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Bronx principal rules with intimidation, disrespect, teachers say

Jason Kovac, principal at PS 14 in the BronxBronx Times ReporterJason Kovac (left), principal at PS 14 in the Bronx, is “more interested in appearances and vendettas than in being a team leader and educator,” according to UFT District 8 Representative Carmon Quinones. Who’s the Bronx’s worst principal? The competition is stiff, but teachers at PS 14 in Throggs Neck say their hands-down favorite is their own Jason Kovac. The Leadership Academy graduate has run the school — teachers say into the ground — since June 2008.

The 34-year-old Kovac is an imposing man at 6 feet, 5 inches tall. Many at the school describe him as highly self-regarding, condescending and arrogant toward the overwhelmingly female staff.

“He treats the staff with total disrespect and uses intimidation and retaliation to get his way,” said District 8 Representative Carmen Quinones. “He seems more interested in appearances and vendettas than in being a team leader and educator.”

The previous principal had described the staff to the website as “remarkably professional teachers,” whom he credited with being not only seasoned but compassionate. Under Kovac, the school’s Progress Report grade dropped from an A to a C. Eighteen of his staffers have left voluntarily since Kovac became principal, Quinones said.

Kovac makes unannounced visits to anyone asking hard questions of him, Chapter Leader Elaine Primavera said. He chastises teachers in front of their students for such sins as having, in his opinion, a less-than-exemplary bulletin board, she said. He pulled one veteran educator out of class and accused her of teaching practices that were “criminal,” she said.

Kovac is frequently accompanied by co-principal Mildred Jones, who has earned the staff’s enmity. “She’s told teachers at a staff meeting that she is accustomed to working without a union and that the union means nothing to her,” said Primavera, who has taught for 23 years.

Kovac also refuses to discuss grievances, Primavera said. They just go to Step 2 of the process. As of this writing, 23 grievances at the school are unresolved, according to the chapter leader.

After Michael Mulgrew met with Kovac, following the UFT president’s Oct. 26 morning meeting with some 60 staff members at the school, Kovac agreed to consider a list of 10 contentious items that members wanted addressed. Primavera and Quinones since pared the list to six: 1. actually resolving grievances so they don’t need to go to Step 2; 2. improving communication by sending hard copies of staff notices and memos and not relying solely on e-mail; 3. equitably distributing parking spaces and not — as members say — using them as perks for a handful of favorites; 4. ending the practice of holding disciplinary meetings during class time or after 5 p.m., when the chapter leader cannot be present; 5. instituting — as required — pre-observations, rather than “informal” observations that have lasted as long as two hours; and 6. stopping the practice of using extended days as an additional teaching period instead of for homework help and test prep.

“He’s never responded, and nothing’s changed,” Primavera said.

Primavera said Kovac threatens anyone filing a grievance with giving them an observation or worse.

“His constant refrain is ‘I don’t believe in my [principals’ union] contract, and I don’t believe in yours,’” said Primavera. “When an arbitration decision contradicts his actions, he says it doesn’t apply to him.”

There’s also a suspicion that the funding to provide special education students with the services mandated in their Individualized Education Programs is being siphoned into the school’s general budget. The UFT is investigating that report.

Kovac’s relations with parents are also rocky. In one case, Primavera said, a parent reported at a Community Board 10 meeting that Kovac banned her from the school after she complained to him that her child had been bullied. According to Primavera, who attended the board meeting, the parent said Kovac had told her, “If you enter the school, I’ll have the police throw you out.”

In another case, Kovac — not even present during a stormy, cold December afternoon — called the school and ordered that dismissals be held from the rain-soaked schoolyard. Several parents told teachers at the school that they had called 311 to complain.

The school leader is already notorious in the local area. The community board, according to its Nov. 18 minutes, wrote Chancellor Joel Klein “expressing [our] disappointment in the kind of hostile work and learning environment that the children at this school endure.”

Primavera put it simply: “All we’re asking for is respect and for being treated like adults. Instead, he abrasively insists that everything we do is wrong.”

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