More about Bronx Science: Special Complaint
Putting Bronx Science on the Do Not Apply list was not a simple thing to do; it is so different from the other schools on the list. I think I was right to want more evidence before adding it. And evidence I got.
Harassment of new teachers in the Bronx Science mathematics department had become so serious last spring, that the teachers joined together and filed a special complaint. What follows is an edited version of the Special Complaint.
The original is dated May 14, 2008. It is written to the Bronx UFT HS DR, and signed by 20 of the 22 members of the department. The signatures and the names of individual teachers have been removed.
We, the undersigned teachers of the math department at The Bronx High School of Science, are writing to you because we are sincerely concerned about some of the actions taken by Rosemarie Jahoda, A. P. Mathematics. We believe that these actions are harmful to both staff and students. We have tried, both collectively and as individuals, to address our concerns directly to Ms. Jahoda, but when we have attempted to address and amicably resolve these issues, Ms. Jahoda has not been willing to listen.
We feel that it is important that you know that the decision to write this letter was not taken lightly. In fact, a step such as this has never before been taken by members of the math department. This alone highlights its significance.
In general, we feel that Ms. Jahoda’s management style has led to the creation of an unpleasant, and in some cases, hostile work environment. She has intimidated teachers, particularly the untenured faculty, and has been unreasonable in her requirements of staff. Her actions would lead a reasonable person to conclude that she has targeted certain teachers with whom she has had disagreements, or, for some reason, does not like. Ms. Jahoda has stifled creative thinking and free speech. We are extremely disheartened as we think of what the mathematics department has been and has the potential to be.
Some of the issues are the following:
1. Ms. Jahoda has requested that untenured teachers submit their lesson aims and objectives in advance. Feedback on these submissions is inconsistently provided, as she has stated that it is beyond the scope and responsibility of the chairperson to do so; nonetheless, classroom observations on these same lessons have resulted in pedagogical criticisms and an unsatisfactory rating, which could have been avoided had the previously submitted lesson aims and objectives been reviewed and discussed.
2. Math department teachers are regularly reminded of the risks of exercising their free speech rights on the premises of the Bronx High School of Science. Some of the untenured teachers have been cautioned to avoid speaking with colleagues who might advise them of their rights under the contract. She has cautioned them not to tell the senior teachers of the instructions and demands that she has made upon them. These comments have been accompanied by a reminder that the chairperson is ultimately responsible for the job performance ratings of all department teachers. Teachers have also been reminded that performance evaluations are now based on behavior both inside and outside of the classroom.
3. Ms. Jahoda has directed new teachers to assign unusual point values for their exams (an exam worth 47 points or 71 points, for example). The common practice at this and most schools has been to assign 100 points per exam. Ms. Jahoda has expressly stated that, while use of this grading system is “voluntary,” the performance evaluations of untenured teachers who do not use this system will be adversely affected. Some of these teachers have been criticized by students and parents for using this confusing grading system. They find it difficult to explain the pedagogical rationale as they themselves feel it would be more beneficial to the students to use the traditional grading system.
4. Two of our colleagues have been continually harassed by Ms. Jahoda. Both of these individuals are qualified and effective teachers who are very intelligent, well-liked, and respected by their colleagues and students. We feel very fortunate to have these teachers among our faculty.
Our colleague, Mr. A, is an elected delegate to the UFT Delegate Assembly and is on the Bronx Science Steering Committee. Mr. A has supported our new, untenured teachers by making them aware of their contractual rights. In addition, Mr. A exercised his federally-protected right to a leave of absence under the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act. His first formal observation was done shortly before taking the leave and his second one was done on the day of return from the February break. Both times he was given an unsatisfactory rating. We strongly believe that Ms. Jahoda is retaliating against Mr. A for his union activities. Mr. A has had years of positive reviews.
Our colleague, Ms. B, has been criticized by Ms. Jahoda for failing to adhere to department policy on issues for which there is no department policy. In the fall term, Ms. Jahoda observed a lesson that Ms. B had described in her list of aims and objectives. Ms. Jahoda criticized the content of the lesson. This lesson resulted in an unsatisfactory rating. Other teachers of the same course agreed that they, too, teach this lesson. Ms. B has recently been criticized for awarding an excessive amount of extra credit to students for their participation in the NYML (New York Mathematics League) contests. There has never been an established policy regarding how much extra credit to assign for this. While Ms. Jahoda may wish to limit the amount of extra credit assigned or prescribe how it is to be awarded, she has never done so. Instead, in hindsight, she has told Ms. B that she will have to recalculate her last semester’s grades (Fall 2007), resulting in many students’ grades being lowered. Such an action damages the credibility of a teacher vis-à-vis her students and is unfair to both students and teachers. When Ms. B requested the contractually required clarification of the verbal directive to change her grades, she was told that if she expected to see this in writing, she should start to seek employment elsewhere.
5. The authority, credibility, and position of math department staff has been compromised as teachers are periodically chastised, in angry and loud tones, in front of their students. This practice undermines teachers’ authority in the classroom.
6. Ms. Jahoda has communicated to our untenured teachers that the principal has developed a poor opinion of them because of their failure to remain on school premises after hours, regardless of the after-hours school work performed by these teachers off-premises. They have been told that it is “all about appearances.”
7. Job performance expectations are neither clearly communicated nor consistent. Some teachers are criticized for the order in which they present syllabus topics; other teachers presenting the material in the same order are not. It has been our understanding that determining the proper order for topic presentation, has, for many topics, been at the discretion of the individual teacher. This recognizes not only the evolving learning needs of the student, but also the teacher’s ability to be responsive to those needs, a Bronx High School of Science hallmark.
8. Ms. Jahoda regularly misses her appointments with teachers; in particular, she has repeatedly failed to be present for many of the meetings for lesson discussion that she has scheduled with untenured teachers. Teachers often wait outside her office for 30 to 45 minutes for meetings that she has scheduled. She appears to make no attempt to honor her commitment to these scheduled meetings.
9. In a recent incident in which a student complained about a teacher of long-standing and impeccable integrity, Ms. Jahoda, instead of recognizing that the student was out of order, encouraged the student. This exacerbated a problem and created an issue which could have been deflected had Ms. Jahoda had the managerial skills to do so.
10. Ms. Jahoda believes that her position as Assistant Principal gives her the right to speak abusively to the members of the department. Yet, if a teacher speaks up to Ms. Jahoda, he/she is punished with a letter for insubordination and a threat of termination. In a recent incident, Ms. Jahoda admonished another respected teacher by telling her that she was “divisive,” “unimportant,” and a “disgusting person.”
The senior members of the math department feel that we have been very fortunate to have so many hardworking, intelligent, dedicated, professional and caring new people as teachers in our department. In fact, many of the senior teachers often speak of our amazement in our good fortune to have such a wonderful group of new teachers who are “off the scale” as far as motivation, work ethic, knowledge of mathematics, and willingness to “go the extra mile.” These new teachers are the future of the math department.
We feel that one facet of the role of a supervisor is to nurture, support, and offer guidance to the teachers in the most pleasant and reasonable way possible. This has been the experience of the senior teachers in the math department with a variety of former supervisors. Unfortunately, Ms. Jahoda is at the other end of the spectrum in her dealings with the new teachers. Instead of support, she offers intimidation and bullying. Instead of guidance, she looks for anything in an observed lesson that is imperfect, and focuses on these items rather than any of the positive aspects of the lesson. Even the most experienced teachers make mistakes and rarely (if ever) teach a perfect lesson. Obviously it is unreasonable to expect perfection from the less experienced teachers, and clearly, a lesson that is not perfect but is acceptable ought not be rated as unsatisfactory.
The result of Ms. Jahoda’s actions is a demoralized faculty, and the creation of a climate of fear and negativity that is palpable. Most, if not all, of the teachers in the mathematics department often speak about their unhappiness with Ms. Jahoda’s administration. Some have spoken about leaving because they find the current atmosphere of undue pressure and criticism intolerable.
Because of the hostile environment that has been created by these incidents, the members of the math department will not meet with Ms. Jahoda without another colleague present.
This letter will serve as the basis of a special complaint in accordance with Article 23 of the UFT contract.
We are extremely concerned and we appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. Thank you.