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Queens principal burns office, staff
MS 216’s Reginald Landeau — ‘the worst’ — ignores contract and rules by fear
by Michael Hirsch | March 10, 2011 New York Teacher issue
Parents attending open school night at MS 216 in Fresh Meadows, Queens, on Feb. 17 got a primer on their school’s principal, whom the teachers call “insufferable” and “vindictive.”
That evening, chapter leaders from other schools in District 26 and several of the school’s embattled staff — despite fears of reprisals — joined District Representative Mary Vaccaro in leafleting parents with fliers containing home truths about Principal Reginald Landeau Jr.
Parents read in the flier about the school’s failure to provide state-mandated special education services, the lack of safety, the “decline of a well-rounded education,” and poor staff morale.
“We can’t do our jobs or serve your children with this principal in charge,” one teacher told a parent of a 7th-grader.
The following day, Landeau put letters in two teachers’ files. Staffers call it payback for the leafleting.
“It’s a constant struggle to get him to respect us and our contract and how children should be treated,” said Chapter Leader Rachel Montagano, an 8th-grade social studies teacher.
Because of the threat of retaliation from Landeau, no other MS 216 staffer is identified in this article.
Landeau (pronounced land-OH), an alumnus of the first Leadership Academy graduating class, has ruled the school for seven years.
An Educational Leadership magazine article about him claimed that “his first order of business was to systematically restructure the school in a way that benefited everyone.”
“Whoever wrote that never visited this school,” one veteran teacher said.
The staffers question Landeau’s sense of student needs and priorities. Even as he was dismantling the school’s reading and Academic Intervention Services programs, he brought in a dance program. As one staffer darkly put it, “students may struggle with reading or math, but they will be dancing their way to a jobless future.”
The school of some 1,300 is served by only two guidance counselors after a third retired and was not replaced, another staffer complained.
After a 30-year special education teacher was given an unusually unruly group of students, Landeau blamed her for being incapable of controlling her class. As punishment, the teacher said, Landeau removed her smartboard. “But it was the smartboard that was helpful in motivating the children,” she said.
Staffers paint a picture of a school leader who takes no responsibility for his actions.
During the 2009-2010 school year, several staff members reported, Landeau neglected to turn off a hot plate — itself unauthorized — in his inner office, which sparked a fire that left the room charred and unusable. Landeau soon redecorated and refurbished the inner office at school expense, including, as one staff member attested, “repainting it over the course of six months at least three times to get the color ‘just right.’”
Meanwhile the main office, which sustained smoke damage, was never cleaned or repaired, staff said. The office staff was left exposed to fumes from the fire’s residue as well as sweltering heat because the air conditioners, damaged by the smoke, were not replaced.
Staffers said Landeau never formally advised parents or staff of the incident.
Landeau is also no fan of the UFT. “At every opportunity, he will bash the union and violate the teachers’ contract,” one staffer said.
After losing a past grievance in which he maintained that teachers were required to attend common planning meetings during their preparation period, he returned to the proscribed practice this year once the arbitrator’s jurisdiction had expired, District Representative Vaccaro said.
Montagano, the chapter leader, said Landeau had postings for per-session positions hand-delivered to certain selected teachers in disregard of the contract.
“Consultation team meetings go unattended, because nobody will sit down with him,” Vaccaro said. “Why? Because they’re afraid.”
The school generates the district’s highest number of U-ratings, based on what one teacher called “incessant walk-through observations,” though teachers say they do not receive quality professional development.
Meanwhile, every parent interviewed by the New York Teacher at open school night praised the teachers and blamed the administration for what they thought was an insufficiently rigorous curriculum and for being, as one called it, “remote.”
Miguel Carrasco, the uncle of a 6th-grader, said, “I don’t think Landeau knows how to — or wants to — do outreach.”
Among those leafleting outside the school that evening was Susan Singer, chapter leader and kindergarten teacher at PS 162.
Happy enough with her own long-serving principal, Singer worries that when her principal retires, “we’re terrified we’ll get someone as terrible as Reggie. He’s the worst, most abusive principal in the district. We hear it all the time. No other principal in northern Queens gets that level of criticism.”