Chapter 3- School Politics
There were five Principals between the years 1960 and 1998 at Cucamonga Junior High School. Two will not be mentioned because they short term replacements. The first principal lasted ten years, the second principal lasted seven years, and the last principal 17 years. All three retired after serving as Principal of Cucamonga Junior High School. The first principal, Mr. Worley, was “old school,” meaning he was from the “old style” of running a building. Everything was by the book and formal rules were the way to go for him. Originally, he was an Assistant Principal at another building. He had transferred from the oldest junior high in the district to this new building in 1960. By the time he became Principal he was already in his late 60’s. He brought with him his buddies from the other Junior High to serve as Department chairman with a relatively new faculty. Cucamonga Junior High School opened with 90% new teachers hired from NYC or just out of college in 1960.
The first year at Cucamonga Junior High was very difficult because the building was still unfinished. Many of the classrooms were not finished as of opening day on September 5,1960. Five years later, in 1965, an extension to the main building was build to house the ever-increasing number of students. A pool was supposed to be built in the inner courtyard of the building extension, but the community voted it down in a bond proposal. The population doubled every year with students transferring from New York City schools to the High Mountain school district where parents believed they could get a good education for their children, instead of teacher strikes, and gang violence.
By 1970 the first Principal, Mr. Worley was gone due to gang fights, and bad publicity created in the community. The school board pushed him out thinking he was too old in his late 60’s to take control of a junior high. He was forced to retire.
In the fall of 1970, the second Principal, Mr. Tom Balls was hired. He was a Physical education teacher previously, and also an assistant principal until he was fired in a school district somewhere in Vermont. When he applied for the Cucamonga Junior High School job, he had been working in a shoe factory in Vermont for two years. The school board wanted a puppet they could control, and he was just the man. Tom Balls was a man in his forties with no leadership ability at all. He simply did not know how to please the Teachers Union, and get his own way at the same time. He fought the Teachers Union at every turn, and lost. He did not appreciate the power of informal structure at a school, and thought that he could control everything by formal rules. He did not have any friends on the faculty, and few of the teachers had any respect for him. During Tom Balls’ “seven year tenure” at Cucamonga Junior High School, all hell broke loose with the loss of control of the students, and a lack of overall school discipline, drug problems, internal politics, threatened teacher strikes, and other administration problems.
The fact that the Teachers Union almost went out on strike three times in the early 1970’s showed that there was a big gap between the administration needs, and the teacher’s needs. Threatened teacher strikes were bad for business, bad for the parents, bad for the students, and bad for the atmosphere in the school system. Everything began to break down when Principal Tom Balls applied foolish formal rules. After each contract renewal with the teachers, the benefits in health insurance begin to shrink. The cost of living far exceeded the amount of pay the teachers were getting. All of these problems transferred back to the Principal, and the staff attitude at the time. Many teachers stood up against the Principal, and refused to do what he asked. He tried to fire them, but the Teachers Union protected them, and he lost all the battles. The Tom Balls also had a poor relationship with the President of the PTA. The PTA lost a lot of members because of his lack of support to PTA sponsored events. To gain the respect of the student body, and the faculty, Tom Balls arranged a Judo and Karate demonstration in which he demonstrated Judo and Karate with some of the teachers and students. Basically, he made a fool of himself. Many teachers who were not sure about the new Principal were now convinced that he was a fool.
At the Halloween party the Tom Balls was seen trying to impress some of the new female teachers, even though he was married. He hung around one young teacher the whole night, and she tried to get rid of him. All of the teachers noticed his behavior and that became fodder for more gossip around the school.
At the Christmas party for the teachers Tom Balls got drunk, and made a fool of himself calling another teacher names. No one forgot that embarrassing and immature occasion at the Teacher Christmas/Hanukah party. After two years as Principal, Tom Balls has lost all credibility with the teachers. He often had to take attendance at faculty meeting because more and more teachers simply did not come to the meetings anymore. He also tried to use the security guards as his spies around the building. That put the security guards in a bad position with the teachers, who never trusted them to begin with. Eventually, with the tensions of no teacher contracts for three years, pending strike threats, no salary increases; the Union reps took over the school on an informal basis. They called the shots on whether teachers were going to attend after school sports events or volunteer for extra assignments. It was a “work to rule,” slow down, and the word “professionalism” went into the garbage can. The board said the teachers should volunteer to do more with no pay, and they called that “professionalism.” They insisted on faculty meetings going beyond two hours on a school day after hours, or coming into “back to School night” to volunteer their time to meet with parents without additional pay
When teachers “worked to rule,” all the extra free services are thrown out the window. It is amazing how much free extra stuff teachers do, like paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, or buying a pizza for a class that did well on a test, or taking a student home who had missed the bus, or cleaning up when a mess was made in a classroom, and the list goes on and on.
Finally, after seven years of total decline Tom Balls retired to Florida never to be seen again.
The third principal, Mr. Mat Baldeen, came to Cucamonga Junior High in 1977, after seven years of decline in the reputation of the school. He came from a New York City school in Brooklyn where he was a social studies teacher who joined the ranks of administrators as an assistant Principal. Coming to Cucamonga Junior High School would be the biggest challenge of his life. Mat Baldeen was an overweight bald Jewish guy with a great sense of humor. When he first arrived he was shunned by many of the teachers because of the bad experiences they had with the previous Principal. He had his work cut out for him.
Enrollment dropped 50 students a year beginning in 1977, and continued into the 1990’s to an all time low of 440 students. The faculty dropped from 120 teachers over 30 years to only 48 teachers with a lot of part-time teachers. Five threatened teacher strikes had occurred over the 30 years. It was a bad time for education in High Mountain school district.
The first thing Mat Baldeen did was make changes formally, and informally. Old bad habits and rules were dropped. The “sign-in procedure” for teachers became more relaxed than before. Teachers were treated with more respect than before. The security staff changed and their attitudes change as well as their job functions. They were no longer used as spies for the Principal. The organization of the front office changed, and the swing gate was removed, and the general appearance of the main office became more inviting. Faculty meetings changed with Teacher Union pre-meetings having less and less to complain about. Some older teachers were forced to retire and many new teachers were hired to replace them.
A Principal’s cabinet was formed for the first time in the history of the school. It consisted of one person from every department, and one security guard and one custodian, as well as one parent representative. The security guards, custodians and parents had never been asked before to participate in any committee or governing group in the school. It was a brilliant stroke of genius to help improve the communication within the building. It was also a first recognizing that the custodians, security guards and secretarial staff were considered on the same level of respect as the teachers and administrators.
The duty of the Principal’s Cabinet was to make new and positive policies for the school, and seek out new ways of improving the school learning environment and community image. Teachers offered to volunteer their lunchtime to supervise a “Lunch time detention room,” for students that misbehaved during the lunch periods. That was another precedent with teachers volunteering. The one catch in an agreement between the teachers and the Principal was they would volunteer so long as the Principal never made it mandatory. A few years later Tom Baldeen broke his word, and tried to mandate teachers to supervise the “lunch room detention room,” since volunteers has begun to disappear. The Union fought this mandate, and won, and that was the end of the “lunch room detention room.”
The Principal’s Cabinet worked very well for a few years. Teachers and staff felt they had a say in things for the first time in many years. The school applied for the New York State outstanding school award in 1986, and won the recognition in a ceremony at Albany in the spring of 1987. It was a major positive step forward for Cucamonga Junior High School.
With every Principal comes politics both formal and informal. The Teacher Union has a certain degree of power in representing teachers in conferences with the Principal, and demanding changes that the teachers wanted. Every Principal handled Union reps differently, and for each of the three Principals of Cucamonga Junior high the politics differed. With the first “old school” Principal he ignored the union reps as best he could. He seldom kept them informed, and tried to fire teachers without proper documentation. The second Principal, Tom Balls lost all control of the faculty, and the Union reps were basically running the school with informal control. Whatever the Union wanted the teachers Union got at that time.
When the Tom Balls wanted teachers to sign in before 9:05 at the beginning of the day, the Teachers Union said there were legitimate exceptions, and signing in at 9:05 exactly could not be required. To prove the point, all the teachers were asked by the Union reps to line up outside the school, except those on bus duty, and wait until 9:05, and then enter the building, and sign in on the attendance sheet. The whole process took 30 minutes and many teachers were late to homeroom so the student attendance that day was very inaccurate. Tom Balls gave in on the “sign in issue at 9:05,” and the Teachers Union won that battle.
During the monthly faculty meetings the Teachers Union got an hour to meet with the teachers before the Principal could come in and run the meeting. More was done during the Union portion of the meeting than the Principal’s portion of the meeting. Coaches were always excused from faculty meetings since they were out on the fields coaching at the time of the meetings or in the gyms. Much of the plotting and informal undermining of the administration took place during the Union faculty meetings.
Politics always came into place when things went wrong. Whenever there was a problem the principal would try to create a rule after the fact. When teachers were told they could not close their doors, they put a matchbook in the doorway. When the Tom Balls began peeking in the small door window at teachers in their classes, the teachers put up artwork of paper to block the window view.
One longhaired teacher had a real toilet in his classroom, and all the windows were painted in psychedelic motifs, peace signs, flowers, stain glass designs, and skulls. No one was ever forced to take down their classroom artwork no matter how weird, except on “back to school night,” when the parents came in to hear about the school and their children’s progress. Then the posters were taken down, the toilet hidden in a closet, and the window artwork cover over with paper classwork. It was a big game to the teachers and administrators to hide the real class environment from the parents.
There were very few black teachers in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Cucamonga Junior high, mostly because it was too expensive to live in Mountain High community. At the time there were mostly all Jewish teachers on the faculty, and very few black teachers. Out of 120 white teachers in the early 1970’s, only four were black. White administrators were afraid of black teachers, and black power, which was the popular theme in the 1970’s. Rather than ask for problems the white administrators did not hire black teachers.
There were two male black science teachers, and two black Females teachers in English, and one black female Music teacher at the time in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the 1960’s and 1970’s it was impossible to fire a black teacher or the NAACP would be at the building in a heartbeat. White administrators were afraid to fire poorly performing black teachers for fear of being called a ‘bigot,” and getting fired after community outrage ran it’s course.
Poorly performing white teachers had a different standard, and could be easily harassed, and constantly evaluated in order to create a file of information to support the administrators firing a teacher at the end of the year. One harassed teacher was a business teacher in his early 60’s, whom the principal, Mr. Baldeen, did not like. The Mr. Baldeen thought the teacher’s teaching was out of style and since he was already in his sixties he wanted to force him to retire. He sent in the two assistant principals on three occasions in just one month to evaluate the teacher (that was technically illegal by Union standards). The poor man was so stressed that he had a heart attack in the classroom, and died. No administrators were brought to bear for causing his heart attack, but the teachers all knew the real story. It was a sad time in Cucamonga Junior High School history.
Politics were in play when it came to getting tenure or salary promotions. Being appointed to the position of department chairman was all about politics and staying in favor with the Principal. Department chairpersons were the sub- managers that helped the Principal run the school and were therefore considered administrators. They had to be loyal to the Principal or the supervision structure would fall apart. Department chairman were picked for their loyalty that meant they were always “brown nosing the Principal.” It was called “kissing ass,” by all the teachers. If you didn’t want to “kiss ass, “ then you will never got promoted to a department chairperson position. It was a plain fact of the game of teaching and administration.
There were two rulebooks in education at High Mount School District. First there was the administrator’s rulebook pertaining to other administrators, and what they could get away with. The second book was the teachers’ rulebook, which was completely different and had to be formally written down in a large handbook. The teachers had more rules, formal, and informal than the administrators. Administrators could “do no wrong,” was the political thought at the time? The teachers were “always wrong” in the administrator’s book as in:
- Teachers were wrong when a student complained a teacher was
mistreating or abusing them in class.
- Teachers were wrong when a student made up a story about a teacher,
to get even for low grades.
- Teachers were wrong when a teacher was accused of abusing a
Student without any evidence to the contrary.
Just being accused of a case of misconduct with a student meant you were guilty before being charged. Teachers had to be on their guard both for students who made up stories, and administrators that made up stories.
When the Assistant Principal in charge of class scheduling was assigning teachers to classes she always held grudges, and favored her friends. She could give a teacher a “killer schedule” with three classes in a row, and a late lunch. She could make sure that a teacher did not get the last period of the day off, so they could not leave early for coaching at the High School, for instance. The Teachers Union did not allow four periods in a row to be taught, however, a teacher could sign away his/her rights, and teach four in a row to get out of school earlier than other teachers. Many a new science teacher faded a few months into the fall from having multi-ability classes such as:
- A below level science class first period,
- An on level science class second period,
- An Earth Science regents class third period,
- Science lab the third period.
Each of these tracts required a separate preparation, and a separate lesson plan to be written each day each week. Some new teachers spent the entire weekend each week writing their lesson plans to keep up with the stress of preparing separate level lessons.
Politics and favoritism went hand in hand at Cucamonga Junior High School. Those who “kissed ass” got easy duty assignments, such as hall duty where they sat, and worked on their paper work or bus duty before school. The worse assignments were lunch duty where food fights occurred, and physical fights between students were a weekly happening. Teachers attempting to break up fights usually got injured themselves.
One day a teacher walked into the teacher cafeteria after café duty with peaches sliding down his tie after a student food fight. It was a sight to see, as the peaches continued to slide down his tie onto his white shirt. He even had some peaches in his hair. All of the teachers could not help but laugh. The poor teacher was totally embarrassed.
If you wanted to be removed from lunch duty you had to work had doing a poor job. Teachers always came late to lunch duty and left early. Everyone tried to
Do the worse job possible, without being cited at the same time. Reading the New York Times, was always a technique that pissed off the assistant principal. Sitting down while on duty was another ‘NO, NO.” Eating on duty in the lunchroom or drinking coffee was also not allowed. You just had to come late, and leave early to make the assistant principal think you were the teacher from hell in the lunchroom. Usually it took a year to convince the Assistant Principal that did the lunch duty assignments that there was no way they wanted you in the lunchroom because you did everything wrong. It was after all a typical game teachers and administrators played during the course of a school day.
Bus duties were assigned every six weeks before school, and after school to assist the administrators in controlling the students getting on or off the busses and in preventing fights or accidents. Every six weeks a teacher could be assured that they would get bus duty on top of their daily duty period. If you did not show up you got a bad memo in your file. A stack of bad memos could lead to a poor evaluation at the end of the year. This was how the administrators kept teachers in line with the threat of being fired.
There was the story of the potential Olympic girl skater who never came to Physical Education classes and passed. Politics often came into play when the girl’s parents were friends of the Superintendent. While at a social party with the Superintendent one night, the girl’s parents asked him to allow their daughter to miss the first period of school everyday, and to be excused from Physical Education classes to attend skating lessons. They told the Superintendent that she was an Olympic hopeful and attending skating lessons every morning from 5:00 am to 9:30 was critical to her success.
The Superintendent agreed to help out his friends, and also requested the Principal to give the girl an automatic passing Physical Education grade. The Principal then told the Physical Education Department chairperson to tell the teacher assigned to the girl, to put down a passing grade, even though the girl never showed up for class. This was a violation of the district attendance, State Education Policy, and district grading laws. The Superintendent demanded that the schoolteachers cooperate, and that was that. All of the Physical Education teachers refused to give the girl a grade, and left her name with no grade on the grading sheets. The Principal had to add the grade, since he could not force the teachers to fill in the grade because they told the Union rep of the violation. This is an example of everyday politics flowing downhill as they always do in schools.
Politics came into play depending upon whether the parent who came into school to complain, was a community activator, a lawyer, and white at the same time. Poor parents from Haiti got treated differently than parents who were professionals and white. Indian, and Chinese parents were also treated poorly unless they were community leaders with some power. What was called “smoking pot” for one student, was called “misuse of medicines” for another student by the administrators when it involved a black student and a white student, respectively. When teachers caught a student smoking marijuana, or using it or selling it, the principal usually called in the parents for a conference. When the white parents came in for the meeting they brought a lawyer and they threatened to sue the Principal, the teachers, and the district. They usually bluffed the Principal out of his position of “no drugs in school” and got a lenient sentence for their child. When it was a black student or a Haitian student caught smoking pot then the parents who were usually poor came into the meeting with no lawyer and their son or daughter was deemed guilty automatically.
When Nurses turned in a student for drinking or smoking in school, they would not sign a statement to that effect because they were afraid of being sued. Administrators often drove students home, so as not to make it a “federal case.” Many drug abuse cases of white children were covered up when it involved wealthy parents. Black students and other minorities were turned over to the Police. It was an unequal system of justice from the beginning.
Politics could make or break a school, and in the case of Cucamonga Junior high, and with poor management, the reputation of the school went rapidly down hill during the 1960’s and 1970’s. During the 1970’s, a School student news reporter wanted to publish a story on gang fights in school, but Principal Tom Balls blocked the article from being written by telling the advisor he would be fired if the article were published. The student writer went instead to the local newspaper outside the school, and got his story published. The story about gang fights in the school was something the community and the Superintendent were unaware of at the time. When the Superintendent saw the article he was most upset and notified the Principal Tom Balls to come to his office immediately. Mr. Ball’s future from that point on with the district and the Superintendent was tedious.
Unfortunately, community people reading these stories actually believed the stories and gossip. It was a sad thing when many good teachers in the High Mountain school district were afraid to work at Cucamonga Junior high because of its poor reputation in the community.
Despite the attempts by the administration to control the politics at Cucamonga Junior High School, nothing ever worked. All the teachers at Cucamonga Junior High School were branded as militant and radical by the administration. The teachers were the “soldiers in the cold trenches,” and the administrations were “the captains in the warm headquarters.” Teaching can be a very isolated career once those doors are closed; the teacher is in a world of their own. Administrators used to be teachers, but for some reason they forgot what it is like teaching in a classroom and showed the teachers no sympathy.
A Jewish Community
High Mountain school district had a population of 70% Jewish students in the 1960’ through the 1980’s many of the teachers were also Jewish. Teaching seemed to be a career that many Jewish college students seemed to prefer, if they were not pursuing a career as a Doctor, Dentist or other high paying professional position. Teaching was considered a profession, but it was last on the list of Professionals because of the low pay scale. There were many kinds of Jewish teachers, some were liberal, and never made a big deal of their religion to students or colleagues. Others were Orthodox Jewish teachers who often wore a little Jewish hat called a yamaka to make a statement that they were orthodox Jews.
The Jewish teachers made it a point to use “Yiddish Jewish expressions,” with one another to exclude the non-Jewish teachers from understanding what they were saying. This was their way of being cool “Jewish wise.” The Jewish teachers also made it a point to take off for all Jewish holidays large, and small, even if they were not on the school calendar. For small holidays they took personal days. Non-Jewish teachers were Christians, or Muslims mostly were called “goyams.” At teacher parties the Jewish teachers made it a point to demand that the food be Kosher even if they did not practice eating kosher diets at home. The Jewish teachers who preferred Hanukah tolerated Christmas. There wasn’t any real tension between the Jewish teachers and the Christian teachers at work, but in private many Christian teachers resented the hypocrite attitude by many of the phony Jewish teachers. At funerals for Jewish teachers all the teachers show up to show their respects. Often some Christian teachers offered to participate in the 12 men reading prayers. During shiva when the survivors of the deceased Jewish teacher sat grieving for a week they welcomed Christian and Jewish teachers alike to visit and have small snacks and tea and talk about the deceased person. It was a good idea for togetherness.
Eventually the Jewish teacher’s children would at some time turn age 12 and would have a bar mitzvah or bot-mitzvah for boy or girl respectively, in the coming of age ceremony. Jewish Teachers would invite almost all of the faculty friends and family that they could afford. Thousands of dollars were spent on these religious occasions and the parties were lavish and overbearing. These religious social events bonded the Christian and Jewish teachers more on a personal basis and a professional one too over time.
As previously stated, Cucamonga Junior High School was “a cast of characters” from different religious backgrounds that blended together over time. For better or worse they merged into one cohesive faculty over a period of 40 years of the life of Cucamonga Junior High School. Some teachers stood out as the best, and were always fondly remembered by their students. Other teachers their students easily forgot. Some teachers were leaders who weren’t afraid to give “their all” for the school, faculty, and students. Some teachers actually taught effectively, and other teachers just got by. The system was never perfect, and politics always played a part. The cliché’ was often said. “That if you play ball, and do not make waves, you could survive a career as a teacher.”