Tag Archives: Dennis Walcott

Final Chapter For Flushing?


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The Courier/Photo by Melissa Chan

Local leaders rallied to save Flushing High School before the city closes the book on the storied 137-year-old institution.

Elected officials and education advocates gathered in front of the school to protest a possible Turnaround — which would mean replacing half of the teachers and reopening the school under a new name.

“Closing Flushing High School seems to me to be one of the most short-sighted decisions that the city has ever made because graduation rates are improving,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky at the protest on April 16. “Over the last six years, they’ve come up. It’s starting to work. Flushing High School has been slowly reversing the trend.”
Stavisky, who worked as a substitute teacher at the school before her election to the State Senate, said Flushing High School is home to many students who do not speak English as their first language, which she said may be attributed to the school’s low success rate.

“If a child comes into this building speaking no English and, instead of graduating in four years, he graduates in five years — that child should be commended. [He should] not have a finger pointed at him like he’s bringing the school down,” said Dermot Smyth, a United Federation of Teachers (UFT) representative.

DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas said Flushing High School received a “D” on its most recent progress report, with an “F” on the student performance section. He also said graduation rates at schools serving similar populations are significantly higher than at Flushing.

According to Thomas, the DOE cannot afford to let underperforming schools linger while a teacher evaluation deal is hammered out and implemented. He said the

Turnaround plan keeps the best parts of the existing school, including its highest quality faculty, while creating a new program, new school culture and a different and better environment for students.

Flushing High School’s first public hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. after The Courier went to press. A meeting to introduce next year’s new school principal — Magdalen Radovich — will be held on Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m.

 

Class in session: City to get 54 new schools, two in Queens


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


Spring may signify new beginnings, but schools will be “bloom”ing this fall.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on April 17 to announce the opening of 54 new schools across the city for the 2012-2013 school year. The new schools – 30 of which will be run by the district, along with 24 charters – will serve more than 7,000 students from kindergarten through high school next year, and over 21,000 kids when they grow to full size.

Of the 54 schools, two will be in Queens – Wave Preparatory School, an elementary school in District 27, will replace P.S. 215 Lucretia Mott, located at 535 Briar Place in Far Rockaway, and Central Queens Academy Charter School will open in District 24.

Including those slated to open this fall, 589 new schools have now been created in the five boroughs since 2002.

“Our children deserve great schools, our parents deserve great options, and our administration is committed to delivering them to families in every neighborhood in the five boroughs,” Bloomberg said. “The 54 new schools that will open next year reflect our commitment to children and parents, and they will build on the successful records established by the hundreds of new small schools we have already created. These new schools, including our new Academy for Software Engineering, which will train students not just in the language of computers but also in the language of innovation, will help prepare our students to succeed in the new global economy.”

According to the mayor’s office, evidence has indicated that new schools rank higher on parent satisfaction surveys than other schools across the city and perform better on state math and reading exams and graduate students at considerably higher rates than schools they replace. New schools also serve similar percentages of black and Latino students, English language learners and students with disabilities compared to the schools they replace.

Many of the new schools opened during the Bloomberg administration have followed the model of smaller schools – a strategy MDRC, a nonpartisan education and social policy research group, says “markedly improves graduation rates for a large population of low-income, disadvantaged students of color.”

“As we’ve seen over the past decade, new schools have changed thousands of lives in New York City for the better, helping more students graduate and prepare for college and careers,” Walcott said. “I want to thank all 54 new school principals, who have taken the bold step of building a new school community and offering families high quality options. Every child and every neighborhood deserve a great school, and we are proud to continue a strategy that has delivered just that for the past 10 years.”

Teacher evaluations shed light on effectiveness


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com


Grades given by the Department of Education (DOE) show more than 500 teachers may have failed to effectively educate their students.

According to published accounts, the DOE’s Teacher Data Reports have identified 521 English and math teachers who produced the smallest student gains between 2007 and 2010.

The reports, which use a value-added approach to illustrate how much progress individual teachers helped students make in reading and math over the course of a year, also classify 696 instructors as aiding children towards the biggest achievement gains over the same four-year period.

Roughly 12,000 teachers in grades four through eight were assigned ratings during the 2009-2010 school year – some based on their performances dating as far back as 2007.

In an op-ed piece, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the reports “valuable tools” in identifying teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, but warned against using the data as the sole instrument by which to measure an educator.

“The data is now two years old, and it would be irresponsible for anyone to use this information to render judgments about individual teachers,” wrote Walcott. “Teacher Data Reports were created primarily as a tool to help teachers improve, and not to be used in isolation.”

Walcott continued by stating that the reports “don’t tell the full story about a teacher’s performance,” and they include instructors “who don’t even work in our schools anymore.” The chancellor also acknowledged that many teachers’ performances may have changed since the data was assembled.

While the rating system is no longer utilized by the DOE, similar calculations will account for 20 percent of a teacher’s rating – with the remaining grade composed of other measures, such as classroom observations – in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently-established statewide teacher evaluation program.

Despite the protests of hundreds of school faculty and parents, the data reports were released after several media outlets filed Freedom of Information Law requests and the state’s courts ruled the DOE was “obligated” to make them available.

United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew, who was against the release of the Teacher Data Reports, believes the ratings to be highly inaccurate.

“The Teacher Data Reports are based on bad data and an unproven methodology with a huge margin of error,” Mulgrew said. “They are not an accurate reflection of the work of any teacher. Their release is particularly inappropriate in view of the fact that the DOE has already announced that they will be discontinued and replaced with a statewide program.”

The UFT noted the rating system has error margins as high as 54 out of 100 points – meaning a top scoring teacher may be below average or an educator deemed subpar could be among the best. The federation also said some teachers were rated on subjects or students they did not teach, and one educator was given a score for a year she was on maternity leave.

Many teachers have objected to the release of the reports, claiming they will be unfairly judged based on inaccurate statistics.

“If the public wants to see what we do in the classrooms, then an outside agency – not the UFT, not the city – should come in and observe and rate the teachers,” said one Queens educator. “There are a lot of factors that go into education, and these ratings aren’t enough to judge a teacher by.”

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a citywide advocacy group campaigning for smaller classes, believes the reports could be disastrous for the teaching profession as a whole.

“I think the releasing of the data is indefensible,” said Haimson. “I think it has the potential of wrecking the teaching profession. I don’t think anyone would go into teaching knowing this kind of data could be released, that is both unfair and unreliable and could put them at the mercy of the tabloids for being publicly shamed and denounced.”

Based on the data, media reports have also suggested the best ranked schools have the highest percentage of top rated teachers, while the struggling institutions have many instructors with below average marks.

Queens teacher had ‘pattern of inappropriate conduct’


| smosco@queenscourier.com


A teacher who had “shown a pattern of inappropriate conduct,” but was allowed to teach anyway, has been charged with sexually abusing two young boys on multiple occasions at P.S. 174 in Rego Park.

Wilbert Cortez, a 49-year-old computer teacher at William Sydney Mount School, was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual misconduct against a child and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

“These are serious accusations in which a school teacher – who should serve as a role model to students – is instead accused of using his position to gain access to children for his own gratification,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “Schools should be safe havens where students are protected from harm. These are disturbing allegations that, if true, require punishment.”

According to the criminal charges, between September 2010 and June 2011 Cortez allegedly rubbed the groin and buttocks over the pants of two young students. He pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse and endangering charges in Queens Criminal Court on February 16 and was released after posting a $50,000 bail bond.

Perhaps most disturbing is that a city investigation in 2000 found that Cortez had shown “a pattern of inappropriate conduct” at a school in Brooklyn. The report concluded that the teacher slapped two students on the buttocks on several occasion. A letter of discipline was placed in Cortez’s file – however, six months later he was transferred to P.S. 174.

In response to the incident, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited the school on February 17 to meet with officials and assure parents that he plans to make it easier for principals to get disciplinary records of anyone vying for a position at city schools.

“I am appalled by the allegations against Wilbert Cortez,” said Walcott. “No adult who inappropriately touches a student, in or out of school, belongs anywhere near the children we are responsible for protecting. I will do everything in my power to ensure that individuals like Mr. Cortez can be swiftly removed from our classrooms as soon as allegations surface – and be barred from teaching in our schools if those charges are substantiated.”

A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers said “we do not comment on current investigations.”

 

Whitney Houston funeral: mourners pay tribute to legendary singer at Newark church


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

Whitney Houston funeral: mourners pay tribute to legendary singer at Newark church

The silver casket bearing Whitney Houston glistened Saturday inside her old Newark church, where a star-studded crowd bid farewell to the departed diva with the divine voice.

“What becomes of our broken hearts?” asked her “Bodyguard” co-star Kevin Costner in a moving memorial. “Whitney returns home today to the place where it all began.”

Read More: New York Daily News

 

Timothy Cardinal Dolan receives red hat from Pope Benedict in Vatican City

Timothy Cardinal Dolan says his new red hat from Pope Benedict XVI is a gift for New York.

The city’s newly-elevated Catholic leader was smiling from cheek to cheek Saturday after receiving a gold ring and red silk biretta from the pontiff inside St. Peter’s Basilica inVatican  City.

Read More: New York Daily News
Cocaine found on capsized cruise ship captain’s hair, lawyers for survivors say
A group representing survivors of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship say traces of cocaine were found on a sample of the captain’s hair but not within the hair strands or in his urine — which would have indicated he had used the drug.

Italian consumer protection group Codacons said Saturday it has asked prosecutors investigating Captain Francesco Schettino to order another test.

Read More: New York Post

 

DOE To Review 1,000 Cases Against School Staff Following Latest Sex Abuse Charges

The city Department of Education is promising to make major changes in disciplinary policy following a string of arrests of employees for inappropriate acts with children.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott outlined the changes in a letter sent home to parents Friday.

Read More: NY 1

 

Spit hits fan in teach spat

 A veteran Queens math teacher was yanked from the classroom yesterday after a cellphone video posted online showed an apparent confrontation with a student.

Department of Education officials said they are investigating 19-year veteran David Pecoraro, a vocal union leader at Beach Channel HS in Far Rockaway, on allegations of corporal punishment.

Read More: New York Post

 

Liu Fundraiser Pleads Not Guilty To Wire Fraud Charges

Xing Wu Pan, a major fundraiser for City Comptroller John Liu, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud charges during his arraignment in Downtown Manhattan on Saturday.

Prosecutors say Oliver Pan told an undercover FBI agent he would use straw donors to funnel $16,000 in over-the-limit contributions to the comptroller’s 2013 campaign.

Read More: NY 1

 

Al Sharpton’s SUV impounded at La Guardia Airport

Can I get a witness?

The Rev. Al Sharpton tried to move heaven and earth yesterday to keep his SUV from being towed at La Guardia Airport — but no amount of preaching could stop Port Authority cops from impounding the vehicle.

An officer rolled up on the 2008 Lincoln Navigator at around 2 p.m. outside the Delta and US Airways terminal as the MSNBC host’s driver waited to pick him up in a clearly marked “no standing” zone, said PA Police spokesman Al Della Fave.

Read More: New York Post

 

Racist headline after Jeremy Lin, Knicks lose prompts quick apology from ESPN

ESPN is apologizing for an offensive headline posted after Jeremy Lin and the Knicks fell to the Hornets Friday night, ending a dazzling 7-game win streak.

The headline, “Ch-k in the armor” was up for about 30 minutes before being pulled down, ESPN said in a statement, as the controversy continued to grow in volume on Saturday.

Read More: New York Daily News