Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Last In, First Out by Matt Bromme


Matt Bromme is a former NYC teacher, assistant principal, principal, district superintendent and high level official at Tweed. He has seen this issue from many angles, and his words are to be heeded:

Much has been stated and argued over the policy used to lay-off teachers by seniority (Last In First Out). Many new teachers to the school systems across America are enthusiastic and willing to bring new methodologies to the classroom. However, many senior teachers are extremely competent and their body of work makes them deserving of our respect, not deserving of being tainted as incompetent and unsatisfactory.

In 1975 I was terminated as a New York City teacher during that fiscal crisis. I had three years of experience as a teacher, and I was extremely upset about my situation. Were there senior teachers who possibly could have been let go if there was an objective criteria? Someone please define what an objective criteria is? Were some of these teachers not terminated deserving of an unsatisfactory rating? The answer is yes. That was management’s responsibility to rid the system of anyone who was incompetent.

However, I supported then and I support now the concept of a due process procedure to ensure that all staff have their rights protected and that good teachers have their seniority rights protected.

Just like senior staff in the police department, fire department and military, have a strong knowledge base, so do senior teachers and school leaders. There is a need for a professional to develop a reputation in the community that they serve. This takes time. Time is not an idea embraced by the new corporate mentality swarming over our schools.

In 1976-1977 I returned to the classroom. In 1984 I became a middle school assistant principal, in 1988 I became an elementary school principal and in 1991 I became a middle school principal. My last position was at the rank of school district superintendent in New York City, with the last six months of my career assigned to the Tweed Courthouse.

The Tweed Court House environment was fascinating from my point of view as a civil servant. It seemed that everyone hired by the Department of Education came from an Ivy League College, had not yet reached their twenty fifth birthday and looked at all of us “old” educators as failures because we stayed in our position for more than five years. What really disturbed me was that these young perky preppy staff members had no clue as to what needed to be done in the communities we served.

Fast forward to today’s argument that newer teachers are automatically better then senior teachers. This corporate mentality (Bloomberg, Black, Gates, etc.), has taken over from the the philosophy that teaching is an art and not a science. In their desire to use data (which too many times is incorrect), they are missing the point that teachers are like ministers preaching to a very difficult group and trying to convert them to accept a better life. Before the system went data crazy, in many of our most challenging schools, we used music, art, and drama to motivate our students to do better. Today, too many schools have had to give up their assembly programs and art programs because there is not enough time, since a child’s educational experience today is dominated by test prep.

The corporate mentality also does not understand that it takes time for school teachers and school leaders to develop and to gain the respect of the community they serve. In my experience, especially at the middle school and high school level, it takes at least three years for a reputation to develop and ergo for the educator to be respected. It is also my experience that for competent teachers and principals each year they improve in their skills, just as police fire and military personnel do. As educators mature they learn numerous different techniques to enhance their classroom performance.

Tenure has become an obscene word among politicians and the new educational corporate mentality. Tenure at the public school level (as opposed to the world of the university) only guarantees a due process procedure for those accused of egregious behavior. I rated teachers and school leaders unsatisfactory. I had numerous grievances on all levels, including arbitration hearings and court cases.

Where I and my staff did our homework, we won our cases. In some cases, staff was terminated, fined or chose to retire. Where supervisors, either at the school or district level, failed to meet their contractual obligations, we did not win. I would not have it any other way.

Due process protects teachers who speak out for their students. Due process protects school leaders who administer their buildings and often are subject to political pressures. It also protects school leaders who are brave enough to challenge their central district corporate leaders who know nothing about schools and the community the schools serve.

While Mayor Bloomberg and his “people” should have been focused on class size issues to enhance school performance, he caused this issue by creating numerous schools within schools. Many of them will be overcrowded when they reach their full maturity.

Mayor Bloomberg created this issue by allowing principals to automatically refuse to hire teachers of the schools being replaced by the new small schools. Mayor Bloomberg also created these problems by readjusting the budget process, so that “average” salary was replaced at the school level with “exact” salary. Therefore this motivated new principals not to hire from the ranks of teachers that were available, but to go out and hire “inexpensive” teachers.

There is a crisis today regarding LIFO that was not caused by unions and or senior staff members. If you look deep enough into the corporate mentality,you will find that this is more of a budget issue than an educational issue. If the principals had hired the senior staff that was assigned to ATR status, none of their schools would be looking at draconian cuts. However, under a false sense of security the Mayor rolled the dice and decided to ignore these career ATR teachers, many of them competent and capable. Instead they went for the young and the restless, most of whom will leave the system within five years.

-- Matt

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