
At Bronx Science, it was different. It often worked this way: post the position after the SBO interview period had ended, hire someone (often quite new) out of process, then put them through the SBO interview process the following Spring, using the intervening year, extra-contractually, as a probationary period. Most of those hired this way only lasted a year. In addition, Bronx Science often wrote its criteria in a way to favor a candidate they already had in mind.
How do I know these details? I am chapter leader in another school, where we used SBO hiring. I consulted the results of arbitrations to find out what was and was not considered ok to do. And Bronx Science accounted for more than half the decisions I needed to consult. No other school had its hiring appealed as often; no other school had its hiring overturned by arbitrators as often. It came to the point that the DoE was threatening to remove BxSci from the SBO process.
So, they hired in a way that increased turnover, and there was a smoldering war between everyone, teachers included, and an autocratic principal. Turnover, no surprise, rose. From the NY State report cards we learn that their turnover rate was about 15% as of a couple of years ago — a bit higher than that of Stuyvesant, a comparable school, but with double the proportion of brand new teachers. And it got worse. This posting from Parent Advocates discusses at length a rising turnover rate in Chemistry and English, and staff demoralization.
[private correspondence inadvertently found its way here. I've deleted it]
Change next hit the math department. Through the new principal’s tenure, math chairmen at Bronx Science mediated between administration and the interests of the department and the school. But a new AP was appointed last year, without a history at Science and without a very strong math background. The English stories were repeated. Teachers were screamed at. Observations of clearly fine lessons were rated unsatisfactory. Letters were written to file about picayune nonesense. And the nonesense! All tests would be collected in advance. Observations were surprise, without pre-observation conferences. In an interesting twist, tests worth 100 points were banned. Insecure in her lack of knowledge, and dependant completely on the (no longer new) principal, the AP’s autocratic style mirrored that from the top. Unable to effectively terrorize senior teachers, she went after new ones, driving them to leave the school (several moved to the suburbs), U’ing two obviously good math teachers.
But now the teachers fought back. They filed harassment charges last Spring, under Article 23 of our contract (Special Complaints). 20 of the 22 math teachers signed the complaint. But the AP fears only the principal, and the principal’s fortress mentality sees only winning and losing. This Fall they have continued harrassing the teachers who signed the complaint, giving U observations and writing ridiculous letters to file.
And so it goes. The turnover rate is approaching 20%, concentrated among newer teachers. One day the Bronx High School of Science will be returned to its proper condition. But today, please, do not apply.