So many of us believed with the fall of the Bloomberg Empire that a new day had dawned within the confines of the NYCDOE. That the lawyers would be properly neutered so they would not reproduce, that out of control principals will finally be held accountable, that "GOTCHA!" will cease, that administrators will have their positions due to merit and not who they know. We looked towards Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina to lead us into a new day where children actually were the priority and where leaders will actually lead.
I still want to believe, I still want to hope that there is good coming to all who are involved in educating the children of New York City. But the more I see what is about to be posted and the more I hear from elsewhere I can't keep from thinking of the The Who's 1971 song, "Won't Get Fooled Again;"
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"This is a letter from a discontinued guidance counselor to the superintendent of District 19, Joyce Stallings-Harte in Brooklyn. The school is Van Siclen Community Middle School, and the principal is Adonna McFarland of the Leadership Academy (DUH! What a shock!).
New York City Department of Education
Superintendent Joyce Stallings-Harte
557 Pennsylvania Avenue – Room 201
Brooklyn, NY 11207
I would like to take this opportunity to address the 2013-2014 year end rating I received on Monday, March 24th, 2014.
I can still recall my uncontainable excitement after I accepted the offer to serve as school counselor with Van Siclen Community Middle School in July 2013. It had been a position I had pursued for over three years. During school year 2012-2013 I actually secured a school counselor position with another new school scheduled to transition into the George Gershwin campus under the federal turn-around program. Those plans failed due to a lawsuit by the UFT against the NYC Department of Education. The schools chosen to open under this mandate never did. Although incredibly disappointed by the turn of events I remained resilient and continued on with my search. One full school year later I would be working in the same building under different leadership.
So carrying this excitement I entered this school year with incredible enthusiasm, brimming with creative ideas, and enormous passion for all the possibilities this school year held. I was confident that although I had no previous experience as a school counselor, that my experiences as a classroom teacher, coupled with my extensive work in child welfare would undoubtedly be instrumental to the work I would do this year. I recognized, as did Principal Adonna McFarland, that there would be a learning curve, as I had no previous experience outside of my practicum experience. However, I was committed to learning all I could and demonstrated my commitment to the VSC community by volunteering to be a member of the School Leadership Team and helping to facilitate various after school programming for our students.
Days before the start of the school year, August 30th, 2013, I spoke with Principal McFarland in her office. During this meeting I was supplied with a schedule that indicated that I would be effectively teaching entire classes of students anywhere from 2-3 times a day. In addition she stated, “I did not hire you to service mandated students, I hired you to service the at risk students.” Ms. McFarland continued to explain that in her experience service providers typically recommended services to students, that she believed, the students didn’t necessarily need in order for the service providers to secure their positions in their respective schools. Ms. McFarland also explained that when I went into these classrooms on a daily basis she would consider this as “services rendered” and that I should only follow the IEP mandates if I believed the students needed it.
A few weeks later, on September 30th, 2013, I spoke with Ms. McFarland again in her office. Mrs. Keisha Kemp, UFT Chapter Chair and Special Education coordinator, was also in attendance. Ms. McFarland once again explained that she did not hire me to service mandated students and intended on considering services rendered when I went into classrooms. Mrs. Kemp quickly interjected explaining that this could not happen as the IEP stipulates length of time, group size, and location in which the service should be rendered. Principal McFarland immediately begun to scream angrily stating, “Keisha, don’t tell me sh*t about compliance early in the morning! Everything in this place is out of f*cking compliance.” Ms. McFarland then asked me to leave. After a few minutes she invited me back into the office and reiterated her previous sentiments.
Frankly, I was flabbergasted by Ms. McFarland’s directive. In both my graduate level training and internship experience I had never witnessed such blatant disregard of students IEP mandates. In my experience a school counselors primary role is to provide counseling services to mandated students as per their IEP mandates. To not do so is in direct violation of US Federal Law (IDEA). I wanted so much to interject and share what I knew to be correct. However, I instinctively knew that if I did so I would instantly be under attack and subsequently punished by Ms. McFarland.
On September 18, 2013, I attempted to share my perspective with Ms. McFarland regarding one of our special education students CB after she had expressed frustration about his behaviors shortly after he transferred to our school. Ms. McFarland immediately attacked me, shouting at me in her office, stating, “I’ve been around for 20 plus years. When I tell you something don’t ever question me. You need to be careful what you say to me.” She also went on to state, “It concerns me that I hired a counselor who doesn’t see things the way I see things.” She immediately, the following day, requested that I begin to submit weekly counseling activities to her via e-mail. The following week at the Lindenwood Diner, during a staff get-to-together, she openly stated, “I was so pissed with you”. When I expressed confusion Ms. McFarland explained that she became angry when I offered an alternate point of view regarding student CB., and his needs. She went on to explain, “That is why I made you submit your weekly counseling activities. You made me so angry!” Once again this was deeply disturbing.
I had observed Principal McFarland threaten to give former teacher Ms. J. Antonucci a 30-day discontinuance before the school year even begun. Ms. Antonucci subsequently resigned. I observed Ms. McFarland belittle our former community associate Ms. C. Walker on a daily basis. She subsequently resigned. Ms. McFarland then shifted her focus to our former math teacher Ms. J. Taylor. Ms. Taylor also subsequently resigned. Unfortunately I was made aware of this information, as Ms. McFarland would often, involve me in the abovementioned events by discussing her negative feelings, about the staff members, with me on a daily basis. Ms. McFarland would even call and text message me after school hours to disparage them. I was deeply disturbed by her actions. I was forced to wonder, who would be next? And how might she treat me if I ever became the object of her disdain? Our school had quickly become a place stained and mired with intimidation and fear.
Eventually the inevitable happened; Ms. McFarland shifted the focus to me. I was now the enemy and the subject of her attacks. Principal McFarland’s leadership approach has been incredibly alienating and has communicated intimidation at every turn. She has communicated very clear messages, both verbally and nonverbally, to me that unless I allow her to control my every thought and unless I am in complete agreement with her, on every issue, I will be punished.
- How could I ever feel safe in this environment?
- How could I effectively learn and develop as a new school counselor?
- How could I not be fearful of retaliation?
As a probationer I recognized the vulnerable position I was in and knew I had to go along with Ms. McFarland’s plan regardless of how erroneous it was.
Our students have essentially gone numerous months, well over two thirds, of this school year without having received their federally mandated services. Here are four student examples of more than fifteen students who have not received their mandated services:
- RD., age X, emotionally disturbed, has never received mandated counseling services as per Ms. McFarland’s directive. On February 24th, 2014 Mrs. Kemp, special education coordinator, requested that I complete RD.’s IEP immediately as his annual review was due in a few days. She asked, “You don’t see him, do you?” I reminded her of the directive Principal McFarland gave during the first weeks of school. She nodded and asked if I could see him that day at some point. I explained that I could not as I would be in classes all afternoon. She stated she would confer with Ms. McFarland. It should be noted that Mrs. Kemp is in line to become Assistant Principal at Van Siclen Community Middle beginning school year 2014-2015. A few minutes later while performing breakfast duties Principal McFarland approached me to ask if I believed RD. was in need of counseling services. I explained that I do not determine whether a child receives counseling services but that the students’ IEP dictates whether he/she should receive counseling. While I continued to explain the counseling mandates to Ms. McFarland she walked away abruptly. Once upstairs Ms. McFarland informed me that I should begin to provide mandated counseling services to RD. beginning March 3rd, 2014.
- QW., age X, learning disabled, has never received mandated counseling services as per Ms. McFarland’s directive.
- JH., age X, emotionally disturbed, has never received mandated counseling services as per Ms. McFarland’s directive.
- MS., age X, other health impairment, has never received mandated counseling services as per Ms. McFarland’s directive.
Throughout the course of this school year Ms. McFarland has repeatedly misused and abused my role as a new school counselor. I have been directed to perform duties outside of my license area, duties that have undermined my role as a school counselor. They are as follows:
- absence coverages
- breakfast duty
- lunch duty
- yard duty
- hall monitor
- dean (performing punitive measures i.e., calling homes, facilitating detention, covering the SAVE room)
- submitting grades for the fall 2013 report card cycle
- attendance officer (conducted home visits at the request of the Principal)
Additionally, I teach 2-3 periods per day, every week, as part of the permanent schedule I received from Ms. McFarland on August 30th, 2014. I teach the self contained, 12:1:1 class, 5 times per week. This translates to over three hours of lost instructional time, on a weekly basis, as I am not a teacher and therefore I am not equipped to provide instruction to special education students. Our special education teacher, Ms. ___, is never present when I am teaching class 601. I have also been forced to facilitate extended learning periods, on a weekly basis, since the beginning of this school year. This also translates to 90 minutes of valuable time in which I should have been allowed to provide counseling services to mandated students. This abuse ended abruptly on March 25th, 2014. It is important to note that I was notified of my potential discontinuance on March 24th, 2014.
As a school counselor it is imperative that I am given the latitude to remain flexible so that I can be responsive to student needs. Being provided a schedule in which I am constrained within classrooms multiple times a day interferes with my ability to respond to student/parent needs should they arise at any given point during the school day.
On Thursday, January 30th, 2014, Assistant Principal Campbell informed me, that I would no longer be working out of the counseling office. I was not supplied with a reason. I wondered how I would complete my duties? How would I store confidential records? How would I ensure confidentiality during counseling sessions and meetings with parents and/or service providers? I was instructed by Principal McFarland to utilize Room 210 and Room 205 beginning February 3rd, 2014. I was also instructed to utilize the computer in the main office. It should be noted that three other professionals share the sole computer in the main office. They are: Parent Coordinator Lee, Community Associate Perez and Attendance Officer Kierstedt on any given day. It has been extraordinarily difficult to negotiate the use of the computer with several other professionals who all have arduous tasks to complete. As a result my ability to complete tasks has been severely compromised. Confidentiality has also been severely compromised. The constant influx of students, parents, and staff members moving in and out of the office space has made it impossible to have any confidential conversation.
Most recently, I received an e-mail from Principal McFarland, on March 21st, 2014, informing me that effective March 24th, 2014, I would be relocated to the staff conference room/kitchen to work with students. Room 221 is located at the far end of the second floor apart from all classrooms and students. It contains a refrigerator, microwave, water cooler and refills, food products etc.… Teachers and staff are constantly moving in and out of the room as well. For the first time this school year Principal McFarland instructed me to service mandated students in this room. It should be noted that I also received notice of my potential discontinuance on March 24th, 2014. These kinds of changes are clearly devised to undermine my efforts at being successful in my role as school counselor. Removing, from me, the tools required to successfully complete my professional responsibilities and then subsequently penalizing me when I am unable to complete said responsibilities is unfathomable. It is unjust. It is clearly sabotage. Ms. McFarland has essentially manufactured my failure.
Principal McFarland on numerous occasions, beginning on November 4th, 2014, during a meeting, expressed her dissatisfaction with my performance stating, “I regret hiring a new counselor. I should have hired someone with more experience.” Ms. McFarland has included five disciplinary letters as evidence of my incompetence as a school counselor. I have reviewed each letter several times and remain bewildered by each one. From encouraging a student to discuss a grievance regarding Assistant Principal Campbell with her parent/guardian to making an error, as all human beings do, from time to time, the administrators at VSC have sought to take a punitive approach against me on issues that clearly could have been addressed with a clear conversation. Why choose to go on the attack, and punish without cause, when I have demonstrated total compliance and extreme responsiveness throughout my tenure at Van Siclen Community Middle School?
As the instructional leader of Van Siclen Community Middle School I have depended upon Ms. McFarland to guide me professionally and to provide me with immediate feedback concerning my performance as a school counselor. She is charged with the responsibility, both professional and ethical, of providing those under her charge with the resources to improve their professional practice when it requires improvement so that growth and development are evident. How can Ms. McFarland recommend that I be discontinued when I have not been:
- supplied with a written professional improvement plan detailing areas of concern, suggestions for improvement and a realistic plan of action to address these concerns.
- given an opportunity to attend professional development in and/or out of the school building regarding these areas of concern.
- given a mentor/coach that worked with me directly to address specific concerns detailed in the professional improvement plan.
- given the opportunity to work on the areas of concern with a coach/mentor.
ensure that students have access to the education and services guaranteed to them under New York State and Federal Law?
Superintendent Stallings-Harte, as the leader charged with protecting the educational rights of our most vulnerable students, I ask that you keenly consider my circumstance with discernment, care and balance. Ms. McFarland has worked diligently to erode my ability to do this work. In the past weeks she has forcibly discontinued both my girls and bereavement groups under the guise that she would be rescheduling the time the groups are to be held. It has been well over a month and the groups have not been rescheduled. The students inquire about when the groups will resume on a daily basis. I have been unable to supply them with an adequate response. Most recently Ms. McFarland has begun to interrogate our students after I speak with them asking, “What did she say to you?” And frequently penalizes students when they attempt to speak with me, yelling, “What are you doing over there” and “Go where you are supposed to be!” Despite Principal McFarland’s consistent attacks I have remained focused on our students. This past Monday morning one of our students, a 12-year old girl, voluntarily came to speak with me about her weekend. The student explained that she recently discovered who her birth father is and traveled to the Bronx, with her mother and siblings, to meet with her paternal grandmother and extended family members for the first time. She was clearly overwhelmed by the experience and expressed feelings of fear and anxiety. I was able to really work with this student on the issues involved, explore the root of her fear and help her get a firm handle on what she can expect to feel emotionally in the coming weeks and months as she explores these new relationships with the paternal side of her family. This is the work I am passionate about and the work I know our students yearn for.
The role of a school counselor is a significant one, one that I have not been allowed to carry out as detailed in this letter. It has always been crystal clear, to the entire school community, that I’ve had the best of intentions for our students. I have consistently met them with affirmative energy, warmth, and encouragement. Ms. McFarland has also recognized this as fact on multiple occasions. Despite the arduous circumstances I continue to work with our students to the best of my ability.
Approving Principal McFarland’s recommendation to discontinue my employment with the Department of Education will essentially empower her perverse actions, enable her to continue forward with harming the students of VSC, and communicate a dangerous message to the school community that maligning professionals in an effort to mask malfeasance is acceptable. It is not. I remain hopeful that you will, see clearly, all the issues I have outlined and make the appropriate decision that will allow me to continue onward with the career I have worked so hard for. I want to be a school counselor. I am passionate about this work, this community, and our children.
Realizing the limitations of the written page, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person in order to address any of your questions and/or concerns. Thank you for your time and consideration.
With Warm Regards,