It's teacher hunting season!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teachers call for ouster of Queens JHS 8 principal John Murphy

Principals possess near total power. Their assessments of a teachers performance can make or break a career. On the blogs we can read about arcane procedures such as 3020-a proceedings and mysterious "teacher reassignment centers," or "rubber rooms," in vernacular contexts. Prior to reaching those stages at which administrators terminate teachers' careers are the moments when principals harass teachers.
A terrible bind that boards of education create is their assumption that teachers and principals are fully responsible for student violence or inadequate academic performance. The city-level supervisors rate principals by statistics on these matters. This creates great pressure on principals and other administrators to mask student inadequacy or student violence.
The pressure increased on New York City principals in the early 2000s when they agreed to give up tenure in favor of higher salaries. This was a short-sighted choice, for principals in schools with violent students or students that fail to perform MUST suppress any negative statistics, or they will lose their positions.
Principal John Murphy of JHS 8 (Jamaica, Queens)laid out the connection between bad statistics and how the city views when addressing one teacher, "Failures, suspensions and school incidents all play into your school's grade," according to teacher Melissa Weber.

See Clare Trapasso's March 27, 2009 article in the "New York Daily News":
(I have bolded the principal's statements that represent the tip of the iceberg in public education in New York City.)"Teachers call for ouster of principal John Murphy, accused of outburst that sent aide to hospital"
It can't be easy being John Murphy.

Last week, the Middle School 8 principal was accused of a verbal outburst that upset a teacher's aide so badly that she went to the hospital.

This week, teachers protested outside the Jamaica, Queens, school every day calling for his removal.

They accuse Murphy - who many say is abusive to teachers and staff - of intimidating them into inflating grades to boost the school's ratings.

"We were told last year that we could not fail a child under any circumstances," said Melissa Weber, an eighth-grade social studies teacher.

"Failures, suspensions and school incidents all play into your school's grade."

Weber said she found out the hard way how important that was to Murphy after she failed five of her 120 students last year.

"I was called into his office and asked how dare I not follow a directive," Weber recounted. "He explained to me that I had to change them. ... I was afraid that I was going be fired if I didn't."

Weber is one of several teachers who say they were told not to fail students.

Murphy could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Pressuring educators to change grades is a serious offense, said Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.

A principal who alters grades to make a school look good can lose his or her administrator's certification and job, he said.

Following the incident with the teacher's aide, city Education Department officials said there were no plans to fire Murphy.

"Under Principal Murphy, [MS] 8 has improved from a D to a B, and the school just came off the state's list of failing schools," said agency spokesman David Cantor.

But the agency is investigating Murphy for the teacher's aide incident and another case - not necessarily for grade inflation - an official said.

Inflating grades isn't the only thing Murphy's been accused of since he came to MS 8 in 2005.

"He's had consistent complaints of harassment, intimidation and demonization of the teachers, parents, students, volunteers," said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). He has urged Murphy be removed.

That doesn't surprise William Murray, president of a Connecticut teachers union.

Trouble has followed Murphy since he was principal of Danbury High School - from the summer of 2003 until he resigned in March 2004, said Murray.

"Some people felt that he was intimidating," Murray said. "The whole climate was not pleasant."

Teachers such as Deborah James, an MS 8 special-education instructor, are hoping Murphy resigns again.

"We plan to demonstrate until his removal," James said.

See also Maggie Hickey, WCBS-TV, Channel 2's report on Principal Murphy, "Teachers, Parents Want Queens Principal Ousted: Dr. John Murphy Of Junior High School 8 Accused Of Verbally Abusing Those In His Charge, Acting Like Dictator."

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