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by Michael Hirsch | March 8, 2012 New York Teacher issue
“We have a no-bullying rule for the schools,” parent Heidi Rotondo told Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a District 21 Community Education Council town hall meeting on Jan. 11. “So what are you doing about the principal at PS 90 who’s doing the bullying?”
Walcott dodged the question, insisting he couldn’t deal with “personnel specifics publicly.”
Rotondo was one of more than two dozen parents from Coney Island’s PS 90 who turned out at the town hall meeting to complain about Greta Hawkins, the principal since September 2009 and a New York City Leadership Academy grad.
Parents and teachers want her gone.
Organized as the Action Committee to Save PS 90, the parents produced a two-sided flier for the meeting that contained a long list of accusations against Hawkins, including:
- threatening to report the parents of misbehaving students to the Administration for Children’s Services;
- chronically underreporting safety incidents; and
- refusing to account for $3,600 of Title I parent involvement funds from the previous school year.
Numerous special education complaints filed with the UFT over the past two years document how Hawkins allegedly assigned paraprofessionals to do office work or run errands while students went without special education services, thus violating Individualized Education Program mandates. (The network and the principal responded by making corrections.)
Hawkins also has been criticized by staff and parents for closing the school’s library and selling off its books (at 25 cents per book); shutting the school’s state-of the art computer lab, which was funded by local Councilman Domenic Recchia; and ending instrumental music instruction at a school ironically named the School of Performing Arts.
The Department of Education reprimanded Hawkins and sent her to sensitivity training after investgators from the DOE’s Office of Equal Opportunity found that Hawkins made offensive racial remarks at a June 2010 faculty meeting.
Nine UFT members who attended the mandatory meeting filed a complaint.
Miller photography In their Sept. 8, 2010, findings, the investigators concluded: “By deliberately differentiating herself, a black Jehovah’s Witness, and the previous principal, white and Jewish, in the context of a mandatory staff meeting addressing rumors and discussing hiring and upcoming changes in the school, Principal Hawkins offended multiple staff members.”
Chapter Leader Vicky Giasemis said that many of the teachers who filed the complaint — even though they were not identified by the Office of Equal Opportunity — were removed from their positions.
Hawkins’ critics say she took a healthy school culture and made it toxic.
“She’s not a boss who pushes the staff to work better. She’s a boss who lies to end your career,” said one longtime school veteran, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Hawkins has since singled out the chapter leader for abuse. Giasemis had what she described as a “spotless record” for her first 12 years of teaching. That ended in 2010, when she became the school’s union representative, she said.
“Immediately the retaliation started,” Giasemis said. “All of a sudden I became incompetent and abusive.” Hawkins wrote her up multiple times and gave her a U-rating.
Among the formal grievances pending against Hawkins, District 21 Representative Judy Gerowitz said, was one brought by 13 members accusing Hawkins of micromanaging the format of the lesson plans.
In a case in point, Hawkins’ Jan. 30 school newsletter The Monday Message contained “a fourth reminder” in which she spelled out in minute detail what lesson plans must include. Gerowitz noted that the UFT contract stipulates that supervisors cannot require a particular lesson plan format unless a teacher received a U-rating, or has been given a formal warning of a possible U-rating.
The chapter leader herself has filed grievances charging Hawkins with disciplining her for carrying out union duties.
Still, Giasemis doesn’t heap all the blame on Hawkins.
“It’s the DOE’s doing,” said Giasemis. “They want to break the schools one school at a time.”
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